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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

UFS law researcher part of international project to produce human trafficking reference book
2017-03-17

Description: Human trafficking reference book Tags: Human trafficking reference book


Trafficking in Persons has been in the spotlight as an ever-growing crime around the world. Research being done in South Africa by various universities over the years has yielded results that are internationally recognised.

Part of this work has been done by Prof Beatri Kruger, Research Associate at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of the Free State (UFS), who has been involved in research that has created awareness around the world on various methods of human trafficking in Africa. She is currently working on co-authoring a chapter in the International Handbook on Human Trafficking to be published by Palgrave, the first of its kind and a major reference work in this field, with Marcel van der Watt, a lecturer at the University of South Africa (Unisa) Department of Police Practice. The reference book is a massive international project that will have more than 60 international contributors and will be published in 2018.

Contribution to international research
The chapter is titled: Breaking bondages: Methods to control victims, ‘Juju’ and human trafficking. It explores the methods used by Nigerian and other West African traffickers, namely “juju” rituals, to subdue their victims for sexual exploitation in various parts of the world. The chapter further charts various physical, financial and the psychological control mechanisms, essential in establishing an informed counter-trafficking global response.

The book and other research being done is a step in the right direction in further understanding specific practices, and can be used to augment international research, support the work of NGOs, law enforcement agencies and individuals who work with victims worldwide, to be able to understand the tools used by perpetrators, and to stop the crime from growing.

Prof Kruger said there were new opportunities at the research division of the UFS Centre for Human Rights to explore human rights violations that occur in human-trafficking scenarios, thus contributing towards more efficient strategies to combat this crime.

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