Back to Basics at SciFest Africa 7-13 September 2022

After two years of hosting Scifest Africa virtually, South Africa’s national science festival returned to its live format in Makhanda from 7 – 13 September 2022!

Since 1996, Scifest Africa has been a doorway into the world of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation (STEMI) for the people of South Africa. Since its inception, Scifest Africa has hosted hundreds of international speakers and workshop leaders, and has enlightened and entertained well over a million attendees of all ages, becoming the largest of such an event on the continent.

The theme for 2022 was “Back to the Basics”, inspired by the UN International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD) 2022. The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) takes great pride in coordinating South African participation on behalf of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and National Research Foundation (NRF).

SciFest highlighted the crucial role of basic sciences (physics, chemistry, maths & biology) for sustainable development, and emphasised their contributions to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The programme included kitchen experiments (doing experiments using everyday utensils) and the opening session by Dr Graham Walker highlighted the importance of emotions (e.g. curiosity, excitement, etc) when conducting science, as well as a breathtaking laser show presented by iThemba LABS.

Dr Ramotsheng Rapolaki, Researcher in Agrometeorology at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) represented ASSAf and presented on floods, droughts and climate change, supported by Mrs Susan Veldsman and Mrs Ina Smith, both from ASSAf. He provided a daily synoptic weather analysis of the region and explained to learners how to interpret synoptic charts, key to their studies as learners taking geography as a school subject. He further shared interesting links with learners (visit and applied his presentation to the weather in and around the Eastern Cape, the role the ocean plays, and also referred to future careers and opportunities to enrol as students of the “floating university” on board of the SA Agulhas II. SEAmester introduces marine science as an applied and cross-disciplinary field to students. Its long‐term vision is aimed at building capacity within the marine sciences by co‐ordinating cross‐disciplinary research projects through a highly innovative programme. His presentation was adapted to the audience, and he engaged learners from different levels through play and special effects (singing songs, special effects e.g. thunder and rain) and encouraged them to ask questions and to also share their interpretations of the various interactive maps from the Eastern Cape.

While in Makhanda, the ASSAf staff also made use of the opportunity to engage with the following: Prof Janice Limson (ASSAf Member, South African Professor of Biotechnology, former Chairperson of the School of Biotechnology at Rhodes University and the SARChI Chair in Biotechnology Innovation & Engagement at Rhodes University), Dr Alette Schoon (Senior lecturer, School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University), Prof Peter Clayton (DVC Research, Rhodes University), Mrs Sue Murray (CEO of African Journals Online (AJOL)), and Prof Martin Villet (Professor of Entomology, Rhodes University).

An important outcome of the visit was the establishment of a science engagement community of practice so that SE officers/educators could be more connected and share best practices, with ASSAf taking the lead. This in the form of an email list. All interested in SE are most welcome to join. Please email ASSAf – through Quest and as part of its Science Engagement Strategy – further aims to expand its network of schools through its Quest mailing list, so that each and every learner can become aware of the magazine and the many science related opportunities. More than a thousand Quests were distributed among learners and teachers, but also among members of the community.