Episode 26: Beyond 200 years of astronomy in South Africa

with Assoc Prof Vanessa McBride

Welcome to Season 3 of The Cosmic Savannah!

This week we recap our adventures over the break including the conclusion of The Cosmic Savannah podcasting boot camp and the run up to the 200th anniversary celebrations of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). Dan explains how you can get involved in the big celebrations! (See links below)

We are also joined by Assoc Prof Vanessa McBride, who describes her dizzying array of roles! These include astronomer at the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), Head of Research at the SAAO, and lecturer and research supervisor at the University of Cape Town. Vanessa is also heading the organization of the 2024 International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly – the very first time this will be hosted by the African continent!

Vanessa explains her own research in the field of compact binary stars, reminding us of the wealth of astronomy and astronomical facilities right here in South Africa.

We also discuss the objectives of the OAD, acknowledging South Africa’s difficult past, in striving for an equal and inclusive future for all, in astronomy and beyond.

Featured Guest

Assoc Prof Vanessa McBride

Featured Image

A view from the front of the Main Building at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town. This view stretches back 200 years to 20 October 1820 when the observatory was first used for astronomy.

SAAO all events: saao.ac.za

SAAO 200th Anniversary Symposium: saao200.saao.ac.za

Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD): http://www.astro4dev.org/

African Astronomical Society: https://www.africanastronomicalsociety.org

Zooniverse: https://www.zooniverse.org/


Show notes prepared by Andy Firth. Transcript by Sumari Hattingh.


Dan: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah with Dr. Daniel Cunnama.

Jacinta: [00:00:08] And Dr. Jacinta Delhaize. Each episode, we’ll be giving you a behind the scenes look at world-class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.

Dan: [00:00:16] Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do, and the fascinating discoveries we make.

Jacinta: [00:00:24] Sit back and relax as we take you on a Safari through the skies.

Dan: [00:00:33] Welcome to what we think is episode 26.

Jacinta: [00:00:36] Season three, episode one.

Dan: [00:00:38] That’s our debate.

Jacinta: [00:00:38] We disagree on how we’re going to number these.

Dan: [00:00:41] So whatever it’s numbered on whatever app you’re using, that’s what the number is.

Jacinta: [00:00:46] And who won. Welcome to season three, everybody!

Dan: [00:00:51] Welcome back. We have had a long break. Some of it Covid induced, some of it business induced on both of our parts. We’ve been lucky not to have Covid.

Jacinta: [00:01:03] Both of us have been very lucky.

Dan: [00:01:04] We hope you have been too.

Jacinta: [00:01:07] Yes, we hope everyone’s safe for our returning listeners. Welcome back. And for our new listeners, a warm welcome to The Cosmic Savannah family. First of all, we would like to start by asking if you like this podcast episode, can you please leave us a review on iTunes and like and subscribe and tell a friend if you can, because that’s really going to help us to spread the word and get new listeners.

Dan: [00:01:35] So we should get started with a sort of brief recap of what we’ve been up to.

Jacinta: [00:01:39] Yeah. Well, I guess why don’t we stop for our new listeners, reminding people who we are? Who are you, Dan?

Dan: [00:01:44] My name is Daniel and I am the science engagement astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory, which is based here in Cape town. And our observing site is up in Sutherland in the Northern Cape about 400 kilometers away. So that’s a dark site at high altitude. My role here at the observatory is science engagement. So promoting our research, promoting our facilities and reaching out to the public and stakeholders and trying to raise awareness of astronomy.

Jacinta: [00:02:14] You’re a reformed research astronomer.

Dan: [00:02:17] Well, there’s still…

Jacinta: [00:02:18] You’re still keeping your finger in the pot – now what’s the expression? Keeping your finger in the pot?

Dan: [00:02:26] Foot in the door? I don’t know.

Jacinta: [00:02:27] Yeah, foot in the door. That’s where I was going.

Dan: [00:02:29] I think that we’ll talk about it a little bit more now, but I’ve been very busy the last couple of years, and haven’t had a chance to do much research, but it’s certainly something that still appeals to me. And, yeah, I’d like to get back into it. Once all this is done. And yourself?

Jacinta: [00:02:47] Great. I am Jacinta.  I’m a research astronomer at the University of Cape town, UCT, and I’m a postdoctoral research fellow and I study galaxies; galaxy evolution – how galaxies have changed over the history of the universe. And I mostly use radio telescopes such as MeerKAT, which is South Africa’s incredibly powerful radio telescope in the Karoo. It’s one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world and it’s run and organized by the SARAO – the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory. I actually have a SARAO fellowship and I’m from Australia, but I moved to South Africa about two years ago. That’s when we decided to start this podcast. Why did we start this podcast?

Dan: [00:03:33] I asked myself that every day. No, I mean I think we realized pretty quickly that there wasn’t enough promotion of African astronomy. There’s so much going on in this country. We’ll talk about it a bit more with our guests today, but there really is a lot to be proud of – a lot going on. That’s something which we want to share with the South African public and also the rest of the world.

Jacinta: [00:03:58] Yeah, exactly. It’s such a vibrant place to be and there’s…my blanket fort is falling down.

Dan: [00:04:07] So we’re once again doing blanket fort recording because our regular studio does not abide by Covid regulations because it’s probably only about a meter across. We can’t distance ourselves at all in there.

Jacinta: [00:04:24] No, so we’re sitting – socially distance – under blankets at the moment on the floor. Anyway, what was I talking about? Vibrancy of the South African astronomy environment. Yes. Okay. Well, yeah, that’s why I’m here. I think that it’s important that we can make this accessible to everybody, not just scientists and astronomers, but absolutely everybody because it’s super exciting what’s happening here and it’s super important as well – as we’re going to hear today with our guest, Professor Vanessa McBride.

So Vanessa is going to tell us all about the work that she does as the Head of Research for the SAAO and also her role as astronomer for the Office of Astronomy for Development – the OAD – which tries to leverage astronomy in order to help achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals, which was really fascinating to talk to Vanessa about.

Dan: [00:05:19] So before we get into that, maybe we should talk a little bit about what we’ve been up to in the break?

Jacinta: [00:05:24] Yeah. Good idea.

Dan: [00:05:25] What have you been up to?

Jacinta: [00:05:27] Several things. So, first of all, I have finished a research paper.

Dan: [00:05:31] Congratulations.

Jacinta: [00:05:32] Thank you. Yeah, for those who don’t know, that’s what we get paid to do. That’s what I get paid to do, is unique research and then publish it in an international journal. So I have finished a research paper, which uses the MeerKAT telescope. We’ve got some data as part of the big international collaboration and I am looking at giant radio galaxies and we found some pretty cool things, but I can’t actually tell you the results yet until it’s been accepted for publication.

So watch this space and I will be able to tell you all about it soon. The other thing I’ve been doing is running the podcasting boot camp for our wonderful Cosmic Savannah trainees. You and I, Dan, have been running this training boot camp where we’ve taught them everything from interviewing a guest to doing their own editing and creating the entire episode, publishing it, writing their show notes and social media. And we’re very, very proud of all of our boot camp graduates and you’ll have seen the results of their hard work in the mini episodes that we published during the break of the formal seasons of The Cosmic Savannah.

Dan: [00:06:41] Yeah. I mean, I think that it was a great experience for us take stock of what we’ve learned and try and share that with some younger astronomers who are excited to share their work. And I think that we’ll definitely chat more to them in the future and see what they’ve been up to.

Jacinta: [00:06:55] We’re hoping to incorporate them as regular contributors to the podcast. All right. Dan, what have you been up to?

Dan: [00:07:01] Whew, a lot. We’ll talk a little bit about it with Vanessa, but next week, when this comes out, but next week in reality too, will be the 200th anniversary of the SAAO. And that’s a that’s a big moment. I think that it’s a good time to take stock of where we’ve come from. South Africa has had a long and tumultuous history. The observatory had been operating for 200 years through all of that. It’s gone through many changes. It’s weathered many storms and produced excellent research throughout that time. I think it’s a great opportunity to look back at that but then, as we’ve been saying, it’s an excellent opportunity to look at the last couple of decades and the future, because 200 years of the astronomy in South Africa is truly world class. It’s an incredibly exciting place to be. And what’s coming in the next couple of decades is really going to be mind-blowing. So it’s a sort of nice moment to take stock. And look forward. And I think that we’ve been making a big effort – and I’ve been leading a lot of those efforts – to make a bit of a splash. So we’ll be holding various events next week to try and raise the profile of astronomy and the observatory.

Jacinta: [00:08:21] Tell us more about these events that you’ve been organizing, what events are being held for professionals and also for the public and how can people get involved and where can they find more information?

Dan: [00:08:32] There are various things underway. The first and probably biggest thing is the unveiling of the SAAO as a National Heritage Site. So in South Africa, much like you have World Heritage Sites around the world, we have National Heritage Sites recognizing the significance of a site and its cultural and heritage significance to the country. And then at the end of 2018, the SAAO was declared as a National Heritage Site and recognizing the scientific contributions over the years and that’s significance to the country and we will be unveiling this site as an official National Heritage Site on Tuesday, the 20th of October, which is 200 years to the day from the establishment of the observatory. So a big event on a big day. And we will have addresses by the Minister of Science and Innovation, the Minister of Arts and Culture and various others. We’ll be unveiling the plaque of the National Heritage Site.

Jacinta: [00:09:27] Wonderful. And how can people watch that?

Dan: [00:09:28] So it will be streamed online obviously for Covid regulations, we had planned a large in person event, but as such, we cannot proceed with that. So it will be a large online event. You will be able to link through from our website, otherwise follow the observatory on social media. We can post all those links in the show notes, but if you just go to saao.ac.za, you’ll be able to get all the information you need. Other events going on – we have a large Astronomy Symposium happening that week, which kicks off on the Tuesday and runs through to Friday. We’ve got talks from astronomers all over Africa, and we will be talking about the exciting astronomy going on. We’ll talk about the history, we’ll be talking about astronomy going on across Africa, we’ll be talking about the social impact of astronomy and the indigenous knowledge and really covering a lot of topics and we’re trying to keep it quite general and inclusive. And in that vein, it is open to all. So if any interested astronomers or, you know, amateur astronomers or anyone just interested in astronomy and what’s going on here, you’re welcome to join. That website is saao200.saao.ac.za, but basically you just go to our website and you’ll find links to everything. So yeah, that’ll be a very exciting three-and-a-half day program and anyone is welcome to join and see what we’re doing. It’ll be streamed online again, all fully virtual. It should be very exciting.

Jacinta: [00:10:53] Yeah. I’m really excited about that. So you and I will be chairing a couple of the sessions. So looking forward to hearing the contributions of everyone in that and any other events for the public?

Dan: [00:11:07] Obviously the public is of huge importance to us. And the original plan was to have a large astronomy festival this week. And obviously that can’t go ahead. We can’t have thousands of people in one space. So we have tried as much as possible to run a virtual program. And we’ve already had a couple of events: virtual storytelling we will have a series of lectures through the week, which will happen in the evenings with time for questions and the answers from the public. Those will be on our Facebook page and also streamed online on YouTube. So we encourage the public to get involved in those. We also have an astrophotography competition at every level. So you’re welcome to submit sketches or drawings or paintings, or as well as, you know, some high end astrophotography, if that’s what you’re into. And then on the last evening of the virtual festival, we will be having a virtual star party. So we all have some live stargazing, which will be streamed live. And that’ll be interspersed with music from Master Kg – who is famous in South Africa and probably in other places around the world for his recent hit Jerusalema. Our South African president even mentioned and got encouraged at the nation to get involved in doing this dance, which…

Jacinta: [00:12:17] Really? I missed that entire thing.

