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UFS maths guru named the best in the world

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Staff Reporter

A professor of applied mathematics at the University of the Free State (UFS)’s Institute for Groundwater Studies, Abdon Atangana, is the best mathematician in the world, according to a list recently published by Stanford University.

Atangana, who has been elected a fellow of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), was also listed number 186 in the world in all science fields and number one in Africa in the sciences on the same list.

“The fact that an African name appears on top of the list in mathematics is a clear indication that our small effort and contribution also has an impact internationally,” said Atangana in a written response.

The top mathematican also received his TWAS – Mohammad A. Hamdan Award for Mathematics, 2020 at the beginning of this month.

“In the last three years, I have tried spreading the culture of research in several African countries among Master’s and PhD students so they can be more active in research.

“And as editor of some top tier journals, I have also helped promote research from African countries, in fact in some journals researchers from Africa were able to publish their research papers due to my presence,” he explained.

The countries he has been working with include South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Namibia, Lesotho, Benin, Congo, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Egypt.

But despite the glowing accolades, Atangana is disappointed that African mathematicians or academics in general, receive very little support from their governments or other authorities.

“The main reason those from outside Africa overlook our continent is that their ancestors have prepared the way for them.

“Cambridge University for example, is well respected because of the foundation laid down by Newton and others,” said Atangana referring to Isaac Newton, an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author.

Newton is widely recognised as one of the greatest mathematicians, physicists and most influential scientists of all time.

Atangana said African researchers face serious discrimination with some even failing to have their work published in some journals because their research outcomes are not accepted.

“I will continue helping younger researchers from Africa… which has been divided by colonial powers, making it very difficult for an Africa student and an academician to move from one place to another on the continent as it is required of him to provide visa.

“The more we are divided the more we are weak and the more it become harder for an African student to get knowledge and for an African academician to spread knowledge across Africa, which is in contrary to a European student,” he pointed out.

The maths guru said some students were discouraged due to lack of support and recognition, adding even asked him about the point in getting a PhD and yet earn less than a musician and sportsperson.

Atangana is known for his research to develop a new fractional operator, the Atangana-Baleanu operator, which is to model real-world problems.

“With this operator, he not only describes the rate at which something will change, but also account for disrupting factors that will help to produce better projections,” said the UFS in a recent statement.

Among others, his models can advise people drilling for water by predicting how groundwater is flowing in a complex geological formation.

Furthermore, his work can also be applied to predict the spread of infectious diseases among people in a settlement, forecasting the number of people who will be infected each day, the number of people who will recover, and the number of people who will die. 

“Besides promoting science in the developing world . . . Atangana’s work also contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – the global goals as set in 2015 that call for ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that all people enjoy prosperity and peace,” the UFS statement added.

He is the second South African researcher to be elected TWAS fellow in the field of mathematics and the sixth African mathematician.

The first person to be elected was Professor Reddy Batmanathan Dayanand in 2003.

Last year, Atangana was named among the top one percent of scientists on the global Clarivate Web of Science list.

Less than 6 200 or just 0.1 percent of the world’s researchers were included on that list, with no more than 10 of the scientists coming from South Africa. 

TWAS president Professor Mohamed HA Hassan congratulated Atangana on the prestigious achievement.

“Your election as fellow is a clear recognition of your outstanding contribution to science and its promotion in the developing world. We will be honoured to have you among our members,” said Hassan.

TWAS, described as the voice for science in the south, is working towards the advancement of science in developing countries and supports sustainable prosperity through research, education, policy, and diplomacy. 

Candidates elected as TWAS fellows are scientists whose contributions to their respective fields of science meet internationally accepted standards of excellence, and they must have distinguished themselves in efforts to promote science in developing countries. 

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Parts of Free State may not have power for up to three weeks

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PROLONGED BLACKOUT LOOMS . . . Eskom says consumers in some parts of the Free State may not have electricity for up to three weeks

Eskom has warned consumers in the south-eastern Free State that they may not have electricity for up to three weeks due to voltage constraints on the network feeding the Melkspruit Substation.

The power failure resulted in electricity users in Zastron, Rouxville and Smithfield as well as those fed directly by Eskom on the RVZ and RVS 22 kV lines experiencing outages over the past weekend.

