The black women who pi­o­neered space travel

CityPress - - News - NOMTHANDAZO NHLAPO nnhlapo@city­press.co.za

A movie fea­tur­ing the ac­tion hero likes of Taraji P Hen­son, Oc­tavia Spencer and Kevin Cost­ner might not im­me­di­ately strike one as be­ing of in­spi­ra­tion to young maths and science boffs.

How­ever, a film about black fe­male sci­en­tists who put the first as­tro­nauts into space is an­other mat­ter.

Last Sun­day, the com­puter train­ing in­sti­tute, Africa Teen Geeks, and City Press co-hosted stu­dents from Soweto and Belfast, Mpumalanga, at a screen­ing of the film block­buster (and Oscar awards con­tender), Hid­den Fig­ures.

Hid­den Fig­ures tells the story of three black women who had to over­come mas­sive racial and gen­der prej­u­dice in their quest to be recog­nised as sci­en­tists.

As a re­sult of these women’s ground-break­ing en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­i­cal skills, Nasa was able to send the first as­tro­naut, John Glenn, into or­bit around the earth in 1962 and bring him back safely to earth.

The young au­di­ence re­ally got emo­tion­ally in­volved in the movie, with spon­ta­neous cheer­ing and clap­ping break­ing out ev­ery time these women sci­en­tists broke down an­other cul­tural bar­rier.

The screen­ing took place at The Zone @ Rose­bank. Prior to screen­ing, a panel dis­cus­sion of ex­perts tack­led var­i­ous as­pects that would be ad­dressed by the film. The panel con­sisted of: Thabo Molekoa, CEO Thyssenkrupp In­dus­trial So­lu­tions (Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa); Toby Chance, DA shadow min­is­ter for small busi­ness de­vel­op­ment; Dr Ntombi Khu­malo, Jo­han­nes­burg may­oral com­mit­tee mem­ber (MCM) for cor­po­rate and shared ser­vices; and Dr Mpho Pha­latse, Joburg MCM for health and so­cial de­vel­op­ment. The fa­cil­i­ta­tor was Mitchell Hughes, Wits de­part­men­tal head of In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems. The young stu­dents were en­cour­aged by all the pan­el­lists to think pos­i­tively and to chase their dreams. “I think it’s im­por­tant for young girls to be­lieve in them­selves,” said Khu­malo. “We must be com­fort­able with who we are,” com­mented Pha­latse. Molekoa urged men to play their part in in­spir­ing young girls to choose Stem (science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and maths) ca­reers. The panel, all high achiev­ers in their own right, agreed that their phys­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal fea­tures had never af­fected their ca­reer choices or their per­for­mances. Thando Chab­ula, who brought his son along, said: “I would like to see more town­ship kids see­ing such movies.”

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