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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

Centre for Human Rights at UFS geared to make impact in the region
2017-03-02

Description: Centre for Human Rights  Tags: Centre for Human Rights

SAHRC situated in the Mabaleng building,
Bloemfontein Campus
Photo: Hannes Pieterse

After approval by the Rectorate, Senate and Council of the University of the Free State (UFS), the Free State Centre for Human Rights (FSCHR) began operations on 1 January 2016 on the Bloemfontein Campus, under the leadership of Prof Leon Wessels, founding member of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) as the Acting Director of the centre.

Human rights remain, undoubtedly, the dominant moral and political language of our times and thus demands multi-layered scholarly engagement as it influences national and international relations, and sets standards for political and democratic practice.

Establishment of centre fulfilment of court order
Top on the centre’s agenda will be to resolve the debate with the SAHRC relating to the February 2011 post-Reitz agreement of the UFS, which was subsequently made an order of the Equality Court. This order compelled the UFS to establish such a centre. The FSCHR presents new opportunities for cooperation between the FSCHR, the SAHRC and other stakeholders to the benefit of the UFS and the broader community.

Three divisions of the centre to achieve its mandate
The centre consists of three inter-related divisions with the potential to stimulate critical scholarship in the field of human rights through its postgraduate and research division. This is reflected in the centre’s mission to deepen the study of human rights and further its praxes by developing novel methodologies in which traditional human rights issues can be complemented by interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches.

The Advocacy division of the centre will promote human rights among UFS staff and students, and the surrounding community. The aim is to establish a vibrant human rights culture in and across all campuses in which rights of all are respected and protected.

The Legal Services division will provide trustworthy legal services to individuals and groups whose fundamental rights have been abused, to improve the professional capacity of paralegals, students, counsellors, social workers, candidate attorneys and attorneys, equipping them to deal with cases of infringement of constitutional and human rights and to increase access to justice to rural and indigent communities in the Free State.

Centre key in positioning UFS as a regional leader in human rights issues
The centre, with its inter- and multi-disciplinary approach, has the potential to become one of the flagship projects of the UFS, and will strengthen both the Academic and Human Projects. A UFS human rights centre not only makes sound scholarly and practical sense, it also has limitless symbolic value. The location of one of UFS’s campuses within the city of Bloemfontein (the judicial capital of South Africa) and having partnered with the National University of Lesotho (NUL), is historically and geographically significant. This has a great impact on the UFS, the Free State province as a whole, and the Kingdom of Lesotho.  

The FSCHR will be officially launched on 14 March 2017 with Professor Bongani Majola, newly elected chairperson of the SAHRC, as guest speaker.

For further information on the work of the centre, please contact FSCHR@ufs.ac.za / +27 51 401 7216.

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