Scifest Africa celebrates its 24th National Science Festival

Since its inception in 1996, Scifest Africa has been educating and enlightening its audiences with a feast of discovery. Offering a diverse and exciting festival programme, the National Science Festival is a crucial doorway to the world of Science, Technology, Innovation, Engineering and Mathematics.

Scifest Africa has hosted hundreds of international speakers and workshop leaders, and hosted well over a million attendees of all ages, becoming the largest science festival on the African continent. With continued support from the Department of Science and Innovation, the festival makes science accessible to the public, encouraging parents and schools from across the country to bring learners to the event. Scifest Africa provides a platform for leading scientists, both locally and globally, to engage with the youth and inspire them to embark on careers in science and become leaders in these fields.

Hosted in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) - South Africa’s ‘Festival Capital’ - Scifest Africa has modelled its activities, structure and programming on some of the best practice from the world’s leading Science Festivals, adapted for the needs of the local science community and the unique conditions of the South African science landscape. The festival is also a platform for government, research facilities, higher education institutions, science councils, science centres and museums, corporate, SMMEs, and other STI stakeholders to showcase their work to the general public. Scifest Africa is an international event that promotes the development of partnerships and a network of cooperation and communication between government, business, STI practitioners, and the public.

The 24th National Science Festival will take place from 15-21 April 2020, with the theme “Take root... nurture!” in celebration of the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH), as proclaimed by the United Nations. The theme recognises that plants constitute the foundation for all life on Earth, ecosystem function, food security and boosts economic development. The theme also feeds into the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and recognises that plants are relevant in various disciplines. Deputy Minister of Science and Innovation, Honourable Buti Manamela will officially open the National Science Festival on Friday 17 April.

The high-profile lecture programme lends the festival its trademark international flavour, and proudly welcomes esteemed international and South African scientists and researchers to this celebration of science. During the official opening ceremony of Scifest Africa 2020, the Brian Wilmot Lecture will be delivered by Expo For Young Scientists’ Director Partheeban Chetty, and the Christina Scott Memorial lecture will be delivered by Professor William Wesley Edmonson from North Carolina A&T State University. Scifest Africa is honoured to have South African Women in Science Award winners Professor Michele Ramsay, Professor Catriona Macleod and Dr Sibongiseni Tunzelana Thotsejane on our lecture programme. With the support of the National Science and Technology Forum, other lecturers include Professor Lindiwe Zungu, Professor Alison Lewis, Professor Robin Crewe and US Water Ambassador Felicia Marcus.

Our youngest speaker is Yahya Reshid from Middleburg Muslim School, who is an ESKOM EXPO for Young Scientist Awardees of the Scifest Africa Science Communication Prize. Reshid will give a lecture on his miniature Solar Still, which was designed to test the effectiveness and efficiency of a solar still in desalinating sea water into drinkable water.

Scifest Africa is proud to host interactive exhibitions by institutions all working in the field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation. All exhibitions are free and are hosted at the main festival venue in the 1820 Settlers National Monument, unless otherwise specified. The South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) brings back the popular Water World exhibition, with this year’s theme being ‘From sea to stream, keep them clean!’, where you will learn more about how you can help to conserve our aquatic environments and biodiversity for future generations. Contributing exhibitors include: the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), iThemba LABS, Iziko Museums of South Africa, KZN Sharks Board, South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Mathematical & Statistical Sciences, as well as the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity, to name but a few.