Dan: [00:12:20] In one of his presidential addresses, he sort of got everyone trying to do the dance. We are gonna get involved in and do our best.  I haven’t learned the dance yet.

Jacinta: [00:12:35] Well, I’ve been watching you dance around your office today. What’s your song?

Dan: [00:12:40] Well, so I’ve been dealing with an incredible…

Jacinta: [00:12:44] Little bit of stress?

Dan: [00:12:45] I’ve been dealing with it a little bit of stress. I’ve been taking a leaf out of The Beach Boys’ book and dreaming of Kokomo. Okay.

Jacinta: [00:12:56] Come on, run off a few lines for us.

Dan: [00:12:58] Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya’ to Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama

Jacinta: [00:13:07] Okay, well, thank you.

Dan: [00:13:11] I’m sorry. I was just getting back.

Jacinta: [00:13:14] You were inspired by Space Force. If anyone’s seen that on Netflix.

Dan: [00:13:19] Steve Carell. Wonderful. Anyway, we should really get to work.

Jacinta: [00:13:22] We really should. Okay. Now, well, should we hear from Vanessa?

Dan: [00:13:26] Absolutely.

Jacinta: [00:13:26] All right. Let’s hear from Vanessa about the OAD – her role as Head of Research at the SAAO and several other hats that she wears, she kind of just does everything.

Dan: [00:13:36] She sure does.

Jacinta: [00:13:37] All right. Let’s hear from Vanessa.

Dan: [00:13:40] So today we’re joined by Vanessa McBride, who is based at the Office of Astronomy for Development here at the South African Astronomical Observatory. And she’ll be talking to us a little bit about what she does. Vanessa, welcome to The Cosmic Savannah.

Vanessa McBride: [00:13:58] Hi Dan. Hi, Jacinta. And nice to be here.

Jacinta: [00:14:01] Thanks very much for joining us.

Dan: [00:14:04] So Vanessa, perhaps you can just explain to us some of your wide and varied roles, with the Office of Astronomy for Development, but also for the observatory.

Vanessa McBride: [00:14:12] I’m an astronomer at the Office of Astronomy for Development. It’s one of the offices of the International Astronomical Union, which is based in Cape Town and hosted at the South African Astronomical Observatory.

I’m, also fulfilling the role of Head of Research at the South African Astronomical Observatory. And that’s a role that allows me to try to work with other astronomers, to create an environment that’s really conducive to research at the observatory. And I also have an adjunct associate professorship at the University of Cape Town where I participate in some teaching and joint research projects at postgraduate level.

 Dan: [00:14:54] You’re right, hey, wide and various. I’m not sure where you find the time. Perhaps we should start with just talking a little bit about the Office of Astronomy for Development and what exactly, the objectives of the office are for the International Astronomical Union, also, locally. 

Vanessa McBride: [00:15:14] Okay. Well the office has been established in 2011 and really it grew out of the idea that, you know, the skills, the methods, the techniques we use, in astronomy can really be applied more broadly than just in astronomy. And it’s also, you know, comes together with the fact that as I’m sure all of us know, astronomy is interesting to a wide variety of people, it has a philosophical context to it.

It’s also part of many different cultures. And so using all of those aspects, we try to think about ways that, astronomy can influence the sustainable development goals. So look at how social economic development can be affected in some way through astronomy.

Dan: [00:16:08] What are some of the examples of these projects? I mean, I know that in the recent months and, last year, with the Covid pandemic, there have been a lot of astronomers who’ve, lent a hand in terms of modelling and trying to predict the pandemic and analyse the data. Whether those, contributions were welcome and productive, I’m not sure, but I know that a lot of astronomers, and many that I know personally got involved in that, is this the kind of thing you’re talking about, or what are some of the other examples of projects that the office runs.

Vanessa McBride: [00:16:40] Yeah, I think that’s part of it Dan. So for example, there can be sort of fields in which you can apply techniques, for example, the models and things that have been applied through Covid, these are things that are, based in differential equations.

But of course that requires specific domain knowledge, right? Which often we don’t have as astronomers. So for that reason, one of the focuses of our office is really to work in a sort of cross-disciplinary context because, we may come as astronomers with some of the skills, but we don’t always have that domain specific knowledge that you need really to make an impact.

Like we’re not up to date with medical literature, we don’t know what things they’ve tried and failed. So, we can make contributions, but it’s also important to do it in conjunction with the experts in the field. I mean, some of the other examples of how astronomy can make an impact, are kind of embodied in the three flagship projects of the OAD at the moment.

So OAD is Office of Astronomy for Development, and at the moment we have three of these kinds of projects that have crystallized over the last 10 years through a process where anyone can apply for funding to run one of these astronomy for development projects. And those projects – the first is looking at how a socio-economic development can happen around an observatory. So that may be either through, direct economic empowerment. So for example, if you have a beautiful observatory and a dark sky site, it may not be a research observatory, but it could attract tourists, for example. And those – through tourism – generate money for the local community.

Another of our flagship projects is looking at the kind of the big picture at how, if you look at the earth from space and sort of the view that astronomy gives you, how can that kind of perspective allow us to be better global citizens? And that project is being led through the European regional office of astronomy for development.

And then the last flagship project really looks at sort of data and skills in astronomy and how those transfer to other fields. So that looks at things like machine learning, data wrangling these kinds of things that we have to do in our daily lives as astronomers. But the fact is that they’re also incredibly valuable in other economic sectors and of course, in other fields of data intensive research,

Jacinta: [00:19:28] That’s absolutely fantastic Vanessa and the work of the OAD is really, really awesome. So for our listeners, could you explain a bit more about what you mean by development and I guess many people are surprised when we say that astronomy can be used for development.  I know you’ve written a lot on that in the past. Could you say a bit more about that?

Vanessa McBride: [00:19:49] Yeah. So I think it’s captured most simply in the slogan that we use in our office: “Astronomy for a better world”. And so, by development we mean improving people’s lives in some way; whether that is improving their lives by allowing them to have better the prospects for finding jobs or whether it’s improving their lives by allowing them to make additional income through an astro-tourism initiative or whether it’s improving lives through a better quality of education or access to new educational content. All of those are ways in which development can be impacted. And at the Office of Astronomy for Development, we use the United Nations’ sustainable development goals as a very broad sort of, metric for development.

You’ve probably seen some of the lovely posters; they’re very colourful posters showing these 17 development goals that range from sort of good health and wellbeing to economic empowerment through to, quality education and partnerships for the goals. So these are what we use as our definition of development in the broadest sense.

Dan: [00:21:05] How does the office implement these projects? I mean, do you take an active role? Is it a funding role? is it an advisory role where people report to you and on their progress and   on their goals and how they’re affecting the environment they’re in? I mean, is there a process of monitoring and evaluation that’s taking place to see the effect of these sorts of interventions?

Vanessa McBride: [00:21:29] To some extent there is, Dan, so at the moment, and actually since 2013, the OAD has run an annual call for proposals that is open to anyone in the world. And it’s a call for funding.

So you can suggest an Astronomy for Development proposal, in any sort of field that you want, you don’t even need to be an astronomer or have an affiliation with a university or a research institute. And then you can have a small chunk of funding. It’s usually a few thousand euros and those projects can come from anywhere in the world and they’re usually funded for a year and there is a kind of a monitoring and evaluation process – fairly simple because of course the grants that are not so big. So we don’t want to make these things too onerous for small grants. And then with the flagship projects – how we see those developing. So those are more of a sort of top down approach where we can imagine having rather large programs with a potential for a global rollout and those will have to be funded separately. At the moment we have some funding for aspects of the flagship projects, but they’re not fully funded at the moment. So we kind of have a real mixture of grassroots projects that are designed very much by the community and then these sorts of higher level projects with the potential for outside funding.

What we also did this year – because it was such an unusual year for everyone – is we had a very rapid turnaround COVID related call for proposals. So in addition to our usual call we had a call that was an attempt to try and alleviate some of the burden on people placed by the pandemic and by the lockdown.

So we had such a variety of proposals from all over the world for this funding – so it ranged from cultivating food gardens, during lockdown to making data available for remote tutoring of students at schools and universities. So a whole range of projects, really. We’re interested in this kind of funding.

Jacinta: [00:23:41] Can you give us some examples of your favourite projects?

Vanessa McBride: [00:23:45] Yeah, of course, I have a couple of favourites, but one of them that really stands out for me, is a project that was run a couple of years ago in Sierra Leone. The point of that project was to improve literacy in school aged children. And they just were very sneaky about it because they made the topic so interesting. They used astronomy as kind of the hook to just grab the interest of these school aged children and to teach them these concepts around literacy as they were going through it. So they were kind of just learning without realizing they were learning.

So that’s one of the projects I really like. Another project that I thought was really interesting was a collaboration between a group in the UK and a group in Kenya.  And the point of this was that there are many eye conditions which don’t need to leave you with a disability if they are often treated, right. But the problem is that in lots of rural regions you don’t have access to ophthalmologists or someone who can really diagnose what’s wrong with your eyes.

This project was looking at a kind of a Zooniverse approach to diagnosing these eye conditions. So they’ve made a specially adapted camera that could go on the back of a mobile phone and you could take pictures of people’s retina with this and that was done through field workers and they would then upload these pictures onto a site for classification through crowd sourcing, right. So many different people all over the world could potentially log into a browser and then learn through a simple tutorial, how to classify various of these conditions. And that way you could get a diagnosis. So this is a project, of course, it was a trial run, but seemed to work quite well.

Dan: [00:25:36] Wow that’s very cool. So for those of you who don’t know, Zooniverse is another astronomy program where you can go online and identify different astronomical objects generally galaxies with your eyes because the human eye is still quite a lot better than the normal computing techniques. So it was sort of a crowd sourced approach to gaining some astronomy knowledge. Very cool to use it for ophthalmology.

Vanessa McBride: [00:26:02] Yeah. There’s all sorts of interesting projects on the Zooniverse now, that actually have nothing to do with astronomy.

Dan: [00:26:07] Really? I haven’t been on for a while, obviously. We’ll plug it in our show notes and send some people there. So you’re juggling this sort of Astronomy for Development, but also your own research and the research of the entire observatory?

Vanessa McBride: [00:26:25] Thankfully, I don’t have to do it single-handedly, right? I think we’re very fortunate at the observatory that we have like a really dedicated and motivated bunch of people who are doing research. And of course, in addition to all the other things, like keeping the observatory running, making sure telescopes are operational. So that part of the job is kind of easy. You just have to think about ways in which we could enable people to do the best research they can.

Dan: [00:26:56] So your role is essentially to encourage researchers and enable them to do more work. And this is – we have these facilities up in Sutherland where astronomers can use them – but we’re also a national facility and we provide telescope observing time to all of the South African researchers at universities and it also researches abroad. Does that fall under your gambit or are you primarily focused on the research of the observatory itself?

