By Sphumelele Ndlovu and Chizi Katama
Now that exhibitors have packed away their bright posters and the sugar high has subsided, here are a few notable things one should remember about the 2018 Scifest Africa.
One came from the Sunset show that happened on Sunday, 11 March in the Olive Shreiner Hall presented by American chemist Dr Jeanita Pritchett. Pritchett spoke on the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM subjects) mentioning that she was brought up by scientists herself and has always had a knack for all things science. She started the session by asking the audience, which was filled with teenagers and their teachers, what they thought a scientist looked like to which a boy in the audience replied, “A dodgy guy in glasses who blows stuff up all day”. This very reply led to Pritchett making her point of the session – that anyone can be a scientist. Pritchett, who wears a big afro that bounces at her every word, has been mistaken for a tea lady in meetings because, to the people she was meeting, it was unfathomable that a woman of colour who wears her hair kinky could possibly have a seat at their table. Pritchett closed her session by encouraging the audience, especially women of colour to study STEM subjects not only to fill the many vacancies within the sciences, but to prove to other people of colour that it is possible. She also encouraged her audience to be unapologetically themselves.
Another came from an exhibition by the Rhodes University Pharmacy Faculty focusing on the many dangers of cosmetic products and the importance of always testing one’s blood pressure and screening for diabetes. The presentation created by Junita Singh, Khanya Dakeda, Tshepo Tapolisi, Lisolethu Dlova, Mosa Chepape, Pauline Maniki, and Khadija Motala proved to be informative to students from Richard Varha High School who had many questions for Masters Pharmacy student Tanaka Mano, who led them through the exhibition. Mano first presented a model of a foot that had a wound resulting from diabetes, warning us that ignoring an injury of this nature leads to diabetic ulcers which in some cases end in amputation.
Mano then moved to the exhibitions on cosmetic products where at multiple points during the presentation he reiterated that the exhibition did not aim to dictate to the students that they should not use the products on the market, but to understand the damages caused by the many dangerous chemicals in the products. The exhibition included pictures of the multiple consequences of skin bleaching such as uneven skin tone, thinning of the skin leading to visible veins, greater susceptibility to infections and even skin cancer. It also included images of balding, burnt scalps and damaged hair as a result of using hair relaxers, dye and bleach too often. Mano warned that whatever is applied to the skin goes into one’s system through the pores in the skin, and causes further damage. When asked about the use of radiation to remove scars, Mano said that in fixing one problem of removing scars, introducing radiation to their system created another problem.
As Pratchett mentioned in her session, the main aim of scientists is to solve problems that people face daily. The dangerous effects of racism, colourism, and Eurocentric beauty standards seen in the use of skin bleachers, hair relaxers and treating people of colour as if they do not belong in certain spaces being some of them. If you only remember one thing from Scifest Africa 2018, let it be that your dreams are valid and possible regardless of the colour of your skin.