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18 March 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Solar car Team
Excited about a first for the UFS, Team UFS is entering the 2020 Sasol Solar Challenge. From the left, front, are: Fouché Blignaut, Mechatronic Engineering; Nathan Bernstein, Agricultural Engineering; Lucas Erasmus, Physics; middle: Barend Crous, Manufacturing and Instrumentation; Hendrik van Heerden, Physics (team leader); Antonie Fourie, Physics; Prof Danie Vermeulen, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (team director); Prof Koos Terblans, Head of the Department of Physics; Theo Gropp, Mechanical Engineering; back: Louis Lagrange, Head of the Department of Engineering; and Mark Jacson, Electronics.

An interdepartmental team from the University of the Free State (UFS) has announced that it will enter and participate in the 2020 Sasol Solar Challenge, scheduled to take place from 11 to 19 September this year. 

For the challenge, Team UFS will build a self-propelled manned vehicle that uses solar power systems to travel from point A to point B. The 14-member team of the UFS will travel on public roads from Pretoria to Cape Town via a predefined route over eight days. They will compete against more than 15 other teams, both local and international. The team that finishes with the greatest distance covered within the allotted time, will win the race. Teams will race every day between 07:30 and 17:00.

The four drivers to operate the vehicles will be selected from participating UFS departments in the coming months.

First solar car for the UFS
Dr Hendrik van Heerden from the Department of Physics has been planning the solar car project – Lengau (meaning Cheetah in Sesotho) – over the past year. He will start assembling the car in the next month together with colleagues and students from both the Departments of Physics and Engineering Sciences (EnSci).

Not only is this a dream come true, but it is also an opportunity for the UFS to show that they can do this. “We do not need the backing of a large and long-established engineering department to build a car like this, a young and vibrant team can do just as much!”, says Dr Van Heerden, who plans to complete the car within a few months, ready to be calibrated and tested later in June.

Capacity in green and sustainable engineering
“The ability of Team UFS to participate is possible due to recent research developments on photovoltaic technologies (solar cells) in the Department of Physics, a well-established leader in the field of surface and material sciences. The university also has established capacity in the fields of photoluminescence and nanomaterials (nanomaterials in energy storage). Additionally, with the establishment of EnSci, the university has expanded into this field, which will bring building capacity in the area of green and sustainable engineering to the project,” says Dr Van Heerden.

Promoting development into green technologies and 4IR
According to Dr Van Heerden, it is clear that the university wishes to become a strong role player in the development and utilisation of green energy, as can be seen in the implementation of relevant technologies on its various campuses. “Thus, for the UFS to be recognised in this research area, it is important to participate in related ‘green’ events where staff and students can build their capacity of practical knowledge by constructing participation equipment such as the solar car.”

He believes that this project has the potential to become a strong base for student training and capacity building in all technological fields, which can promote base development to 4IR.

News Archive

Moshoeshoe - lessons from an African icon - by Prof Frederick Fourie
2004-11-03

(The full text of the article that appeared in City Press and Sunday Independent)

Our understanding of history informs our understanding of the present. No wonder the contestation over historical figures in South Africa’s past is so fierce and so divisive.
The question is: could it be any other way? I would like to think that it could; that black and white South Africans, across linguistic, cultural, religious and other divides, can develop a shared appreciation of our history – at least with certain periods and personalities as a starting point.

One such personality whose legacy I believe offers a possible platform for unifying our still divided country is King Moshoeshoe, who lived from 1786 to 1870, and is acknowledged as the founder of the Basotho.

King Moshoeshoe is the topic of a documentary that has been commissioned by the University of the Free State as part of its Centenary celebrations this year. It is part of a larger project to honour and research the legacy of Moshoeshoe. The documentary will be screened on SABC 2 at 21:00 on November 4th.

Moshoeshoe rose to prominence at a time of great upheaval and conflict in South Africa – the 19th century, a time when British colonialism was entrenching itself, when the Boer trekkers were migrating from the Cape and when numerous indigenous chiefdoms and groupings were engaged in territorial conquests. It was the time of the Difaqane, a period when society in the central parts of the later South Africa and Lesotho was fractured, destabilised and caught in a cycle of violence and aggression.