Vanessa McBride: [00:27:22] No, my primary role is really to look at research of astronomers and students here at the observatory. We know we have a huge amount of people using the telescopes and the instruments in Sutherland, but it’s very important also, that our Institute provides more than just a service, right.

We don’t just provide instruments to use, but we use them ourselves and we are doing cutting edge science with those. And it’s important that we stay at the forefront because, once you really doing the cutting edge science and you know what you need to discover the next problem, it allows you to feed that knowledge back into building a telescope or an instrument that the community can really use and that you can use to do that kind of science. So we see it as a very kind of, I don’t know, yin and yang process that you really need the good science in order to make the observatory work.

Dan: [00:28:17] Did you know, that, yesterday I looked up how many research publications the observatory has produced in its 200 year history. Anyone want to guess?

Jacinta: [00:28:39] I’ve got no idea.

Vanessa McBride: [00:28:41] What, do we produce about 80 a year?

Dan: [00:28:43] So 136 last year, but 3000 in total, over the 200 year history with over 75,000 citations.

Jacinta: [00:28:47] Gosh.

Vanessa McBride: [00:28:48] Wow.

Jacinta: [00:28:49] So, fairly productive. Yeah, that’s amazing. So that brings us to the 200th anniversary of the SAAO. Vanessa, so you’re Head of Research and you’re also involved with the OAD. Can you tell us a little bit more about your insights into the history of the observatory and its role in the community, inclusivity and where we’re moving towards the future.

Vanessa McBride: [00:29:16] Thanks Jacinta. I don’t have a huge amount of knowledge on the history of the observatory, but I do think this 200 year milestone is kind of an interesting place to be because obviously the observatory was founded as guidance for the Navy – for the Admiralty in their efforts to colonize and, expand the empire. So in a way it’s got a bit of an interesting background, but yet here we are today and we’re doing this amazing science and we’re also trying to grow this community and cohort of black astronomers, which we’re just starting to see move into these professional positions. So I think it’s very exciting time to kind of look both back at the history of the observatory – where we come from – but also to look forward because it’s a moment really to shape the future of the observatory.

Dan: [00:30:16] Yeah, I think there’s something wonderful about something so old, because it does show you how things transform. As you said, it started off as essentially a time service for the Royal Navy and very quickly, in a matter of a decade or two, transformed it to one of the global leading observatories – astronomical research observatories – in the world. We measured the first distance to a star, we did the first photographic sky survey here and then now in recent decades, we’ve transformed again into this sort of South African Observatory with SALT being the pinnacle of that – with SALT being unveiled in 2005. And since then it’s really a world class telescope – one of the largest in the world and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. I think that looking at that journey from those beginnings to where we are now, and then imagining where we can go in the next few decades. It’s pretty amazing to me. I think it’s incredibly exciting. And as you say, it’s a wonderful opportunity to do that re-imagining and try and look at where the observatory is going to go.

Vanessa McBride: [00:31:25] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s very exciting that, we’ve had this institution in South Africa, for all this time, doing cutting edge science and through some pretty tumultuous times. It’s I mean it’s been consolidated as the South African Observatory. It’s sort of seen through Apartheid times and now we’re really trying to work hard to undo this legacy of Apartheid that we’ve been left with. And it’s quite interesting to see how the observatory and its people are moving through these new times, because of course there’s a lot of work to be done we are still, very consumed with unlearning some of the prejudice that all of us have picked up through these times. And really building an observatory that is inclusive and welcoming to most of South Africa’s population.

 Jacinta: [00:32:21] Okay. So there’s a bit of work still to do, or a lot of work still to do, which, I’m really glad to hear that there’s people like you and your colleagues and others pushing for this. In your role as Head of Research, what sort of vision do you have for the near to medium future?

Vanessa McBride: [00:32:26] So thanks Jacinta. I think it’s fun to work on these vision questions because you know, part of the job here is really to bring together this amazing group of researchers and to inspire them with a vision that we can all get behind and move forward. If you think about the last couple of decades we’ve seen, as Dan mentioned, the Southern African Large Telescope go from an idea to an actual living telescope that is working and producing results.

We’ve also seen – in South Africa and this landscape- the MeerKAT radio telescope, which also, just was an idea. And we then won the bid for the site and we now have an incredible telescope that we’re using to produce fantastic results. So what is the next big thing on the horizon? And I think that’s where we are at the moment – we’re thinking, where do we go from here? What are the instruments, what are the techniques that we are going to use to push the big questions in astronomy going forward?

And are those big questions about new and interesting discoveries that we are going to find through the big surveys of the sky that are coming online? All these questions we want to answer about how galaxies evolve and how they form and how they give rise to the stars and planets that we know. The things that we’re battling with, not only me, but it’s the whole of the observatory at the moment, is sort of working together, putting their heads together to think about,  what is the area in which we want to lead and what will be the big thing that we do in the coming decades.

Dan: [00:34:18] Yeah for me. I mean, you say, we’re putting our heads together; where can we go from here? I feel like it’s and maybe it’s just me, but I feel like it’s so much more exciting than that. It’s like, where can’t we go from here? We have SALT. We have MeerKAT, the SKA is coming – there’s limitless opportunity in South Africa for astronomy.  We have government support, we have the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act. We really are in a uniquely positive position in the world when it comes to growing astronomy. I think that it’s, the next 20 years for us, the opportunities are endless. And I think it’s an incredibly exciting time to be an astronomy.

Vanessa McBride: [00:35:00] I agree, Dan. I think we really do. We have a lot that we can choose from here. And I think part of the value that we have here in South Africa, is also that we recognize, by hosting the OAD and by the work that the observatory does in the collateral benefits around SALT in the schools’ program, we realized that, whilst we do niche research about these kinds of topics, we also realize that a lot of the techniques, the methods, and in fact, the inspiration of astronomy really has to be available to a larger part of the population. We have to use this to inspire students, to study science. You know, we have to use these techniques to think of ways of lifting people out of poverty, because at the end of the day, we are in a country where we are facing these challenges of poverty, and unemployment.

Dan: [00:35:55] I mean I think you’re right. How can we use this advantage to further the socio-economic development of our country? It’s clear we are at a huge advantage in terms of astronomy right now and it’s an incredibly powerful position to be in and we need to make sure that we optimize that so that our citizens – the South Africans and Africans – gain the maximum benefit from it. Because at the end of the day, it’s our astronomy, which we are doing here in Africa and we need a full buy-in and full inclusivity of our citizens, in that endeavour.

Vanessa McBride: [00:36:34] I agree. And I think one of the ways I like to say that it’s – as astronomers – we sometimes have our heads in the stars, but we really do need to have our feet firmly planted on the ground.

Jacinta: [00:36:45] Absolutely.   And it’s a privilege to study astronomy and it’s so fascinating and exciting. I think we do owe it to society of course to share this passion and the insights, and with all of the other benefits that we’ll bring and especially if it can help in the areas of development. Just before we end, Vanessa, you mentioned that you also work at UCT – the University of Cape Town – and you do your own research and you have your own students. So can you mention a little bit about that and what you work on?

Vanessa McBride: [00:37:18] I do supervise some students. Actually, I have one master’s student who’s just writing up now. I have no PhD students – one of them has just submitted and received her PhD this year.   But, my field of interest is these binary stars that are transferring mass from a really massive star- much bigger than the sun – onto what we call a compact object or a neutron star and that’s the remnants of a star; after it has exhausted its fuel. Just the core remains as a very dense object called a neutron star.  I study these kinds of objects in our neighbouring galaxies – you may have seen them in the sky; the large and small Magellanic clouds – and they’re interesting objects because they trace star formation and you can see these things out to pretty large distances. Some of the stuff I’ve been working on recently is really trying to trace how – being in a binary, like this, these two stars where they’re transferring mass from one to the other – actually changes the evolutionary pathway of these stars.

So it means that they go through different phases than they would have if they were just isolated and sort of burning fuel on their own. So my work involves mostly observations in the optical, some observations in X-ray and more recently we’ve done some observations in the radio to try and connect the dots of these objects at different phases in their lives to really see how they evolve as a group.

Jacinta: [00:38:52] So have you been using SALT or MeerKAT for this work?

Vanessa McBride: [00:38:55] Yes, we have. We’ve had some MeerKAT observations last year, which we’re still analysing. And we also use SALT on a regular basis. It allows us to measure how far away these objects all from each other, how big their orbits are, and actually helps us to try and understand some of the process of this transferring of mass from one component, one of the stars onto the other.

Jacinta: [00:39:20] That’s so cool.  SALT and MeerKAT are just amazing and all of the work from the observatory also SARAO – the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory. I’ve been quite silent during this discussion because all of the excitement of South African astronomy is making me question my future and I just never really want to leave. This is just really the best place to be an astronomer right now. So yeah, exciting times.

Vanessa McBride: [00:39:44] Yeah, exciting times and lots to come.

Dan: [00:39:46] Speaking of lots to come, there was one other role, Vanessa, which you have not mentioned, which I will mention. That is, you are leading the organization of the IAU general assembly in 2024, which will be held here in Cape Town. Do you want to talk to us a little bit about that?

Vanessa McBride: [00:40:03] Yeah, that’s a super exciting event on our calendar, right. Even though it’s four years away.  So the International Astronomical Union has been around for about a hundred years and they have a general assembly – so a big meeting every three years – one of my colleagues describes it as the World Cup of astronomy.

This meeting has been to many places on the globe but it has never yet been held on the continent of Africa. So we were thrilled to win the bid to host this meeting in 2024. The meeting will be held in Cape Town, but it really is an African meeting because it’s the first time it will be held in Africa.

Whilst it’s exciting to have the meeting here in Cape Town, it’s also a fantastic opportunity that we can use to work towards some of the collaborations and how we want the astronomy community across Africa to evolve as we work towards this meeting in 2024. So you may have heard recently, that the African Astronomical Society has been re-established with a new vigour and they are really doing some incredible work in pulling the community of astronomers together, on the African continent. For now, it’s a small community, but it’s really been growing very rapidly. We’re very excited to see Africa represented in the global astronomy endeavour in this way.

Dan: [00:41:35] It’s very exciting, I mean, four years away as if somebody who’s just been organizing all this stuff for next week, four years is very, very close.

Jacinta: [00:41:48] Well, we may as well end it here and let you both get on with your organization of your multiple roles.  Good luck for the 200th anniversary celebrations and we look forward to talking to you again soon, Vanessa.

Vanessa McBride: [00:42:01] Lovely chatting to you, Jacinta and Dan.

Dan: [00:42:04] And you, Vanessa. Thanks for joining us.

Jacinta: [00:42:04] Bye. 

Jacinta: [00:42:06] Dan, I was having a bit of, as I said, a bit of an existential crisis while I was listening to you and Vanessa speak during that interview, which of course we did on Zoom, which was the reason for the slightly poor audio quality. But, you’re right. It’s just so exciting here in South Africa. My contract’s only for another year and I have to decide, you know, where in the world I want to go after that, but astronomy here is so good.

Dan: [00:42:41] Yeah. I mean, it really is. I think that we are in a golden era here in South Africa for astronomy. And I think that there’s going to be some major discoveries coming out of this country, which is the goal of astronomy research at the end of the day. But I’m very excited for the all South Africans.

