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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

Inaugural lecture: Prof. Phillipe Burger
2007-11-26

 

Attending the lecture were, from the left: Prof. Tienie Crous (Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the UFS), Prof. Phillipe Burger (Departmental Chairperson of the Department of Economics at the UFS), and Prof. Frederick Fourie (Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS).
Photo: Stephen Collet

 
A summary of an inaugural lecture presented by Prof. Phillipe Burger on the topic: “The ups and downs of the South African Economy: Rough seas or smooth sailing?”

South African business cycle shows reduction in volatility

Better monetary policy and improvements in the financial sector that place less liquidity constraints on individuals is one of the main reasons for the reduction in the volatility of the South African economy. The improvement in access to the financial sector also enables individuals to manage their debt better.

These are some of the findings in an analysis on the volatility of the South African business cycle done by Prof. Philippe Burger, Departmental Chairperson of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Department of Economics.

Prof. Burger delivered his inaugural lecture last night (22 November 2007) on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein on the topic “The ups and downs of the South African Economy: Rough seas or smooth sailing?”

In his lecture, Prof. Burger emphasised a few key aspects of the South African business cycle and indicated how it changed during the periods 1960-1976, 1976-1994 en 1994-2006.

With the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of the business cycle, the analysis identified the variables that showed the highest correlation with the GDP. During the periods 1976-1994 and 1994-2006, these included durable consumption, manufacturing investment, private sector investment, as well as investment in machinery and non-residential buildings. Other variables that also show a high correlation with the GDP are imports, non-durable consumption, investment in the financial services sector, investment by general government, as well as investment in residential buildings.

Prof. Burger’s analysis also shows that changes in durable consumption, investment in the manufacturing sector, investment in the private sector, as well as investment in non-residential buildings preceded changes in the GDP. If changes in a variable such as durable consumption precede changes in the GDP, it is an indication that durable consumption is one of the drivers of the business cycle. The up or down swing of durable consumption may, in other words, just as well contribute to an up or down swing in the business cycle.

A surprising finding of the analysis is the particularly strong role durable consumption has played in the business cycle since 1994. This finding is especially surprising due to the fact that durable consumption only constitutes about 12% of the total household consumption.

A further surprising finding is the particularly small role exports have been playing since 1960 as a driver of the business cycle. In South Africa it is still generally accepted that exports are one of the most important drivers of the business cycle. It is generally accepted that, should the business cycles of South Africa’s most important trade partners show an upward phase; these partners will purchase more from South Africa. This increase in exports will contribute to the South African economy moving upward. Prof. Burger’s analyses shows, however, that exports have generally never fulfil this role.

Over and above the identification of the drivers of the South African business cycle, Prof. Burger’s analysis also investigated the volatility of the business cycle.

When the periods 1976-1994 and 1994-2006 are compared, the analysis shows that the volatility of the business cycle has reduced since 1994 with more than half. The reduction in volatility can be traced to the reduction in the volatility of household consumption (especially durables and services), as well as a reduction in the volatility of investment in machinery, non-residential buildings and transport equipment. The last three coincide with the general reduction in the volatility of investment in the manufacturing sector. Investment in sectors such as electricity and transport (not to be confused with investment in transport equipment by various sectors) which are strongly dominated by the government, did not contribute to the decrease in volatility.

In his analysis, Prof. Burger supplies reasons for the reduction in volatility. One of the explanations is the reduction in the shocks affecting the economy – especially in the South African context. Another explanation is the application of an improved monetary policy by the South African Reserve Bank since the mid 1990’s. A third explanation is the better access to liquidity and credit since the mid 1990’s, which enables the better management of household finance and the absorption of financial shocks.

A further reason which contributed to the reduction in volatility in countries such as the United States of America’s business cycle is better inventory management. While the volatility of inventory in South Africa has also reduced there is, according to Prof. Burger, little proof that better inventory management contributed to the reduction in volatility of the GDP.

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