Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) is well known for hosting South Africa’s National Science Festival, Scifest Africa. The annual festival, which started in 1996, has been a gateway to the world of Science, Technology Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation for 24 years. The Festival has hosted hundreds of international speakers and workshop leaders, and hosted well over a million attendees of all ages, becoming the largest such event on the African continent.
The advent of the Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted every part of the globe, and the science engagement space has not been spared its effect. As a result of the pandemic, the 24th National Science Festival had been postponed from April 2020 to September 2020 in the hope that it might have been possible to host live events by then. Since this announcement in March, the Scifest Africa team has been closely monitoring the developments of both the pandemic and the response by government. With concerns about public health continuing to be the most important factor in the planning process, science communicators and related institutions like Scifest Africa have had to reimagine science engagement in a world living with COVID-19.
On Thursday, 27th of August, the board of the Grahamstown Foundation met to review the situation and to decide on whether a physical festival could be hosted given the current regulations which have extended the lockdown period to prevent the spread of the virus. It was agreed that it would be impossible to host a live edition of Scifest Africa in 2020 as was initially planned. Rather than cancel this important source of information and inspiration, it was decided that Scifest Africa 2020 will be reimagined as an online festival starting in October 2020.
Recognising the importance of plants as foundation for all life on Earth, the 2020 Festival theme “Take root…nurture!” will celebrate the International Year of Plant Health as proclaimed by the United Nations. Other themes pertinent to our times; renewable energy, the adoption of technology and many others will also be part of the Festival programme. The primary aim will be to continue promoting the awareness, understanding and appreciation of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Innovation in South Africa, on the African Continent and the world. Whilst an online delivery of the festival presents significant challenges, Scifest Africa is excited about the potential of extending its reach to learners, educators, scientists, researchers and innovators locally and abroad. The National Arts Festival team, who delivered the hugely successful Virtual National Arts Festival earlier in the year, will be on hand to assist.
Scifest Africa will put together a focused online festival programme that will run over a six month period from October to March. The programme will seek to amplify the work that has already started in May 2020 as part of the ‘Road to Digital’ campaign, which introduced audiences to a variety of online science related engagements and the very popular STEAM Forward science demonstrations. These were well received and this interest will continue to inform Scifest Africa’s quest for an engaged society that is interested and inspired by what science and related fields have to offer.
A programme featuring workshops, demonstrations, webinars, lecturers, interviews, competitions and shows will be on offer covering a range of diverse topics such as:
- Climate change;
- Water and energy conservation;
- Indigenous knowledge systems;
- Innovation in all fields; and
- Space Education
The National Science Festival will offer a rich variety of both free and paid-for content.