Jacinta: [00:43:00] Slight sidestep. Speaking of recent, amazing astronomical discoveries. Life on Venus?

Dan: [00:43:06] Well, no, you know, some new molecules on Venus, which we don’t have a non-biological explanation for.

Jacinta: [00:43:12] I mean, I’m not saying it’s aliens, but… no, I thought that was really cool. I watched that press release and there’s been some absorption patterns in the light coming from Venus. And that could either be some chemical process that we’ve never observed on the earth or being able to reproduce on the earth, or it could be from some sort of bacteria, microbial life in the atmosphere of Venus, which we haven’t, we’re not saying it’s aliens, but it’s a tantalizing signal.

Dan: [00:43:48] Yeah, and I think it’s good to look the other way for a change. Everyone always looks at Mars. I think the advantage of Mars is, despite it being hostile and whatever, it’s not quite as hostile as Venus.

Jacinta: [00:43:59] Yeah. It doesn’t have sulfuric acid rain, for example.

Dan: [00:44:06] We have the feeling we could make Mars livable, but Venus is like the end point of our climate change disaster.

Jacinta: [00:44:15] Well it’s the runaway greenhouse effect, so let’s avoid that. Anyway, I think that’s pretty much it for today. Dan, did you want to give us any final plugs?

Dan: [00:44:24] Yeah, just a reminder, if you are interested in getting involved in the 200 year celebrations or watching the unveiling or anything, check out our website. Otherwise follow the observatory on social media and we’ll obviously share the links on The Cosmic Savannah social media too.

Jacinta: [00:44:39] Alrighty. So that’s the end of season three episode, one.

Dan: [00:44:43] Episode 27…

Jacinta: [00:44:46] of The Cosmic Savannah. Thank you very much for listening and we hope you’ll join us again for the next episode.

Dan: [00:44:52] You can visit our website thecosmicsavannah.com. We will have the transcript links and other stuff related to today’s episode. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @cosmicsavannah. That’s Savannah, spelled S-A-V-A-N-N-A-H.

Jacinta: [00:45:06] Special thanks today to associate Professor Vanessa McBride for speaking with us.

Dan: [00:45:11] Thanks to Sumari Hattingh for social media and transcription assistance.

Jacinta: [00:45:14] Also to Mark Allnut for music production, Janus Brink and Michal Lyczek how for photography and Lana Ceraj for graphic design.

Dan: [00:45:22] We greatfully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation, the South African Astronomical Observatory and the University of Cape Town – Astronomy Department – to help keep the podcast running.

Jacinta: [00:45:31] You can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you’d like to help us out, please rate and review us and recommend us to a friend.

Dan: [00:45:40] And we’ll speak to you next time on The Cosmic Savannah.

[End music]

Dan: Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya’ to Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama.

Episode 19: Astro Molo Mhlaba

with Mahaneng “Honey” Phali , Dr Margherita Molaro and the Astro Molo Mhlaba facilitators

In Episode 19 we learn all about the inspirational Astro Molo Mhlaba project in Khayelitsha (Cape Town). This project targets the issues of inclusivity and diversity in South African astronomy by engaging the most underrepresented group – black girls from under-served communities.

Donations can be made at: https://www.globalgiving.org/fundraisers/31504/

Dr Margherita Molaro and Honey Phali, the programme coordinators, join us to explain what Astro Molo Mhlaba is, how it works, why it was established, and the benefits to the community.

From primary and high school to university, Astro Molo Mhlaba aims to inspire and support girl learners in pursuing careers in astronomy and other branches of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

We visit the girls during the international day of Astronomy in Schools, while they demonstrate their astronomy knowledge through song to their parents and community.

We then get a chance to speak with four recently matriculated girls who have been acting as ‘facilitators’ of the programme throughout 2019. We hear their first-hand impressions of the project and how they feel it will impacted their lives and the lives of the school girls.

Astro Molo Mhlaba received funding from the Office of Astronomy for Development and was the winner of the International Astronomical Union’s Women & Girls in Astronomy Prize.

This week’s guests:

Related Links

Featured Image:
Students at the Astro Molo Mhlaba Festival for the IAU Astronomy in Schools Day.


Jacinta: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah with Dr Jacinta Delhaize

Dan: [00:00:08] and Dr. Daniel Cunnama. Each episode, we’ll be giving you a behind the scenes look at the world class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.

Jacinta: [00:00:17] Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do, and the fascinating discoveries we make.

Dan: [00:00:24] Sit back and relax as we take you on a safari through the skies.

Hello and welcome to episode 19!

Jacinta: [00:00:38] this is our last one of 2019 so that worked out well.

Dan: [00:00:41] That was all the plan. It wasn’t

Jacinta: Was it?

Dan: No

Jacinta: [00:00:45] Complete coincidence. Most of this episode will be in English, but parts will be translated into Xhosa by Akhona Bunzi, Andisiwe Shasha and Okuhle Mjali, and part will be translated into Sesotho by Naletsana Chapi.

Okuhle: [00:01:06] [Xhosa translation coming soon]

Naletsana: [00:01:12] [In Sesotho] Interview/Inthaviu (Puisano) enana e tla ba ka Sekgowa haholo emapaneng Naletsana o tla e etsa ka Sesotho.

Jacinta: [00:01:19] Actually, you can also head on to our website where we’ll have transcriptions of many of our episodes, including this one. It may come out a little later after the episode itself airs, but there will be a transcription so you can read along as you’re listening, at least to the English parts.

And if we can manage to find the translator, perhaps also the other languages.

Dan: [00:01:37] So what are we talking about today?

Jacinta: [00:01:39] We’ve got a bumper episode. Today we’re going to be talking about the Astro Molo Mhlaba program, and this is a really fantastic initiative to teach astronomy to primary and high school girls in disadvantaged areas near Cape Town in South Africa.

Dan: Molo Mhlaba

Jacinta: Molo Mhlaba, do you know what it means?

Dan: [00:02:01] I don’t actually… welcome?… it’s… hello. World.

Jacinta: [00:02:05] Yeah.

Dan: [00:02:06] Hello world. Oh, there we go!

Jacinta: [00:02:09] It’s Xhosa

Dan: [00:02:10] Xhosa

Jacinta: [00:02:12] Oh it’s hard. I can’t pronounce it.

Dan: [00:02:13] It’s hard for me too,

Jacinta: [00:02:14] But it’s an African language?

Dan: [00:02:17] South African, predominantly Southern, South Africa

Jacinta: [00:02:20] Right. Molo Mhlaba is a Xhosa word for “hello world”

Dan: [00:02:24] which is the first thing you’ll learn to do if you ever learn coding.

Jacinta: [00:02:28] Exactly. Print hello world. So, and that’s really relevant because this particular school, it’s a pan-African Montessori school, and it has this particular focus on teaching young black girls STEM, coding, robotics. And so having a name that means hello world is quite relevant. That’s very cool. So this school is in a township called Khayelitsha.

Perhaps Dan, you’d like to explain what a township is?

Dan: [00:02:53] A township is, it’s a previously disadvantaged community. So during the apartheid era, a lot of communities were removed from the city centers or sort of affluent areas and put in what was called townships. So there were these small towns, some semi-formal, some more formal than others in terms of the housing.

And these have then since become suburbs, which are predominantly full of previously disadvantaged people. And you, you spoke to a couple of people about how this school came about.

Jacinta: [00:03:28] Yeah, that’s right. So I spoke to Dr Margherita Molaro, who is an astronomer at the University of the Western Cape. And, she started an astronomy program in association with this Molo Mhlaba school.

And also I was speaking with Mahaneng “Honey” Phali, or Honey for short. Who is the Molo Mhlaba program manager, and also coordinates the Astro Molo Mhlaba program. And they were explaining to me sort of the genesis. So this whole Molo Mhlaba concept was started by Dr Rhetabile Mashale-Sonibare who is a really fantastic, inspirational woman.

She started a nonprofit called the Thope foundation in 2013 and Honey was working with them for quite a while and she was working up to six days a week, and this was sort of an after-school tutoring program for science and mathematics for girls in these underprivileged areas, particularly in Khayelitsha, but they ended up with so many students that they were tutoring that they decided they may as well start a school.

And so that’s how they started Molo Mhlaba school.

Dan: [00:04:33] And then how did the astronomy get involved?

Jacinta: [00:04:36] Right. So then Margherita heard about this school, this program, and she just really wanted to get involved in any way possible. And being an astronomer, the logical thing that she could bring to the table was astronomy. So she applied for a grant from the office of astronomy for development, the OAD.

So Dan, perhaps you can explain what that is.

Dan: [00:04:57] Yeah. So the office for astronomy development is based here at SAAO in Cape Town. Uh, and it is an international organization, which falls under the international astronomical union, the IAU, which is celebrating its hundredth year this year. And they set up this office for astronomy development about 10 years ago here.

And they manage projects around the world, to try and use astronomy to promote development. So they’re driven by the sustainable development goals, and they try to fund and support projects which will be contributing to development. And I mean this, the Molo Mhlaba, it’s the perfect example of one of these.

Jacinta: [00:05:39] Yeah. So, and it’s quite competitive to get one of these OAD grants, but Margherita was successful. And so she decided to start this, this Astro Molo Mhlaba program. And it’s. Actually really amazing the way that it’s been set up. So it’s sort of like a multi-tiered program. So Margherita and professional female astronomers such as myself, teach four recently matriculated girls.

So girls who have just finished high school, um, and haven’t yet started university, but are interested in STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering, mathematics. So we teach them and we also teach the grade Eleven’s at several high schools in Khayelitsha and in Philippi. And those schools are Manyano and Sophumelela.

We teach them weekly, astronomy classes after school. And this is called the Astronomy Academy. And then the four matriculated girls, they’re called facilitators. So they receive additional tutoring in astronomy, and then they go and teach primary school girls. So, some of the grade ones at Molo Mhlaba school itself, and also some grade sixes from Luleka and Chumisa schools.

So altogether the program manages to reach many, many girls in underprivileged areas. And that ties in with part of the mandate of the Molo Mhlaba school, which is to serve other girls in the community who didn’t have the opportunity to attend the Molo Mhlaba school itself.

Dan: [00:07:08] So the Molo Mhlaba only allows a certain number of students then obviously, yes.

But the project, the Astro Molo Mhlaba actually serves larger than just the Molo Mhlaba school.

Jacinta: [00:07:19] Yeah, exactly. And this is actually one of the major parts of Honey’s work. She’s the program manager and reaches out to the other schools and gets them involved in this.

Dan: [00:07:28] I assume that this project’s been very successful.

Jacinta: [00:07:31] Yeah. Astro Molo Mhlaba has been very successful, so it actually was the winner of the International Astronomical Union’s Women and Girls in Astronomy prize. The International Astronomical Union is what we mentioned before, and this is the international body of astronomers. It’s sort of the official organization of astronomers in the world.

And as you said, this is its 100th anniversary. And as part of that, there’s, there’s many different celebrations and many different prizes. And so as we’ll hear from Margherita in a moment, they organized a fantastic event for the international day of women and girls in astronomy. And for that they won a prize.

And the prize was a trip to Japan, to Tokyo to attend the IAU Symposium of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Astronomy. So Honey went on that trip and we’ll hear from her in a moment about the impression that she had and what she learned.

