How Stephen Hawking left a legacy in South Africa during his 2008 visit

How Stephen Hawking left a legacy in South Africa during his 2008 visit

South Africa former President Nelson Mandela (R) meets with British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking (L) in Johannesburg on May 15, 2008. Hawking, who has devoted his career to finding the origins of the universe, is in the country to begin a search for Africa?s answer to Einstein. Some of the world?s leading high-tech entrepreneurs and scientists have backed a ?75m plan to create Africa?s first postgraduate centres for advanced math and physics, after the British government declined to provide funding.

Image Credits: DENIS FARRELL/AFP/Getty Images

The world is in mourning for Stephen Hawking. The physicist, who made science downright cool, left a legacy that deserves to be celebrated endlessly. In fact, he’s even had a huge impact here in South Africa.

The professor visited Mzansi in 2008. He enjoyed a whirlwind tour, stopping off in Cape Town and Johannesburg for a series of scientific projects. But Hawking left something behind for the best and brightest South African students.

Stephen Hawking in South Africa

The former Cambridge scholar used his visit in SA to help promote the “Next Einstein” initiative. The programme sought to unearth the next great scientific mind in Africa.

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) was created, and offered post-graduate courses in advanced mathematical sciences. Starting off in Muizenburg in 2003, the project eventually became a continent-wide operation.

Hawking was a huge supporter of a cause, and he spent a significant part of his last decade endorsing the foundation. In the last 10 years, they’ve received donations from the likes of Google, and the International Research Development Centre (IRDC).

Now, AIMS are offering students masters degrees, grants and even opportunities to find work in their chosen industries. They have institutions set up in Cameroon, Senegal, Ghana, Tanzania and Rwanda, and the quest to unearth “the next Einstein” has gone from strength to strength.

When Hawking met Mandela

Even Madiba himself couldn’t let an opportunity like this one pass. He invited Hawking to meet him at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in Houghton, Johannesburg. On May 15th 2008, two of the greatest minds sat down and spoke to each other. The professor made no secret of how much he admired our former leader:

“I am very pleased to meet you. I admire how you managed to find a peaceful solution to a situation that seemed doomed to disaster. It was one of the great achievements of the 20th century. If only the Israelis and the Palestinians could do the same.”

This was the last leg of a tour that saw him deliver his first-ever public lecture in Africa, and visit the National Institute for Theoretical Physics in Stellenbosch.

Hawking was a universally-loved character. His loss will hurt many of us, but his life will also inspire future generations in equal measure.


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Publish date : 2018-03-14 07:12:00
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