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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

Biggest Bloemfontein art project comes to life
2016-07-11

Description: It’s My City Giraffe Tags: It’s My City Giraffe

Three sculptures in different places
in Bloemfontein will form part of
It’s My City, a large-scale public art
project from 8 to 16 July 2016
alongside the Vrystaat Arts Festival.
Photo: Xany Jansen van Vuuren

One of the biggest art projects Bloemfontein has ever seen. That is how Angela de Jesus, curator of the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery at the University of the Free State (UFS), describes It’s My City. And the large-scale public art project involves the community of Bloemfontein/Mangaung’s participation.

The artwork, conceived by British artist, Alex Rinsler, will be on display from 8 to 16 July 2016, alongside the Vrystaat Arts Festival. Three sculptures, a Baby Giraffe, Mother Tree and Toy Windmill, each about 7.5 metres, will appear in Hoffman Square, Mapikela Square in Batho location, and on the Red Square of the UFS Bloemfontein Campus respectively.

Many from around the city included


Local lead artists – Marius Jansen van Vuuren (Baby Giraffe), Tshiamo Art and Crafts Development (Mother Tree), and Minè Kleynhans (Toy Windmill) – expressed their relationship to the city. According to De Jesus, the project includes “six artists; more than 20 job opportunities were created; and there were skills transfer for many more. Over 50 volunteers, 100 professionals, and hopefully thousands will take part.” It’s My City is the signature 2016 project of the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development, a partnership between the UFS and the festival, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the municipality of Mangaung.

People can connect in positive way

“What most excites me is that this work will create imagery that loads of people can connect with in a positive way, and write a new story,” says Rinsler. According to the public artist and cultural producer, people are invited to visit the sculptures, write down their wishes for the city and those they love, and add them to complete the artworks.

Sculptures meet each other at ceremony

On 16 July 2016, the sculptures will be led by three processions, convening at the Macufe village (corner of Elizabeth and Markgraaff streets). At 17:30, a short ceremony, free to attend, will follow where they will be dismantled in spectacular fashion, with graceful fire and pyrotechnics, and so bringing together many people’s wishes as one.

Photo Gallery
For more information visit the It's My City website
Click here for a press release about the project



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