Dan: [00:08:23] And how have you been involved personally?

Jacinta: [00:08:24] Only a little bit so far.

Margherita and Honey and Rethabile and all of these people are running the vast majority. I’ve just taught some grade Eleven’s one class, which was a lot of fun, and then I managed to attend recently, a few weeks ago, there was the IAU100 Astronomy Day in Schools where the IAU was encouraging, astronomers to go into their communities to go into schools.

And so as part of that Margherita and Astro Molo Mhlaba organized a big, sort of astronomy festival where the girls could present what they’ve learned to the parents and their teachers. And the audience. And they did it mostly through song, because this is what the girls love to communicate with.

And you’ll hear that in a moment, how much joy they’re expressing through their song. So perhaps, let’s go ahead and listen to part of our conversation with Margherita and Honey.

Jacinta: With us in the studio now is Dr. Margherita Molaro and Mahaneng “Honey” Phali. Welcome Margherita and Honey.

Honey [00:09:36]: Thank you for having us

Margherita [00:09:38]: Hi thank you so much for having us

Jacinta  [00:09:40]: First of all let’s start with who are you, tell us a bit about yourself 

Honey [00:09:44]: Ok my name is Mahaneng Honey Phali and I am a programs manager at Molo Mhlaba school and I am also a coordinator at molo mhlaba astronomy project.

Margherita  [00:09:55]: I’m Margherita Molaro, I work as a postdoctoral researcher at the University Western Cape in the astrophysics department and I coordinate the Astro Molo Mhlaba programme at the Molo Mhlaba school

Jacinta [00:10:03]: So where are you both from?

Honey [00:10:05]: Originally from the Northwest province and moved in cape town in late 2015 and I came back in early 2016..yeah I joined Thope Foundation which is an organisation that Molo Mhlaba was birthed from in June yeah so I am now a Cape Townian

Jacinta [00:10:27] So am I 

Margherita [00:10:28]: I am originally from Italy, and I’ve been here in cape town for three years now…which is hard to believe coz it feels like I moved here yesterday..but it’s already been three years

Jacinta [00:10:42]: Yeah I’ve just passed my first year anniversary…it went so fast

Honey  [00:10:44]: happy anniversary!

Jacinta [00:10:45] Alright so you have mentioned Molo Mhlaba a few times…so Molo Mhlaba is an all girls school in Khayelitsha 

Honey [00:11:00] : Yes it’s the first private school, montessori pan african private school in Khayelitsha – we are here surviving and trying to educate underserved black girls in their communities and to place them in the field of science 

Jacinta [00:11:14]: Fantastic . So you mention it is a private school – what does that mean?

Honey  [00:11:18]: By private I don’t mean we have money – It’s an independent school, it’s a non-profit which is basically dependent on funding

Jacinta [00:11:26]: So what’s the importance of having an all girls private school in Khayelitsha

Honey [00:11:30]: We have discovered that girls do well when they are in a single sex environment, so this is why we came with this school because there is a lot of distraction, there’s a lot of competition, and you know in townships there is no safety so the first school for girls in Khayelitsha is addressing all the issues that were not addressed. 

Jacinta  [00:11:54]: That’s brilliant. So that brings us to astronomy, which is the topic of this podcast, the Cosmic Savannah.  So Margherita you started an astronomy academy in association with Molo Mhlaba – tell us about that.

Margherita  [00:12:05] : Yeah so the idea was to introduce an astronomy program both at the school but also in other primary  schools in Khayelitsha to involve the younger girls in fun astronomy activities and of course I mean the hope is that they will all become astronomers but you know also more realistic goals would be to just give the girls an opportunity to engage with science in a way that’s fun and to allow them to see science and astronomy as something that they are entitled to enjoy as much as anyone else. So this is really our primary goal. Then we also have a programme that also targets high school girls so this what we call our Astro Academy – so the one with the younger girls is our astro clubs and the one with the high school girls is our astro academy. And there we involve girls in grade 11 and we do activities with them that also attempt to convey the fact that science doesn’t have to be just a boring school subject. Astronomy is one of the most fascinating sciences – I mean we are both astronomers Jacinta

Jacinta  [00:13:13] Yeah this is a bit of a biased audience…I wholeheartedly agree with you 

Margherita  [00:13:17] So astronomy’s really. It’s such a, it’s such an easy way to show kids how science can be incredibly fascinating and fun – for example during one of our classes we did timescales in the universe and length scales and it blows your mind, which is what we want our girls to experience. So this is another target of our programme. I should..this is my little love message to the Sophumelela girls, who are actually not based in Khayelitsha, they are based in Philippi, so …Yes a different community, quite a long way away, but they reached out to us and they said we want to participate, so we sent a bus to fetch them on the first day we held at Manyano there were so many of them we had to send the bus back to fetch more who wanted to attend and finally we said you know what, we’ll just have to organise this at your school as well, and there was a bit of difficulty communicating with the school itself but the girls basically organised our visits themselves, you know they were communicating with us on whatsapp, we just showed up they said we’ll find a class, and you know we just held the lessons with them and it was just so inspiring to see how much they wanted to be part of the programme. It was just a joy to be around them, really. Full of initiative, full of passion, it was just a rewarding part of the programme.

Jacinta  [00:14:55]: Well done girls!

Margherita  [00:14:57]: They are fantastic.

Jacinta  [00:14:58] I love the sort of tiered approach that you’ve gone with – so the astronomers and yourself teach the facilitators – the four girls who have already finished highschool and are now waiting for university entrance – and then the astronomy and the facilitators teach the year 11s . And so I also managed to go for one of these

Margherita: Of course!

Jacinta For one session to help out the girls I was teaching them logarithms in space and why we need them for distances, and I didn’t tell you this but while I was teaching I was like oooh that’s why we use them. And so that was a great experience and the girls were so enthusiastic about everything.

Margherita: [00:15:42] Yeah so it’s local female astronomers from cape town who teach the academy girls and the reason for that is that we wanted to expose them to role models and as you said the reason for having a tiered approach is really to address the fact that obstacles that get in the way of having astronomy get into science happen at so many levels, right, so for example when we are targeting younger girls, the message we want to get across is that science is for girls too, because at that age you know if it’s just to do with the toys they are exposed to, or the products that are advertised to them, a lot of the space ones would be targeting boys, this is something that’s done not just in South Africa but all over the world – so it’s important to reach them there so that we can fight that idea early on. But then of course once you get to high school there are other obstacles,  I want to pursue a career in science, but I don’t have any examples of women who have done that, I don’t have someone that I feel I can easily approach to ask questions on how that career can be pursued – so one of the reasons for having female astronomers there was that we could provide those information to the girls and the tiered approach is really to do with the fact that we unfortunately have to deal with the fact that we have limited resources, we can’t employ people full time to teach these lessons, and so the idea of having some of the older girls teach the younger girls is really a great way for us to maximise our resources but also to provide these girls, the facilitators, with the opportunity to have remunerated employment whilst learning about astronomy

Jacinta  [00:17:36]  Ok so why astronomy? Margherita you already mentioned that we can use astronomy as a hook to get girls interested in STEM and to provide role models – you said that the girls from Philippi were so interested that they reached out to you and created a whole opportunity for themselves – but for people from developing backgrounds why is this important? 

Margherita  [00:17:58] : So, yeah, as you said, astronomy is such a, as we were saying before, astronomy is such a fascinating science. It’s a very easy way of hooking young people. Also adults in, you know, cause we are asking the big questions, what’s out there? You know, how did the universe evolve. But also in South Africa in particular, astronomy provides so many opportunities because astronomy in South Africa is really booming.

It’s so exciting to be a part of it because both through projects like SALT but also the SKA being built there is so much investment into reaching more and more young people to allow them to enter careers in astronomy. But another thing we want to achieve through this programme is to make sure that students but also parents from communities where financial concerns are very pressing understand that astronomy is a career that can also bring other skills alongside, you know, the more scientifically strict ones for example analytic skills, or computing skills, data science skills, that you know are highly sought after in industry as well as in research, and so if students do become passionate about research, astro, it doesn’t preclude them from pursuing other careers. So I guess really what we want is for them to understand what a career in astronomy is actually like. So that they can make an informed decision if they decide to pursue a career in research 

Jacinta  [00:19:25]  Ok so Honey you work with the girls on sort of a  more day-to-day basis, how has your experience of the programme been and how do you feel about how this is going to influence these girls in their future?

Honey  [00:19:38] So historically the face of science has been a man, and it’s always been white, so we are trying to change the face of science and where the science is made when we started with Thope Foundation we wanted girls to have confidence to see science to see the application of science in their day to day life, because you know the perception with science and maths is always that it is a difficult subject and you must only be in town schools … to be acing in these subjects, and it’s not the truth; we wanted to inspire these girls, to mentor them to participate in science and we’re doing that in astronomy because the field is booming in astronomy so we wanted to place as many girls, motivate them and encourage them in the field of astronomy, this is our mission. I don’t have a background of science but I’m also learning a lot and I sit in the classes and listen, and it is mind blowing triggering, what you’ve always been prevented to think about you know and when you enter that space your mind just goes crazy you think about the universe, how it evolves, and the planets, and I read a lot – sometimes they’ll say pluto is a dwarf planet, and then another astronomer will say actually no, it is a planet. So it’s always interesting to find out this information. And you know last night I was looking at my youtube and the majority of my channels are like astronomy news.

So it’s really interesting and it’s mind provoking and you do it – you follow your pace and you allow the mind to work, because your mind does ask itself these questions and it’s like we’re told you won’t get any answers but when you are in this space where your work is to find answers, to find the impossible right, the girls are very excited to be working you know in this project to be participating you know. We had a festival you know two weeks ago before I went to Japan and it was amazing and it was so fun you know to see girls tell us about the planets and give us the characteristics of the planets, and it was not just a concept in school that you would just do to pass the curriculum but applying it in their daily life and seeing it. 

Jacinta  [00:22:15] Yeah I had the pleasure of actually attending this festival and watching it and it was so much fun – so just tell us a bit more about the festival and why it happened. 

Honey  [00:22:24] So the festival was to invite the parents and the teachers of these learners because we work in their spaces and not all of them actually understand what we are doing so we Margherita told us – we actually planned it on whatsapp 

Margherita:  [00:22:43] That’s where most of our planning takes place

Honey  [00:22:46]: She just sent a text the other day and said I think we should do a festival to showcase the work that the facilitators do and the afterschool space in … and showcase this work, and we continued with it I didn’t think it was that serious but we know we got to realise the girls were so excited that they came up with their own ideas and the hall was full, we had parents we also had from the OAD office, Kevin was there, he’s always supporting us in this project also Takalani was there and we were so appreciative of that. 

Margherita  [00:23:24] : So yes this is Takalani Nemaungani who is actually the director for multiwavelength astronomy at the DST and we were so honoured to have him attend and it was so great to have someone who is involved at the forefront of the astronomy revolution in South Africa and to bring it to a community that too often is excluded from this excitement. So to have him there and share this incredible stage of South Africa astronomy with the parents and the children was very special. 

Jacinta [00:23:56]:  And why was the event held in the first place?

