a. Annual Young Scientists’ Conference 2016
Human rights came under scrutiny at the 7th Annual Young Scientists’ Conference on 6 and 7 October 2016 at the Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre. The conference was hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS), Gender in Science, Innovation, Technology and Engineering (GenderInSITE), and the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World South Africa National Chapter (OWSD-SANC), and the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR). The conference theme, Human Rights, was aligned to the 2016 African Union Year Theme of Human Rights with Special Focus on Rights of Women.
Retired Judge Richard Goldstone gave the opening remarks and Ms Yasmin Sooka, Director, FHR gave the keynote address. The two later joined other panellists in a Panel Discussion on: Redress of Colonial Heritage in Promoting Human Rights in Africa. The discussion was facilitated by Prof Alex Broadbent –Executive Dean of Humanities at the University of Johannesburg. The other panellists included Prof Bongani Majola –former Assistant Secretary-General and Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Commissioner Mohamed Ameermia from the South African Human Rights Commission.
In setting the tone for the inter-disciplinary conference, Judge Goldstone qualified that: “Lawyers generally think that the topic of human rights is their domain, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
In addressing the Redress of Colonial Heritage, Ms Sooka sought to also interrogate traditional African practices that were equally harmful saying: “traditional custom is not static but changes continuously. Engagement and dialogue are essential to promote a universal set of values, as tradition cannot justify human rights violations”.
The conference also included a Round-Table Discussion focusing on: Transformation towards Sex and Gender Equality in Africa on the evening of 6 October, sponsored by the FHR. The Panellists included eminent persons in the Human Rights field inclusive of retired Judge Richard Goldstone, retired Judge Zak Yacoob, Prof Christof Heynes –Member, United Nations Human Rights Committee, Ms Janet Love –Executive Director, Legal Resource Centre and Prof Barney Pityana, ASSAf Council Member. This event was open to the public.
Human rights are inherent rights of all human beings regardless of nationality, sex, race, religion, language or any other status. In South Africa, the Bill of Rights forms the cornerstone of democracy. The Bill of Rights enshrines the rights of all people in South Africa and affirms the democratic values and principles of human dignity, equality and freedom. In order to achieve these values in South Africa and in the African continent in general, citizens have to promote and respect the culture of human rights. In addition, they should promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights.
The highlight of the Conference however are the presentations and discussions by young scientists. It provides a platform for young scientists to share their research and also sharpen their presentation skills. The networking opportunity is also a big draw card as this provides suitable grounds for seeking out inter-disciplinary collaborations.
Traditionally, the conference has included capacity development components such as scientific writing and publication, communication and science engagement, and opportunities to interact with senior officials in government and science councils.
The closing Dinner on 7 October, provided further stimulus for the young scientists with an impromptu debate on the merits of Ubuntu and a further interrogation of the #Feesmustfall protests. The fiery but friendly debate saw a banter of thought facilitated by Prof Himla Soodyall, between retired Judge Zak Yacoob and Mr Joel Modiri from University of Pretoria’s Department of Jurisprudence. Mr Modiri and Ms Angela Mudukuti from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre gave the closing remarks.
-Access the full Conference Report –Document
b. Science and Society Symposium
How can the reach of academic work extend beyond a closed circle of academics, and find a wider audience?
The 2015 symposium focused on the potential of engagements outside the domain of traditional science communication — in particular, science non-fiction writing (books and printed journalism), science fiction, and science in images and sound. Academics and professionals in astrophysics, archaeology, urban design, editing, writing, curating, history, music, design, and public health attended panel discussions, debating on interdisciplinarity, stereotypes, the challenges of the education system, and meaningful engagement between scientists and society. One example of this interdisciplinary collaboration was reflected in the first session between SKA SARChi Chair Professor Roy Maartens (UWC) and the curators of the Square Kilometre Array ‘indigenous astronomy’ exhibition, Shared Sky, at the National Art Gallery: Emeritus Professor John Parkington (UCT) and Sandra Proselandis. The artistic works on display reflected how aboriginal and South African people understood the cosmos, weaving this thinking into their folklore, narratives and creative expressions.
Sci-fi novelists Lauren Beukes and Professor Nnedi Okorafor, discussed parallels between science and science fiction. The conversation exposed the importance of narrative in capturing public imagination and of challenging norms, including experiences of gender imbalances in science and science fiction writing, and misperceptions of the role of science and science fiction in Africa.
Among the participants were Grade 9-10 scholars from Khayelitsha’s Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT) School who belong to the Optimistic Youth Reporters from the Children’s Radio Foundation. These outstanding young learners interacted with “Ask a Scientist” panelists, asking and judging complex scientific questions and spurring competition between scientists on their communication skills. This symposium was covered by SAFM, the Cape Times, and an audio podcast is available from SAYAS.
With a stronger funding base, this project has the potential to be hosted in other African countries, and bring together some of the brightest and most unusual thinkers from the continent.
Science and Society in Africa Project leaders (2015): Tolullah Oni & Jo Vearey
A unique multi-lingual, multi-blogger site that works towards a better understanding of mathematics, for all.
The Mathemafrica.org blogging platform was initiated at the AIMSImaginary joint workshop on Mathematics Communication at AIMS in Muizenberg in November 2014.
In 2015, SAYAS funded a web developer who has been integral in setting up a highly user-friendly, attractive website which is now bringing in many viewers. In the month of August alone the site had some 15,000 page views, mostly from within South Africa, but also, since its inception, from 18 other countries within Africa. On our blogging team we now have 27 people signed up who are able to write whenever they want, and we have had posts written in English, Xhosa and Sepedi over the last two months.
In total we have had almost 100 blog posts on topics ranging from mathematics education and communication, through to undergraduate level lectures on complex numbers, calculus and differential equations. We have run competitions, and given away prizes, including a Galileoscope to a student for a translation of a blog post about mathematics and dreams.
Our hope is to set up the multi-lingual framework in the coming months, in particular in Xhosa, Zulu and Shona to spread the word through the region. Overall we are extremely excited about how this project is going, and all feedback has been that this is both a worthwhile project and a very interesting prospect for the future of mathematics communication in Africa.
Project Leader: Amanda Weltman