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17 April 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Science ambassadors
Friends Tekano Mbonani and Chaka Mofokeng are pursuing graduate degrees in respectively Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS) and Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape. The two got together and decided to reach out to the high school, Leseding Technical Secondary School, where they came from.

It was a full house as more than 120 learners packed the hall at the Leseding Technical Secondary School in the Free State, where two young Astronomy researchers had come home to tell their younger peers about their studies and career prospects across South Africa.

Chaka Mofokeng and Tekano Mbonani are both former learners at the high school. Currently pursuing graduate degrees – for Mbonani in Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS), and for Mofokeng in Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape – the two friends got together and decided to reach out to the high school where they came from.

The event took place in January before schoolwork, tests, and exam preparations are occupying learners’ minds, inviting them to think about the big picture – the future, and how to be part of it. This is timely, because in July last year, the MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated in the Karoo. The MeerKAT is the first step to the international SKA telescope project, but it is already one of the best radio telescopes in the world and has placed South Africa firmly on the world map of radio astronomy and engineering.

Building a bridge
“This project enables us to build a bridge between secondary and tertiary institutions. Currently focused on senior secondary students, we aim to promote science through outreach events and activities. Using science and technology-based activities and events, such as stargazing at an observatory or exploring the universe in a planetarium, we want to attract these future secondary graduates. We also provide mentorship, hoping to help them improve their academic performance in matric,” said Mbonani.

For a whole morning, they spoke about their journeys, about science, about the skills that scientists acquire during their studies and all the opportunities such studies open up in an era where the 4th Industrial Revolution is predicted to reduce the number of jobs in many traditional professions. They addressed their peers in both English and Sesotho.

Astronomy in South Africa contributes to critical-skills development. Investing in the MeerKAT, for example, meant that over a thousand bursaries were made available through the SKA South Africa Human Capacity Development programme. Young scientists like Mofokeng and Mbonani have the opportunity to be part of MeerKAT science projects through their studies, using machine learning and other skills that are high in demand in today’s world. This was one of the messages they brought home.

Gaining new skills

“As an Astronomy research student, I have gained skills such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, communication and writing, programming, and teamwork, among others. These are requirements for most companies and institutions. With the unfolding of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such skills sets make young and aspiring scientists the perfect candidates for making the most of future opportunities,” reflected Mofokeng.

Most of the learners said they have never attended a science-outreach event. They were inspired by the young scientists’ stories and nearly half of them said they could see themselves pursuing a career in science. The learners also expressed a strong interest in more events of this kind, as well as mentorship during Grades 11 and 12 from peers at university. They asked about the salaries earned by astronomers, how long the studies take, and where astronomers are working in South Africa.

This initiative, started by two bright young scientists, hopefully marks the beginning of many more events of this kind. Mofokeng and Mbonani are already planning what to do on their next trip home.

News Archive

Emma Sadleir talks about social media etiquette
2016-05-18

Description: Emma Sadlier Tags: Emma Sadlier

Emma Sadleir
Photo: Supplied

“We have all become celebrities, we have become social figures because of our power to publish information. We have all become brands, and we need to protect our brand. Digital content is sometimes dangerous content,” said Sadleir.

On 11 May 2016, the University of the Free State, in collaboration with the Postgraduate School, hosted, Emma Sadleir, a leading social media expert, in the Equitas Auditorium on the Bloemfontein Campus. She is an admitted advocate, specialising in social media law.  Dr Henriette van den Berg, Director of the Postgraduate School, described Sadleir’s presentation as a privilege for all the staff and students who attended.

Sadleir said that there are two important rules that staff and students of an institution should try to follow. The first is not to bring the name of the institution into disrepute; and the second is not to breach the goodwill of the institution or, in other words, not to bite the hand that feeds you.

“The common law, even if there is no policy, is that anything that brings the company into disrepute can lead to disciplinary consequences up to termination,” said Sadleir.

Sadleir focused on hate speech and free speech, stating that free speech is a right that is entrenched in the constitution, but, like every other right, it has limitations. She mentioned Penny Sparrow, Matt Theunissen, Velaphi Khumalo, and Judge Mabel Jansen, all of whom have been lambasted by the public over their racist posts on social media. Sadleir stressed that, even on social media, content has to be within the confines of the law, and people must remember our rights are not absolute. We have a lot of freedoms, but no one cannot disseminate hate speech.

“Would you publish whatever you thinking on a billboard, close to a busy highway with your name, picture and employers details or the institution you studying at? If you have no grounds to justify the comment, do not post it,” warned Sadlier.  

According to the South African Bill of Rights, everyone has the right to privacy, but an expectation of privacy has to be enforced. She said people over-document their lives on social media, decreasing your right to privacy drastically. “It is like CCTV footage of your life. It is simple, the more you take care of your privacy, the more you have,” said Sadleir.

Sadleir said it was important for Facebook users to have privacy settings where they can review posts where they are tagged. According to Sadleir, managing your reputation is not only limited to what you post about yourself but also managing what others post about you.

She cited a 2013 case in the Pretoria High Court in which a new wife wrote a scandalous Facebook post about her husband’s ex-wife, tagging the husband in the post. The courts found both the new wife and the husband guilty of defamation.

“If you have been tagged in something but have not been online and seen the content, you are then an innocent disseminator. The moment you are aware of the post you are liable for the content,” said Sadleir.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently,” Sadleir said, concluding her presentation with the quotation from Warren Buffet.

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