Margherita [00:23:59]: We were celebrating the Astronomy in Schools day – so the IAU holds a lot of these special days, international days where outreach projects throughout the world hold events in schools to bring astronomy closer to them. So actually the event that kicked off our programme was the IAU international day of women and girls in astronomy and we were very excited to win a prize for it, so out of all of the projects that were held around the world we were very very excited to win!

That’s right we represented South Africa to the international stage and we were very lucky to win a grant to attend the IAU’s symposium on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Astronomy which was held in Tokyo which Honey attended to represent the project 

Jacinta [00:24:52]  Ok we’re gonna talk all about Japan in a moment…so I have one last question: what did you do for this IAU girls and women event?

Margherita  [00:25:00]: So for the day we had a lot of activities organised for the girls, where they learned about planet earth, planets in the solar system, the shape of galaxies, which was very fun, we actually had an astronaut attend!

Jacinta [00:25:12] Ooh what??

Margherita:  [00:25:13] Super exciting 

Jacinta [00:25:15] That I didn’t know about!

Margherita  [00:25:17]: Oh you didn’t? So Ellen Baker who is an american astronaut actually attended the event. She was taken to us by Kevin from the OAD directly from the airport. We were just so honoured to have her attend and it was really great, it’s already been really great.

Jacinta  [00:25:35]: Gosh I had already FOMO for missing out on that event because I was in Australia but now it’s even more … I did get to meet the girls and watch their fantastic performances a few weeks ago so that was amazing. 

Ok so now Honey, the part I’ve been waiting for, is to ask about your time in Japan.  So as Margherita said you travelled to an IAU international conference in Japan, and so tell us first of all what the conference was about and why did you go

Honey  [00:26:06]  So the conference that I attended in Japan was the IAU Conference around Equity Diversion and Inclusion in the field of astronomy so they discussed the exclusions – financial exclusion, gender exclusion, in the field of astronomy and also the different disabilities of people with special needs, how can they be included in the field of astronomy, are they being accommodated to their full capacity, because there’s like talks that were going on for years that if you’re blind or if you are partially blind you cannot become an astronomer so those were topics that were being addressed at Tokyo, and also I got an opportunity to present about our work the things that we do in South Africa with Molo Mhlaba and Molo Mhlaba astronomy academy.

Jacinta [00:27:02]: And how did you feel about the experience, had you been to Japan before?

Honey [00:27:05]:  No and this was actually my first international trip

Jacinta [00:27:10]: Fantastic! Was it scary?

Honey [00:27:12]: It was very scary! 

Margherita [00:27:14]: It’s quite a long way to go for a first international trip 

Jacinta  [00:27:17]: Big exotic trip

Honey [00:27:19]: Because my connecting flight was like in an hour it gave me sleepless nights..you know landing in Doha and from Doha to Tokyo I didn’t know how I was going to get that right but it happened. It went well. 

It really changed my perspective a lot around things, and also in addressing the challenges we have here in South Africa, the high femicide rates, and you know South Africa is not a safe country, so to go to Tokyo to experience a country where there is so much peace, there is safety, it gave me hope and I came back with a different perspective and I am someone who would believe that  it’s probably politics that would change our country but it’s actually not, no amount of politics would change that, it’s as citizens in South Africa being patriotic about our country and saying we love it and we want to take care of it

Jacinta:  [00:28:20] I’m speechless…oh that’s…. yeah I’m kind of speechless. That’s a really amazing perspective and to have gone on just one trip to Japan and to come back with this is really eye opening – how did people respond to what you were saying in Japan when you presented?

Honey [00:28:42]: I had a lot of people coming to me because you know before I presented I was so nervous you know presenting like globally it’s not a child’s play, so I went to the stage and I looked at people like everyone and you know I’m a tall person but I actually felt really like short. It’s not an easy task so I just thought I’m going to give it my all, and you know the feedback and I appreciate every feedback and it was like an awesome feedback, I had the president of the IAU come to me to give me her hand immediately when I stopped when I got off the stage 

Jacinta Oh wow

Honey I had a lot of people, we even got a lot of likes on FB, and she promised that she will come in february

Jacinta What here?

Margherita: Yep

Honey To see our work – because a lot of people honestly liked our project and the concept of our project and you know how much we are you know teaching young girls from early ages from primary schools it’s not usually like that, you only get to be taught regarding astronomy in high school – I remember doing the solar system and the planets in high school and it was just left there. I didn’t see the importance but it warms my heart to see girls knowing all the 8 planets for me it’s impossible but it’s happening , and the future is in science and we’d like to see a lot of black girls accessing that space, dominating it.

Jacinta [00:30:20]  Absolutely . Ok I mean I have so many more questions but maybe it’s time to wrap it up . So two more questions; the first is what do you envision as the future of this programme 

Honey  [00:30:34] I mean with the money that we got we managed to reach 150 girls in townships so my vision is to see all girls participating in astronomy and accessing that space and seeing the girls who live in Khayelitsha you know the surrounding areas other townships in Cape Town of girls who don’t have or who come from a background of not enough accessing that space, learning about the astronomy 

Margherita [00:31:08]: So from my side , I want this to become a permanent project, I want this to be well established well structured so that you know it’s not a matter of 2020 you know we want this to run long term alongside the school, And then you know I am European so I might or will be moving back to Europe so for me my vision is that Molo Mhlaba will run outreach projects in Europe 

Honey [00:31:37]: That’s big!

Margherita [00:31:39] : I want you know this is South Africa reaching European young girls and showing them what’s what. So that’s my vision you know in the long term.

Jacinta  [00:31:49]  Amazing. Ok. So just before we go this episode is coming out fairly close to Christmas and maybe it’s a season of charity and giving, and if anybody would like to donate to the molo mhlaba school and the programme how can they do that?

Margherita  [00:32:06] : You can find the link to our globalgiving page on our website, – www.astromolomhlaba.org/donate hopefully Jacinta and Dan can put the link when they release the episode

Jacinta [00:32:19] Of course it will be right there on our website, but just in case spell molo mhlaba for us

Honey  [00:32:26] So Molo mhlaba is M-O-L-O M-L-A-B-A – you can also find us on our website www.molomhlaba.org and you can also follow us on FB, on twitter, and we accept all kinds of donations 

Margherita  [00:32:43]: I know people say this a lot that every little helps, but trust us, every little helps it really goes a long way to material and opportunities, and all donations go into the community, there is no one who is employed and no material that is used that doesn’t go directly to Khayelitsha – so trust that we will make good use of your money

Jacinta [00:33:05]: And you can donate anywhere around the world?

Margherita  [00:33:07]: That’s right, yes

Jacinta  [00:33:08]: Ok, well thank you so much to both of you for your amazing project and also congratulations to everyone else who’s been involved – fantastic job

Honey [00:33:018]: Thank you 

Margherita[00:33:019]: Thank you so much for having us 

Dan: [00:33:34] Thank you. Very cool. Great to hear Honey’s enthusiasm and that she had this incredible opportunity to go to Japan too. It sounds like it really, it really excited her and blew her mind.

Jacinta: [00:33:47] I’ve been to Japan a couple of times and it also blew my mind. It’s, it’s really different and really amazing.

Dan: [00:33:51] Yeah. And just incredible to hear the work they’re doing.

It’s wonderful. They’ve won this prize and they’ve had some recognition for their work because it does sound like a lot of work and I’m sure they’ve poured their heart and soul into this project.

Jacinta: [00:34:05] Yeah, I mean, and you can sort of hear in their voices how passionate they are about this and how much they believe in it and sort of, and how dedicated they are.

And as you say, just the amount of time that has gone into this, and then it’s producing results already only it’s only been running for I guess less than a year and doing a really fantastic job. So we look forward to hearing what’s going to happen from them in 2020 and beyond.

Dan: [00:34:28] Yeah, and I think it’s just really cool how this sort of tiered approach works that you’re not just hitting students like directly, you’re changing lives the whole way up.

So the facilitators are learning, they’re gaining skills, which then they can take on to their futures. It’s incredible the difference that’s already being made.

Jacinta: [00:34:46] Yeah. And I think it’s always, it’s always such a positive thing to empower people through education of topics like this, to be able to determine their own futures.

Dan: [00:34:54] You attended this festival that they organized?

Jacinta: [00:34:58] Yeah. Oh my gosh. It was so much fun. We can hear it. Would you like to hear it? Yeah. Yeah. So, I’ll play a few recordings that I made on the day. Apologies. It’s a little bit shouty from me. I forgot my headphones.  So I couldn’t tell what the sound levels were, but we hear from some of the little five and six year old girls before their performance, from some audience members, from some parents and then we hear from the girls themselves through their song and performance during the festival. 

Dan: [00:35:28] Well, I’d love to hear it.

Jacinta: [00:36:02] Hello! Here I have some very amazing ladies from the Molo Mhlaba school. Are you excited about performing today?

Children: [00:36:09] Yes!

Jacinta: [00:36:12] And are your parents here to see you? 

Children: Yes!

Jacinta: Okay, and what are you going to sing for us today?

Children: [00:36:19] We sing continents.

Jacinta: [00:36:21] Are you going to be some planets?

Children: [00:36:24] Yes!

Jacinta: [00:36:26] What’s your favorite planet?

Child: Earth!

Jacinta: Earth? That’s a good answer. Why the Earth? Because we’ve got some trees here and some oceans. Okay. What’s your second favorite planet?

Children:  Neptune… Mercury!

Jacinta:  Right, and a big high five to everybody. 

We have some audience members here today. Who do we have?

Kevin: [00:36:52]  Hi, it’s Kevin Govender from the Office of Astronomy for Development.  

Takalani: Takalani Nemaungani from the Department of Science and Innovation.

Renee: [00:37:00] Renee Kraan-Korteweg. An astronomer at the University of Cape Town.

Peter: [00:37:04] Peter Kraan, just married to an astronomer.

Jacinta: [00:37:06] Are you excited about today’s performance?

Kevin:  Yeah, very much so. Looking forward to it.

Jacinta: [00:37:10]  Do you think this is a good project that Margherita and her team are working on?

Takalani: Well, it’s my first time today, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the project. But just being here, you know, in a place like this. Khayelitsha is known for, for some not so good things, but to see something very positive like this here, I’m sure it must be very good.

Renee: [00:37:37] I’m looking forward very much to this. I always really loved the idea of this project. I think it’s great how it has been set up. And I’m looking at all these excited young little girls here and I’m looking forward to see what they will tell us a bit later on. 

Jacinta: Alright enjoy the performance everybody. 

Hello, nice to meet you. What’s your name?

Pamela: [00:37:57] My name is Pamela and I have a daughter here started with the school last year, so this is her second year. And it’s been going great. The exposures, you know, we are in the townships and we are marginalized. It’s a poor township, but, what Molo stands for and what they are bringing to this community is profound.

So I’m thankful to you guys that has brought all these opportunities for the girls. And I’m happy to be here, for my daughter at Molo Mhlaba.

Jacinta: [00:38:39] Do you feel that astronomy, it also is enhancing their education? Do you feel that it’s important for the future?

Pamela: [00:38:44] It’s very important because I think we are already in the fourth industrial revolution, so to propel our girl child specifically. I think it’s profound. It will do wonders for the girl child’s confidence, and it will tap into those fields that have not been, previously tapped into by our girl child. So definitely it is very important.