In this period Moshoeshoe displayed a unique and innovative model of leadership that resulted in reconciliation, peace and stability in the area that later became Lesotho and Free State. It made him stand out from many of his contemporaries and also caught the attention of his colonial adversaries.

Such an evaluation is not a judgment about which model of leadership is right and which is wrong, or which leader was better than another; but merely an attempt to explore what we can learn from a particular exemplar.
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Historians point to the many progressive leadership qualities displayed by Moshoeshoe which he used effectively in establishing the Basotho nation and in defending it.
First, there is his humanism and sense of justice worthy of any great statesman. Confronted by a situation in which cannibals murdered and devoured his grandfather, Moshoeshoe chose not to take revenge. Instead he opted to rehabilitate them and feed them as he believed hunger drove them to cannibalism.

Secondly, there is his skilful alliance-building with his contemporaries such as Shaka in an attempt to neutralize those rivals who were intent on attacking his followers. This is also displayed in the way he sought the protection of the British to keep the Boer forces at bay.
Thirdly, his emphasis on peaceful options is also seen in his defensive military strategy which saw him retreat to a mountain fortress to be able to protect and build a burgeoning nation in the face of the many forces threatening its survival.

Fourthly, there is his remarkable inclusivity and tolerance for diversity which saw him unite disparate groups of refugees from the violence and hunger that displaced them and then weld them into the Basotho nation. He also engaged with French missionaries, inviting them to stay with him and advise him on Western thought, technology and religion.
These are but some of the qualities which belie the notion that all 19th century African leaders were merely marauders and conquerors that gained their ascendancy through violence. Instead Moshoeshoe is a prime example of the human-centred, democratic and pluralist roots of South African, indeed African society.

The Moshoeshoe project that we have initiated (of which the documentary, called “The Renaissance King”, forms but one part) derives from our location as a university in the Free State, a province with a particular history and a particular political culture that developed as a result of this very model of leadership. This province has benefited tremendously from leaders such as Moshoeshoe and president MT Steyn, both of whom many observers credit with establishing a climate of tolerance, respect for diversity of opinion, political accommodation and peaceful methods of pursuing political objectives in the province. Their legacy is real – and Moshoeshoe’s role can not be overstated.
In addition the project derives from the University of the Free State being a site of higher learning in a broader geo-political sense. As a university in Africa we are called upon to understand and critically engage with this history, this context and this legacy.
Besides the documentary, the UFS is also planning to establish an annual Moshoeshoe memorial lecture which will focus on and interrogate models of African leadership, nation-building, reconciliation, diversity management and political tolerance.

In tackling such projects, there may be a temptation to engage in myth-making. It is a trap we must be wary of, especially as an institution of higher learning. We need to ask critical questions about some aspects of Moshoeshoe’s leadership but of current political leadership as well. Thus there is a need for rigorous academic research into aspects of the Moshoeshoe legacy in particular but also into these above-mentioned issues.
While the documentary was commissioned to coincide with the University of the Free State’s centenary and our country’s ten years of democracy, it is a project that has a much wider significance. It is an attempt to get people talking about our past and about our future, as a campus, as a province and as a country – even as a continent, given the NEPAD initiatives to promote democracy and good governance.

The project therefore has particular relevance for the continued transformation of institutions such as universities and the transformation of our society. Hopefully it will assist those who are confronted by the question how to bring about new institutional cultures or even a national political culture that is truly inclusive, tolerant, democratic, non-sexist, non-racial, multilingual and multicultural.

I believe that the Moshoeshoe model of leadership can be emulated and provide some point of convergence. A fractured society such as ours needs points of convergence, icons and heroes which we can share. Moshoeshoe is one such an African icon – in a world with too few of them.

Prof Frederick Fourie is the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State

* The documentary on “Moshoeshoe: The Renaissance King” will be screened on SABC2 on 4 November 2004 at 21:00.

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