Some two hours’ drive from East London Airport is a small village called Cofimvaba. The village is said to have been named after a nearby stream which, after every time it rains, froths turbulently and resembles milk.
While this was probably the most fascinating fact about this deep rural village for a number of years, something special happened that is set to change the fortunes of young people in the area.
The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) unveiled a high-tech, state-of-the-art science centre, which Minister Nzimande described as “taking science to the people”, as well as encouraging grassroots innovation.
“The project was aimed at improving education in rural areas by piloting technological innovation for water and sanitation, energy, nutrition and health.
“This science centre will be an educational facility that will house interactive exhibits and will use a hands-on approach to enable the people of Cofimvaba and the surrounding villages to experiment and engage with science.
“It is an expression of bringing science to the people so we also enhance the prospects for grassroots innovation. The centre will also be an integral part of the infrastructure for science communication,” said the Minister of Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande.
The construction and associated civil works of the science centre were jointly funded by the DSI and the Eastern Cape Department of Education to the tune of R47.5 million and R13 million respectively.
Minister Nzimande said the centre would serve 26 high schools in the area; schools that previously relied on a mobile science unit donated by the DSI and Sasol.
The centre is the first in South Africa to be purpose-designed, with green science, technology and innovation used in the actual building.
The science centre has an off-grid power supply consisting of four renewable energy sources – photovoltaic panels, small-scale wind turbines, hydrogen fuel cells and a battery. Eskom power is available as a back-up.
The structure relies on rainwater harvesting and water recycling for its water supply. To achieve water independence, the toilets are connected to a closed-loop bio-based system that recycles its own water, and greywater is recycled through a constructed wetland.
Constructed using a light steel frame and insulated concrete composite, the building uses solar chimneys for heating and cooling. The centre offers not only science awareness activities and exhibits on various themes, including space science and astronomy, but also a teacher training programme.
The Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, an entity of the department, designed the centre.
Ahead of launching the centre, Minister Nzimande, accompanied by Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, took a tour of the facility, which also boasts a planetarium and a robotics exhibit.