Jacinta: [00:39:14] Yeah. I mean, I hope that they will continue to learn and be fascinated by the world around them as they continue.

Pamela: [00:39:21] I definitely can see that interest as well, and it’s very exciting also that it’s being started at the grass roots level and that they can grow up with this field and also have such an interest in the field as well. Thank you. Thank you very much that you’ve brought this subject to our girls, in the township of Molo Mhlaba girls school.

Jacinta: [00:39:46] Well, thank you very much for participating and for being here today, and I think we’re about to start, so thanks for speaking with us today. 

Pamela: [00:39:53] Thanks so much.

[Girls singing in Xhosa and about astronomy]

Dan: [00:43:43] It sounds like you had a blast

Jacinta: Oh it was so much fun! And there was a cake stall and I baked some gluten-free banana bread for it. But then I ended up buying most of the banana bread back myself because it was yummy.

Dan: It wasn’t yummy?

Jacinta: It was!

Dan: Yummy gluten-free.

Jacinta: [00:44:00] Yeah! Although the fact that it wasn’t sold already, maybe I was the only one who thought it was good. But I did manage to buy some really nice Molo Mhlaba earrings, which is like a cut-out of the African continent with the Molo Mhlaba symbol on it. So I think you can actually buy them from the website if you want to.

Dan: [00:44:18] They’re not my personal taste, but sure.

Jacinta: [00:44:20] There’s also some really cool bags like shopping bags and stuff.

Dan: [00:44:23] So you also managed to speak to some of the facilitators about their experience of the Astro Molo Mhlaba. Presumably they were at the festival too?

Jacinta: [00:44:31] Yeah, I did. I spoke to Akhona, Andisiwe, Naletsana and Okuhle. I met them first when we were all at the Astro Academy and then again at the astronomy festival.

And then recently they’ve come into the studio to tell us their story and what we’re going to do is play the English questions and responses, and then we’ll repeat that in the African language that the girls speak. So three of them speak Xhosa and one, Naletsana, speaks Sesotho.

Dan: [00:45:58]  Let’s hear from them. I don’t expect to understand the Xhosa or Sesotho but

Jacinta: [00:45:32] That’s okay the rest of the episodes in English.

Here with us in the studio is Akhona Bunzi, Naletsana Chapi, Okuhle Mjali, and Andisiwe Shasha. Apologies for the pronunciation, ladies. Welcome to the studio.

Facilitators: Thank you!

Jacinta: Is this your first time in a studio? 

Facilitators: Yes

Jacinta: It’s absolutely tiny, isn’t it?

Naletsana: [00:45:35] Very tiny.

Jacinta: [00:45:36] So to start with, can you tell our listeners who you are, where you’re from, what your background is, and how you got involved in the Molo Mhlaba astronomy Academy? 

Akhona: [00:45:48] My name is  Akhona Bunzi and I am from Khayelitsha. I went to Masela highschool. I started the program in July. I was doing nothing, literally nothing. I was at home and then Honey called me, our coordinator and she said she asked if I was interested in doing astronomy. Sitting at home doing nothing, it’s absolutely boring, like, it’s terrifying. So I jumped at the opportunity and yeah, I’m here today.

Andisiwe: [00:45:26] My name is Andisiwe, as you said . How I got into Molo Mhlaba, I got a message from Akhona telling me that there’s someone who’s looking for people who are interested in doing astronomy, so fine since I was doing physics and maths last year. So I thought I could take a chance and try some new things that I never thought I’d do one day. So yeah I got to the interview. I was interested. I made a search about astronomy and it interested me like a lot, so I thought that I should take a chance.

Okuhle: [00:46:50] Okay. I’m a Okuhle. I’m from Cape Town, Western Cape. I grew up in Khayelitsha and I went to primary school then after that I went to Masela high school.

Then this year in July I went to Molo Mhlaba  astronomy because I saw this as an opportunity to me because I was too, I was doing nothing this year. So this opportunity came up and I thought that I should just take it.

Naletsana: [00:47:16] Okay. I’m Naletsana Chapi, I’m from the Eastern Cape. I grew up there. I went there. I did my primary there, my high school at SSS then I came here in Cape Town this year. So I saw the opportunity on facebook that Molo Mhlaba is in need of facilitators, then I tried to get hold of them, then that’s how I got that.

Jacinta: [00:47:43] So can you tell us about your experience as facilitators? What was your role in the program and what did you enjoy? What did you think of the program?

Okuhle: [00:47:53] I would facilitator in Molo Mhlaba, it was to teach children about astronomy and show them what it’s like to live in the world of astronomers.

Naletsana: [00:48:03] The astronomers would come to us and share the knowledge with us then we will take the knowledge and share it to the children.

Jacinta: [00:48:10] What was it like teaching the children?

Okuhle: [00:49:12] It was fun but then sometimes we would find out that some kids they want to argue. I do think that’s what made our sessions more interesting

Jacinta: [00:47:58] and they want to argue?

Okuhle: [00:48:23] Yes. If you say this goes like this. And they would say, no, no, no, no, no, no, you are wrong. So you have to argue with them and that made the sessions a lot more fun

Naletsana: [00:48:30] and it’s worse when it comes to the alien part. They thought that the aliens existed. They were so surprised when we told them that the only aliens that exist were the plant aliens.

Jacinta: Were the what?

Naletsana: The plant aliens 

Jacinta: [00:48:44] Plant aliens. So you mean plants from other countries that aren’t supposed to be in this country, not plants from outer space.

Facilitators: [Laugh]

Jacinta: Did you feel that they were very interested in astronomy?

Naletsana: [00:48:58] Yeah they were very interested in astronomy. After they listened, they were asking questions to show that they were interested

Okuhle: [00:49:07] and some of the kids say things that they really take to their, to their lives. Especially the session about the sun, yeah. I will say thing like the sun is helpful because when it’s hot, we go to the sea with our families.

Jacinta: [00:49:20] So they could figure out how astronomy relates to their own lives. Do you think it’s important for them to be learning astronomy at such a young age and then also for the older girls?

Naletsana: [00:49:31] Yeah, it is important.

Okuhle: [00:49:34] Many people they have negative views about our surroundings.Most people say that the Earth is flat, but that’s not true. So the small kids would correct the older people, like, no this thing goes like this.

Jacinta: [00:49:47] Did you learn a lot about astronomy through this course and if so, what did you find the most interesting?

Andisiwe: [00:49:53] I’ve learned a lot. Some of the things I didn’t know, but now at least I have a better understanding of what astronomy is.

I’m not going to choose which topic was best. They were all agreed for me. I enjoyed every topic that I had to teach to the children. It was so exciting

Akhona: [00:49:08] I also learned a lot, but mostly I was interested about the moon topic. For instance, I knew that the moon rotates around the Earth, but I didn’t know that it shows only one face. So that was really interesting for me.

Jacinta: [00:50:23] And did the girls find it interesting?

Andisiwe: [00:50:25] Yes, very Interesting.

Naletsana: [00:50:28] I liked the part of moon phases a lot because when I was growing up, I used to look up in the sky and thought to myself, maybe the Earth has many moons. I didn’t know that it was actually one moon.

Jacinta: [00:50:40] Did you learn anything as a person through this experience?

Andisiwe: [00:50:43] I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learnt that we should accommodate everyone, like we’re working with kids so we shouldn’t be harsh on them. So when I’m with them, I made sure that I must be at their level, like accommodate them because our brains are not functioning in the same way, so I had to try…

Jacinta: [00:51:01] Yeah so you had to think of different ways to talk and to explain

Honey: [00:51:05] exactly. Yeah.

Akhona: [00:51:07] Yeah also, as she said, we shouldn’t be harsh, and as for me, this was, it is a bit challenging because most of all, I really don’t like explaining.

Akhona: [00:51:22] I’m not good also, so when it comes to explaining, I should think of a way of how to bring them close to me so that they could understand and hear. Also voice projection.

Jacinta: [00:51:36] Yeah. It’s really challenging, but well done on challenging yourself and getting through it.

Jacinta: [00:51:45] So now that you’ve been through this program as facilitators, what are your plans for the future, and do you think that this program has helped you out with that in any way?

Okuhle: [00:51:53] Next year, I’m going to upgrade then the following year, I will apply for astronomy. Because in astronomy I learned that you travel a lot. So I want to travel and explore all the things that are surrounding me.

Jacinta: [00:52:05] We definitely travel a lot

Naletsana: [00:52:10] Me too. I’m looking forward to upgrade, especially my maths and science, like physics. You won’t believe when I tell you that it was my first time hearing about this career this year. So I thank you to Molo Mhlaba a lot for introducing me to this career.

Jacinta: [00:52:25]  Wonderful.

Akhona: [00:52:27] My plans for the future. I still want to be a doctor and I want to improve my results and also this year I have applied in UJ for a BA in humanities and also building my self confidence even more.

Andisiwe: [00:52:46] My plans for the future is to become a better person, improve things that I think I’m lacking in. In the future I’d like to be a TV personality and a radio personality. So today is good. Yeah here in the studio. So next year I’ve applied at UJ so I’ll be doing my fourth industrial BA.

Jacinta: [00:53:08] Well good luck for your futures, and I hope that you achieve everything you want and, and really congratulations on the work you’ve done.

Andisiwe: [00:53:15] Thank you. Thank you.

Jacinta: [00:53:17] And finally, do you have any messages you’d like to share with listeners? Anything you’d like to say?

Andisiwe: [00:53:22] Be proud of who you are. Be willing to learn new things, never underestimate yourself. Be true to yourself.

Akhona: [00:53:30] There are always opportunities. If you fail to find the one you want, be excited to try new things, be willing to learn. As she said, that goes a long way. 

Naletsana: Astronomy is a very interesting field to study. I would also advise them to dream big, to dream big.

Okuhle: [00:53:50] I would like to say especially to young girls because especially in South Africa, mostly  the guys do astronomy and they think that we can’t do anything. But us as girls, we can change the world and we have the power to do that. And astronomy is a lot of things that you would want to know and you can explore a lot. Thank you.

Jacinta: [00:54:08] Wonderful advice. Ladies, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Facilitators: [00:54:12] Thank you. Thanks for having us.

[00:54:50] [In Xhosa]

Ok ke Akhona, sizocela usixelele ukuba yintoni ebangela ukuba ubese Molo Mhlaba and ubenomdla woba ubeyi facilitator khona?

So ezuba sewutshilo, igama lam ndingu Akhona. Kulo nyaka uphelileyo bendifunda uGrade 12 and bendi-applyile e-UWC nase CPUT ndathathwa kuzo provisionally. Kodwa kengoku iMaths iilevels zayo zingakhange zibe phezulu khange ndithathwe. Kodwa kuba bendihleli ndinethemba uba zikhona izinto ezinovela, uHoney waye wandifounela ebuza uba ndenzani ntoni kulo nyaka. Kuba bendingenzinto,and uhlala endlini bekungekho right, so ndaye ndavuma and ibinikisa umdla kakhulu into ye-Astronomy, that is why ndilapha namhlanje.