Workshops are fun hands-on activities that afford visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in the practice of science. Activities for learners relate to the National Curriculum Statements where possible. Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwhich, who also features on the 2020 lecture programme, will be facilitating the workshop ‘Climate Proofing Food for Africa – Role of Biotechnology’, together with Michael Richards. This family-friendly workshop involves interactive sessions over two hours where participants meet with international scientists and explore the world of DNA through model building and hands-on extractions from local food. This workshop will demonstrate the integral role that an understanding of science can play in global food security. Nna le Bokamoso Science and Arts Academy will be running the workshop ‘Ecology of the City’ and invites all primary schools to participate. Through dance, drama and play, this workshop is aimed at engaging children with various ecosystems that exist and focuses dialogue on the ways in which children can become responsible citizens in caring for both human and more-than-human ecologies. The work values children as productive, engaged and capable of contributing fully to scientific research and practice. The CSIR’s Centre for High Performance Computing will facilitate the hands-on ‘Coding for All!’ workshop. Aimed at Grade 11 and 12 Maths and Physical Science learners, this workshop will see participants receiving a certificate upon completion of the course.

All interactive events that refuse to be classified as lectures, workshops or exhibitions are included in the Etcetera section of the official programme. Activity zones allow children to role play as scientists in order to gain a better understanding of concepts, topics and processes of thinking in scientific disciplines, while providing an experiential base and motivation for further activity and learning. The Etcetera programme features a Science Film Festival, a colourful and dramatic laser show, talkshops, educational theatre and many more exciting events. Fulbright Specialist Heather Massie brings her 14x Award-Winning internationally acclaimed show to Scifest Africa. Massie studied Astrophysics at the University of Virginia, and Theatre Arts at The Virginia Tech School of the Arts. She is currently touring the world with the show ‘HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr’, in which she marries her love of art and science in the story of actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr. This is her first in her planned trilogy of solo shows celebrating women in science. Following his very successful run at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda last year, Maxwell The Bubbleologist will be making his debut at the National Science Festival. For a pure hour of entertainment, Maxwell will illustrate that bubbles are nothing but science, while explaining how bubbles have been used to study physics, mathematics, biology, meteorology, astrology, architecture and even computing. The bubble science show can fascinate young budding scientists to quantum physicists.

The Rhodes University High School Quiz takes place annually during the week long science festival. With both junior and senior categories, the brightest young minds battle it out as teams for the title of champion. Each member of the winning team in the Senior Finals category will each receive a one-year scholarship to Rhodes University to study science.

While much of the festival programme is aimed at educators and school learners, there is so much more on offer for tertiary students, academics and the general public. Makhanda is known for academic excellence as it is home to some of the country’s most prestigious schools, as well as the world-renowned Rhodes University. With both local and international scientists in attendance at the National Science Festival, there is a great opportunity for organisations, companies and universities to network and strengthen global connections in their career fields and areas of interest. Events such as Science Cafe and Speed-Date-A-Scientist are two intimate sessions worth attending where one can meet and engage with scientists and other experts, to discuss various topics and many unanswered questions.

The demand for Scifest Africa to take the best of the festival to educators, learners and communities who cannot afford to visit the festival, or who find themselves in areas where educator support and resources is at its poorest, continues to grow. Scifest Africa has collaborated with several organisations to implement parallel events during the festival in the Eastern Cape. These events are intentioned to provide role models and career guidance for the youth, encouraging them to pursue science careers, as well as inspiring a love for the sciences from the general public. The iRhini Township Festival which takes place annually during the National Science Festival, will rotate between various schools in Makhanda, with workshops, lectures and science shows. Other participating organisations include East London Museum and the Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre. Nelson Mandela Bay University in Port Elizabeth will run a lecture series, where a number of scientists attending Scifest Africa 2020 will visit to present interactive talks and engage with students and academic staff.

Scifest Africa 2019 was held in the Eastern Cape from 6-12 March and offered visitors an interactive programme consisting of 60 exhibitions and 465 events, including lectures, workshops and other events. The 2019 festival was attended by 44, 511 visitors, including learners representing 233 schools from around the country.


The official Scifest Africa 2020 programme will be available online from 16 March, when the Box Office opens for booking and ticket sales. Contact us for more information about the festival or our various outreach programmes. Visit our website / email us to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / call +27 (0)46 603 1106. For media related queries and accreditation, contact Ms Hayley Axford: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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