Eskom’s spokesperson in the Free State, Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg, said the problem may persist until major work on a line from the Northern Cape is completed.

“The voltage constraint on the network will persist until construction of structures on the Ruigtevallei-Valleydora 132 kV line in the Northern Cape is completed,” said Van Rensburg as she urged consumers to remain patient while the supply challenge is addressed.

“Free State teams are currently assisting to speed up the process. It is however expected that work will take two to three weeks to complete.”

“In the meantime, electricity users are urged to use electricity sparingly, especially during the morning and evening peak hours, to prevent trips,” she added.

South Africa has been experiencing rolling blackouts in recent weeks due to what Eskom has described a “continued shortage of generation capacity”.

On Sunday, the national power utility said in a separate statement it had about 3 028 megawatts on planned maintenance, while another 14 992 megawatts of capacity were unavailable due to breakdowns.

While the loadshedding is meant to ease pressure on the national grid and avoid a total collapse of the system, the practice has reportedly caused damage on some lines when power is switched back on.

Eskom has always said loadshedding is implemented only as a last resort to protect the national grid and promised to limit the implementation of loadshedding to the evening peak in order to limit the impact of the capacity shortages on the public. – Staff Reporter

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Minister shuts down troubled Free State water supplier

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MOVE GAZETTED . . . Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has disestablished Sedibeng Water

Staff and key assets from the embattled Sedibeng Water Board are set to be transferred to the Bloemwater and Magalies water boards following the gazetting of the move by Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu last week.

The department’s spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, said in a statement the development is in line with the minister’s commitment to review the country’s water boards to enable them to perform optimally while enhancing the delivery of water to municipalities and ultimately to households.

The decision to disestablish Sedibeng Water – which served Matjhabeng, Masilonyana and Nala local municipalities, among others – means its staff, assets and liabilities will be absorbed by Bloemwater in the Free State and Magalies in Gauteng.

The move, according to Ratau, was initiated by the minister following his working sessions with provincial governments, various water services authorities and water boards regarding issues of governance, financial viability as well as accountability and broader service delivery issues after taking office in August last year.

“The review is based on considerations of financial sustainability, servicing areas that are not currently serviced and is also intended to address institutional confusion caused by having multiple water boards serving the same area,” said Ratau.

“The disestablishment of Sedibeng Water is in accordance with section 28 of the Water Services Act of 1997 which affords Minister Mchunu the authority to disestablish a water board.

“The gazette was published on Friday, 20 May 2022 and will remain open to the public for a period of 40 days.

“Members of the public and all interested parties are invited to make comments in writing on the disestablishment of the board.”

The department said it will ensure there is smooth transition of the disestablishment and that water service provision to communities is not affected.

Based in Bothaville, Sedibeng Water was established to, among others, treat wastewater and supply potable water in a viabile and sustainable manner.

However, in recent years, some of the municipalities served by the water board have struggled over the years to pay on time for the bulk water supplies even though residents have argued that they pay their monthly bills on time.

At the end of March this year, Sedibeng reportedly owed its service providers over R5-billion as it was struggling to secure payment from several municipalities. – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung warns residents to brace for heavy rainfall

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DISRUPTIVE DOWNPOUR LOOMING . . . Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned heavy rainfall is expected to pound the capital

The Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned residents in and around the Free State capital to brace for heavy rainfall that could cause flooding this Friday.

The municipality is urging drivers to take extra caution by reducing speed and switching their headlights on, while pedestrians are being reminded to be careful when crossing the road and to avoid crossing rivers and streams where water is above the ankles.

“Residents of Mangaung Metro, particularly in the former Naledi region, are urged to be cautious on the road and in their homes as the South African Weather Service has issued an impact-based warning . . . for possible disruptive rainfall,” the metro said in a statement.

“This warning is valid for Friday, 20 May 2022 until Saturday, 21 May 2022.”

“Heavy rains are also predicted in Bloemfontein on Friday,” it added.

“Localised flooding can be expected in susceptible low-lying areas, roads, formal/informal settlements and bridges.” – Staff Reporter

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