We step into the state-of-theart Cofimvaba Science Centre that recently opened in the heart of the Eastern Cape. 

Located two hours from East London, the small village of Cofimvaba welcomed the Minister of Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, as they unveiled one of the country’s first green science centres.

Situated in the Chris Hani district, the centre will service approximately 32 senior secondary schools in the area and aims to be fully self-sufficient, with an off-the-grid energy and water supply.

The facility has solar panels and relies on rainwater harvesting, water recycling and smallscale wind turbines. Eskom-supplied power is also available as a back-up measure and if there is excess energy not being used by the centre, it can be routed back to the municipality.

The Director General of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Dr Phil Mjwara, explains that the design is not only environmentally friendly but can also be presented as an exhibit or feature, making visitors aware of issues like climate change.

“The fact that it will be a green building on its own, means that the young people will be informed about this functionality of the building and about this innovation. This is one of the examples that the young people will not only read about, but that they will experience in the centre,” said Dr Mjwara.

The building boasts a big exhibition space that consists of approximately 20 interesting and interactive pods to visit. These pods will cover different topics ranging from Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy and Technology.

There is also a separate lecture hall that can be used as a planetarium, and outside the centre there is an optical telescope that can be used by visitors to explore the skies.

The construction of the building started in July 2018 and finished in April 2021, with the DSI investing more than R47 million and the Eastern Cape Department of Education investing R30 million.

Speaking about the substantial investment, Minister Nzimande said: “This is the kind of seriousness that the government wants to see Science, not only going to the grassroots but also to the most rural areas like this. Who would have thought we could have a science centre in a deep rural area like Cofimvaba? Twenty years ago we wouldn’t have thought of that.”

Out of the 32 schools in the area, 80% of them are within a 60km radius of the science centre. Only five of these schools have science laboratories and only two of the five are fully functioning with running water. 

Despite the fact that the science centre is in a rural part of the province, Dr Mjwara explained that schools that are further away will still benefit through connectivity on lectures and exhibitions that the centre provides and hosts. 

“You will find that the centre will provide lectures, but it will also be connected to surrounding schools in the area. And the schools that perhaps do not have maths and science teachers, could benefit from the lectures that are being offered in the science centre,” said Dr Mjwara.

He also added that the facility will not only welcome school students and young people, but also hopes to encourage and engage with the entire community in the area. That is part of the purpose of the centre, he explained.

A grade 11 learner from St James Senior Secondary in Cofimvaba, Angel Dlakadla, expressed her excitement about the new facility and its equipment, saying that she is looking forward to doing practicals at the science centre (something she doesn’t get to do at her school at the moment).

“Here we get a chance to experiment and [get to] understand what we want to do with our careers. There are different types of careers – here you can see there’s Technology, Science and Biology. So you get to see whatever you want to do in the future,” Dlakadla said.

The 17-year-old pupil said her favourite school subject is Mathematics and once she matriculates, she wants to study astrophysics and pursue a career in astronomy.

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