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Science Forum South Africa 2021

“Igniting conversations for World Science Forum 2022”

1-3 December 2021

Proposals for Parallel Sessions organised by SFSA partners

Session Title: Advancing Africa’s Astronomy Agenda

Date: Thursday 2 December 2021 Preferred time: 15:30
Session Overview: (Maximum 500 words providing short contextual background for
the sessions and highlighting key questions to be interrogated)
Astronomy has seen substantial investment by the South African Department of
Science and Innovation (DSI) and as a result, several significant astronomy initiatives
have burgeoned in the country and African continent at large. Using Southern Africa’s
geographic advantage of dark skies as a strategic driver for the development of globally
competitive astronomy research programmes, South Africa is home to mega-science
projects capable of producing cutting edge science such as the Meerkat telescope,
MeerLICHT, Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the Hydrogen Epoch of
Reionization Array HERA, the Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperiment
(HIRAX), and the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) in Namibia. In addition,
the SKA project is scheduled to commence construction in South Africa. Prospects for
the future include the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) and
the Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT), with the latter providing an essential link to the
international Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Further evidence of the rapid growth of
astronomy in the continent can also be seen through the winning of the bid to host for
the first time, in Africa, the IAU General Assembly (IAU-GA) in 2024. Both the SKA and

the GA 2024 were proposed by South Africa as “African” bids that will in time, benefit
the continent as a whole.
The DSI has supported the various initiatives mentioned above through the South
African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), the South African Astronomical
Observatory (SAAO), as well as implementing training efforts through various Human
Capital Development (HCD) programmes such as the National Astrophysics and Space
Science Programme (NASSP). In addition to this, the DSI supports the Office of
Astronomy for Development (OAD), a joint project of the International Astronomical
Union (IAU) and the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), that aims to
further the use of astronomy as a tool for sustainable development globally. The DSI
also recently committed to hosting and supporting the Secretariat of the African
Astronomical Society (AfAS) which is a voice of astronomy on the continent and is
working to address the challenges faced by Africa through the promotion and
advancement of astronomy.
This session offers an opportunity for the key role players to demonstrate how the
various initiatives mentioned above are facilitating the development of astronomy in
Africa as well as future plans which will ensure that Africa becomes one of the leaders
in astronomy internationally. It will also allow the role players to interact with one
another and demonstrate how the plans of the various institutions that are involved, are
in alignment.
Presentations and discussions during the session will focus on:
1. Current and planned initiatives to grow and connect the African Astronomical
2. Flagship projects and involvement of participating stakeholders in science and
3. Potential roll-out and benefit of astronomy hubs on the continent;
4. Strengthening continental research collaborations through joint research
projects, observations, MSc/Ph.D. student’s joint supervisions, joint proposals,
5. Vision and legacy of the IAU-GA 2024
Programme: (Description of the running order of the session – 90 minutes)
• Working towards the development of Astronomy in Africa, The DSI vision
(Takalani Nemaungani) – 10 min
• Astronomy in Africa and the African Astronomical Society (Jamal Mimouni) –
10 min
• Radio Astronomy – An African context – MeerKAT, SKA, AVN, DARA
(Fernando Camilo) – 10 min
• Optical Astronomy and intelligent observatory – An African context – SAAO,
SALT (Petri Vaisanen) – 10 min
• High Energy Astrophysics – An African context – HESS and towards CTA
(Markus Bottcher) – 10 min
• Astronomy for Development (Sandra Benitez) – 10 min

• Africa-Europe Radio Astronomy Platform – AERAP (Declan KIRRANE) – 10
• Panel discussion
Moderator: (Name and maximum 100 words biographical summaries – URL link if
Dr B Fanaroff
Bernie Fanaroff was the director of the SKA SA project and the MeerKAT from its
begining in 2003 until the end of 2015. He has also been a radio astronomer (for five
years), a trade union organiser (for 18 years), Head of the Office for the Reconstruction
and Development Programme – the RDP, the Deputy Director General of President
Mandela’s Office of the President, the chairman of the Integrated Justice System Board
and the Interdepartmental Committee for Border Control, adviser to the Minster for
Safety and Security and recently the facilitator of the Steel and Steel Products Master
Plan for the Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition. He is a Fellow of the Royal
Society of London and has been awarded the Order of Mapungubwe.
Speakers: (Names and maximum 100 words per speaker biographical summaries –
URL links if relevant)
Takalani Nemaungani:
Takalani Nemaungani is currently the Acting Chief Director for the Astronomy portfolio
at the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) in South Africa – Astronomy is a
flagship project receiving the single largest investment in the budget within the DSI.
Trained as an engineer from Wits University he began his career in 1994 in the private
sector in companies such as Samancor and Sasol before joining the CSIR. He has
played a pivotal role in the development of Astronomy in Africa and beyond as
highlighted through is roles in projects like the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the
African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (AVN), the HESS telescope, the African
Astronomical Society (AfAS), the IAU-OAD, NASSP, and providing strategic and
funding support to developing the multiwavelength astronomy community in South
Africa. He serves as the secretariat for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and
South Africa) Astronomy Working Group. Before joining the Astronomy division, he was
the Director of the Global Projects unit within the International Cooperation and
Resources division of the DSI where he was the Project Coordinator of the Promoting
Africa-Europe Research Infrastructure Project (PAERIP).