 Kulo nyaka uphelileyo bendisenza ibanga leshumi inesibini eMasiyile, ndiye nda applaya kwi Universities ezithile, ndingabalula i-UCT, UWC neCPUT. Kwenzekile ukuba ndifumane iconditional offer eUCT, kodwa ke kuthe xa sifumana iziphumo kulo nyaka ngo 2019 ndabona ukubana izibalo zam kwakunye nePhysics andiqhubanga kakuhle. Abandithatha bandi-rejecta i-offers. Ndafumana imessage evela ku-Akhona, u-Akhona ngumhlobo wam, so ebendixelela ukubana kukho into enje eyiMolo Mhlaba, efuna facilitators. So nam ndiye ndanomdla ukuba ndize ndizozama, ndifikile ke uHoney wandisendela ilink youkuba ndi-applaye khona, so kuba ndilapha kengk namhlanje.

Umbuzo ubusithi, yinton endizise kwiAstronomy? and ndikhule njani?, ndingubani?, then ndaphendula ndathi ndingu Okuhle, ndikhulele eKhayelitsha, eCape Town, Western Cape, ndifunde eluXolweni Primary School, then ndayofunda eMaseyile, ndaze ndaya eMolo Mhlaba Astronomy, ndayosebenza as ifacilitator yeAstronomy. Kulo mbuzo ubusuthi yinton endizise apha, kulonyaka uphelileyo bendi-plane ukuba ndizoya eVarsity kulonyaka but iResults zam  khange zibe right so khange ndikwazi ukuya eUniversity kulonyaka but ndazixelela uba ndizoUpgrade kulonyaka for uba next year ndingene eVarsity. Umbuzo busithi bekunjani ukusebenza nabantwana, ndaphendula ndathi bekumnandi ukusebenza nabantwana ngoba bebesingaphoxi bebenomdla, uba sibuza umbuzo bayaphendula and naxasesigqibile ukubatitsha baba nemibuzo ababanayo. Omnye wesibini wathi umbuzo yintoni ebalulekileyo for bafunde iAstronomy ngoku besabancinci ngoba abantu abaninzi banembono ezhlukeneyo ngeAstronomy kuhlobo esiphila ngalo, abanye abantu bathi uEarth uflat kanti uEarth akekho flat uround. So abantwana bancinci bazokwaz ukulungisa abantu kumakwabo ukuba babone kakhle ukuba kunjan kulomhlaba esiphila kuwo.

Yintoni ebekudlwengula umxhelo ngeAstronomy and yeyiphi eyona-yona oqonda ukuba uyaythanda kwaye uziva kamnandi xa uthetha ngayo?

Kwitopics zonke ebesizinikwa bezinikisa umdla kakhulu, kodwa eyona-yona ibindinika umdla kum ibiyi-Moon, which is inyanga. Bendiyazi ukuba ijikeleza umhlaba kodwa bendingayazi ukuba ibonakalisa ubuso obunye qho.

Ngeyiphi eyona inikisa umdla kuzo zonke itopics ubuzenza kwiAstronomy?

Zonke bezindinika umdla, andinobalula, ngoba yonke into ebendiyenza bendiyonwabela and bedifumana ulwazi olubanzi obendingalwazi. Kuyo yonke into ebesiyenza bendifunda into entsha rhoqo.

Akhona yinton oyifundileyo kwelixesha besisebenza nabantwana?

Zininzi izinto endizifundileyo, ndingabalula, bendiqhele uku-explainer andkho good kuyo so bekubanzima ngamanye amaxesha uba ndi-explainer so kufuneke uba ndifumane indlela endinothi ndibasondeze kum, ndibacacisele nabo bancacelwe. Neli lizwi lam lincinci so bekubanzima ngamanye amaxesha uba mandikhwaze but ke ndide ndakwazi.

Ok umbuzo ubusith ndifuna ukwenza ntoni mna nge Future yam  and le program yase Molo Mhlaba Astronomy indincede njan? 

Into endizoyenza kulo nyaka uzayo ndizo upgrader cause imarks zam khange ziphume zintle lulo nyaka uphelileyo. So after ndi-upgradile ndi-applayele iAstronomy ndiqhubekeke nayo.

Zithini izicwangciso zakho nge kamva lakho?

Iphupho lam ibikuba ngu Gqirha kodwa ke ndisezophucula apho nalapho ndilekisha khona and kulo nyaka ndi-applayile kwiDyunivesithi yase Johanesburg kwi Humanities and also if kungenzeka ukuba ndiqhubekeke neAstronomy ndingaqhubekeka.

Zithini izicwangciso zakho nge kamva lakho?

 Izicwangciso zam ngekamva lam kukuba ndibengumntu ongcono ndizame ukuphucula umntu esele ndinguye. Ndi-applyile eUJ, ndifumeke ke apho i-offer, kulo nyaka uzayo ndiyakube ndisenza ifourth industrial BA apho eUJ. Ukuba kungakho ithuba lokuba ndenze iAstronomy, ndingalithatha kuba ndifunde kakhulu kwiAstronomy kwaye ndiphele ndiyitanda.

Awunamyalezo orhalela ukuwugqithisa kuba-phula-phuli?

Kubaphula-phuli ndifuna ukuthi ukuba lento ubuyfuna ayphumelelanga, sutyhafa, zikhona ezinye inzame onozenza, akhona amanye aphupha akhoyo, qhubeka unganikezeli.

Akhona amanye amazwi onothi uwanike abaphulaphuli?

Nyaniseka, zithembe, ungazideleli, yonke into eyenzekayo yenzeka ngesizathu, sukuthi ngenxa yokuba ungayfumenanga utyhafe.

Umbuzo uthi ikhona na inti endifuna ukuyithetha for abantu abamameleyo?

I-Astronomy yicareer e-interesting kakhulu, kulo mhlaba esiphila kuwo abantu abaninzi abenza i-Astronomy ngabantu abangabafana, so thina as amantomabazana masiyfunde i-Astronomy sibabonise sinayo ipower yokwenza lento sifuna uyenza.

Naletsana: [01:01:46] [In Sesotho]

Potso e ne e re ke mang, ke tswa kae?

Ke ile ka araba ka re, lebitso laka ke Naletsana Chapi, ke tswa Eastern Cape. Ke holetse moo, ke badile teng. Kabe be ke tla monana Cape Town lemong sena, kabe ke fumana monyetla wa hore ke lo ba part ya (bapala karolo ho) Molo Mhlaba, ka ba facilitator/fasilitheita (motataisi) teng.

Potsong ena e neng e re lemong sena jwalo ka ha ne ke dutse lebaka na ekaba e ne e leng?

Ke ile ka dieha ho etsa ID lemong se fedileng, jwale ke ona mathata a ile a etsa hore dikolo di hane ho nkuka lemong sena.

Potso ene e re ekaba ho jwang ho sebetsa le bana?

Ho sebetsa le bana ho ne ho le hantle haholo, ebile ba ne ba utlwisisa, ba botsa dipotso, ba re pheisa hobane taba ena eo re buwang ka yona hangangata ha re atise ho dumellana ka yona re le batho.

Potso ya bobedi ya botsa hore na ke hobaneng ho le bohlokwa hore bana ba rutwe ka astronomy/aseteronomi (bolepi ba sepakapaka le dikahare tsa teng)?

Ho bohlokwa haholo hore ba hole ba ditseba ntho tsenana, ba seke ba hola ba re lefatshe le flat (folote, polata) kganthe lefatshe le round/raonde (senkgoana).

Potso e ne e re ekaba ho jwang ho sebetsa le bana?

Ke ile ke araba ka re ho monate haholo ho sebetsa le bana ba tlisa energy e ngata (eneji, mafolofolo a mangata), re a pheisana le bona, ho monate.

Enngwe potso ya botsa na ke efeng topic/thopike ebang ke e enjoile le bana ba e enjoile (se feng sehlooho seo e leng hore o ile wa se natefelwa ha mmoho le bana)?

Ka be ke re ke ena ya kgwedi. Nna ha ke hola ne ke sa tsebe hore re na le kgwedi e lengwe, ke ne ke nahana hore re na le kgwedi tse ngata tje ka ha re dutsi re dibona di sa lekane, nengneng e half/halofo (sekoto), nengneng e felletse.

Potso e ne e re na ke batla ho etsang ha nako e ntse e ya, like (jwalo ka) bokamoso baka?

Jwale ke re nna ke batla ho nyolla dimmaraka tsaka, haholoholo ha etla ho tsa Maths le Physics (dipalo le tsa mahlale). Ke rata haholo ho tswellisa astronomy/aseteronomi (bolepi ba sepakapaka le dikahare tsa teng), ke kgalla ho ba astronomer/aseteronoma (molepi ba sepakapaka le dikahare tsa teng).

Potso e ne e re ekaba ke eletsa batho kapa bana ka ho re eng?

Haholoholo bana ba bananyana, ke ba eletsa hore ba be le ditoro tse kgolo, ntho enngwe le enngwe ya etsahala, haholoholo mona ho astronomy/aseteronomi (bolepi ba sepakapaka le dikahare tsa teng). Batho ba bangata hahoholo ke batho ba bontate, batho ba bomme ha bayo. Jwale ke ba eletsa hore re tleng kaofela ntho ena re ka e etsa.

Dan: [01:04:41] Thank you. It’s, once again, wonderful to hear their enthusiasm and that it sounds like they’ve really taken this opportunity by the horns and, also wonderful to hear that they are interested in continuing astronomy now. So you see, it doesn’t just have to be when you’re a small child, you can get interested in astronomy at any age.

Jacinta: [01:04:59] You don’t have to be an astronomer you can still learn about astronomy. Be fascinated by it. Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s pretty much it for today. We’re going to go on a break for the holiday season, a short break. In the meantime, if anyone would like to donate to Astro Molo Mhlaba, Margherita and Honey gave us the details at the start, we’ll put those on our website, right Dan?

Yeah, of course. Yeah. And, if you’re still thinking of any gift ideas for anyone you can actually donate on behalf of someone else and you can get a nice gift certificate.

Dan: [01:05:32] or buy some earrings.

Jacinta: [01:05:33] Yeah, exactly. Earrings or a bag. Lots of things.

Dan: [01:05:37] All right, so I think that’s it for today.

Jacinta: [01:05:39] Yeah. Well happy holidays everybody, and we’ll see on the other side.

Yeah. In 2020

Dan: [01:05:45] yeah, we’ll see you in 2020.

Jacinta: [01:05:47] Thanks very much for listening and we hope you’ll join us again in 2020 for the next episode of the cosmic Savannah.

Dan: You can visit us on our website, www.thecosmicsavannah.com where we’ll post links related to today’s episode. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @cosmicsavannah.

That’s Savannah, spelled S. A. V. A. N. N. A. H.

Jacinta: Special thanks today to Dr Margherita Molaro, Mahaneng Honey Phali, Akhona Bunzi, Andisiwe Shasha, Naletsana Chapi and Okuhle Mjali for speaking with us.

Dan: [01:06:22] Thanks to Mark Allnut for the music production. Janas Brink for the astrophotography, Lana Ceraj for the graphic design and Thabisa Fikelepi for social media support and transcription.

Jacinta: We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation and the South African Astronomical Observatory to help keep the podcast running. 

Dan: And for batteries. 

Jacinta: Yes, and lots of batteries for our recorder.

Dan: You can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, and if you’d like to help us out, please rate us and recommend us to a friend.

Jacinta: [01:06:50] We’ll speak to you next time on The Cosmic Savannah.