Jamal Mimouni:
Jamal Mimouni is an Algerian astrophysicist, who received his higher education partly
in Algeria (B. Sc. in Theoretical Physics in 1977 from Algiers University) and partly in
the States (Ph. D. in Particle Physics in 1985 from the University of Pennsylvania,
Philadelphia). He is also an actor on the science, society, and the cultural dimension of
the scientific debate in the Arab-Muslim world and has developed a keen interest in the
philosophy of contemporary science, as well as to spreading scientific culture in

societies of the developing world. On the “ground”, he has acted as adviser and
resource person to amateur astronomy associations in Algeria and is the head of the
well-known Sirius Astronomy Association. He has been elected last year as President
of the African Astronomical Society (AfAS) based in Cape Town, SA. He has been
working closely with the Algerian Ministry of National Education as a scientific adviser
and has conceived and directed various regional training workshops for both
Elementary School and High School Physics Teachers: «From Geography to the
Cosmos». Finally, he has authored along with N. Guessoum a popular science book in
Arabic “The Story of the Universe: from Early Conceptions to the Big Bang” for an
University educated readership, and contributed to an academic collective book
«Science and Religion in Islam».

Fernando Camilo:
Born and raised in Portugal; Physics PhD at Princeton University; during post-doc at
Jodrell Bank Observatory developed data acquisition system for Parkes radio telescope
multibeam surveys, which discovered more than half of all known pulsars; spent ~20
years at Columbia University in New York doing a variety of pulsar-related research,
serving during a 2-year leave of absence as director of astronomy at Arecibo
Observatory; since 2016, chief scientist at the South African Radio Astronomy
Observatory (then SKA South Africa), where main role (with a team of ~40) is to ensure
that MeerKAT does the best possible science that it can.

Petri Vaisanen:
Prof. Petri Vaisanen is the Director of the South African Astronomical Observatory
(SAAO) in Cape Town and the observing site in Sutherland. He obtained his PhD from
the University of Helsinki on the topic of galaxy evolution. After spells in USA, and the
European Southern Observatory in Chile, he came to South Africa in 2004 where he
worked for the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) as an astronomer and later
as its Head of Astronomy Operations, before taking up his current SAAO position in
2018. The SAAO runs and hosts a large suite of optical and infrared telescopes and
instruments and engages is technology development as well as post-graduate
astronomy training.

Markus Bottcher:
Markus Boettcher obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Bonn, Germany, in 1997,
having done his Ph.D. research at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in
Bonn. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Rice University in Houston, TX, from 1997 – 2002,
including a NASA Chandra Postdoctoral Fellowship from 1999 – 2002. He became
assistant professor at Ohio University, Athens, OH, in 2002, associate professor in
2007, and full professor in 2012. In 2013, he moved to South Africa to take up the
position of SARChI Chair of Astrophysics and Space Physics at North-West University,
Potchefstroom. His area of expertise is theoretical high-energy astrophysics, with

special emphasis on extragalactic sources, such as active galactic nuclei and gamma-
ray bursts.

Sandra Benitez:
Sandra Benitez Herrera studied Physics at the Complutense University of Madrid,
Spain, and obtained her PhD at the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching,
Germany. She also has a specialization in Science Communication by the Fiocruz
Foundation, in Brazil. For several years, she was a researcher and educator at the
Museum of Astronomy of Rio de Janeiro and currently works at the Outreach
Department of the Astrophysical Institute of the Canary Islands. She is a member of the
GalileoMobile program and coordinator of the “Amanar: under the same sky” project,
to support the Sahrawi refugee community. Sandra joined the OAD team this October
and is working on Astronomy for Mental Health.
Declan Kirrane:
Declan Kirrane is the founder and Managing Director of ISC Intelligence in Science in
Brussels. He has more than 25 years of experience disseminating scientific and
research activities in Europe and worldwide from organizations and governments. He
has been involved in the dissemination of the research activities funded by the
European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Technological
Development and Demonstration (FP) since 1994, the former Horizon Europe.
With Financial Times, he was the launch editor of CORDIS, the European
Commission’s research information Service. He was Editor of the
Commission’ Innovation and Technology Transfer Newsletter and CORDIS focus. His
expertise covers ICT, Health, Defence, Space, Science Policy, GPRD legislation, EU
R&D and Innovation policies, programmes and funding instruments. He has worked
extensively on science policy evaluation methodologies and technology options for
policy, and decision-makers use investment in science for broader economic
development and competitiveness. With the Office of Science in the US Department of
energy, he Launched the Ford Foundation Bellagio process on science policy
evaluation methodologies.
He is closely involved in EU-Africa science and innovation relations and investments,
particularly the EU’s investment strategy for Africa. The was closely involved in the
South African government’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array Radio Telescope,
the SKA, South Africa and its partner countries succeeded in securing the rights to build
the SKA in South Africa. He manages the Africa-Europe Science and Innovation
Platform, AERAP.
Declan has been actively promoting a more assertive role for science within the context
of the United Nations General Assembly since 2010. This has culminated in the annual
Science Summit within the context of the General Assembly, which he chairs.
Session organiser(s): (Names of institutions and contact details of contact person –
URL links if relevant)

Charles Takalana
African Astronomical Society (AfAS)
+27 (0) 81 481 7416
+27 (0) 21 201 1622

Kevin Govender
International Astronomical Union (IAU) – Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD)
+27 (0) 21 460 9350

Yunus Manjoo (AfAS)
African Astronomical Society (AfAS)


Nov 25 2021


8:00 am - 6:00 pm

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