Change the world


Did you know that Africa is home to some of the world’s earliest mathematical systems? Apart from the sophisticated maths that went into building Egypt’s pyramids, artefacts found across the continent indicate that ancient African civilizations were using maths in their daily lives. 

To celebrate Africa’s often overlooked and undervalued contribution to mathematics, Nelson Mandela University has selected the theme “Mathematics in Africa: past, present and future” for its annual MathArt Competition, which kicks off on March 1.
Run by the university’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC), the competition is open to grade 7 to 12 learners across the country and including Lesotho and Swaziland, where one of the world’s oldest counting systems – the Lebomba bone, a 35,000-year-old baboon fibula with notches carved into it – was found. 
“Not much recognition has been given to maths in Africa, and we’re really hoping to get kids thinking about how many of the concepts they’re using in maths actually originated here,” said GMMDC competition coordinator Carine Steyn. 
“For the ‘present’ aspect, we want children to recognize how maths is all around us, and to think about how it will be used in the future, from telecommunications to space travel. We want them to realize that maths is going to have a big impact on what our futures look like.” 
The broader aim of the competition, now in its sixth year, is to advance STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) in schools across South Africa. This approach, which is popular in many countries around the world, emphasizes the importance of creativity and critical thinking in solving today’s challenges.   
“We want kids from all socio-economic learning environments to get excited about maths and to consider careers in the highly innovative and technologically creative Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said GMMDC director Prof Werner Olivier. 
GMMDC has strong links with an international STEAM study group, which includes participants from Finland, Austria, England and the United States. This has opened doors to deliver presentations about the competition and display the artworks at international conferences, with scope for further research and analysis.
To enter the competition, learners can submit a photograph of their maths-inspired artwork online, along with a written explanation about the maths they used in their artwork, how it links to maths in Africa, and how their participation in the project changed their view of maths in Africa. Entries close on April 30. 
“The artworks are two-dimensional and learners can use any media, from a pencil drawing to a painting or collage, anything. But it’s not just about the art technique, it’s about creatively combining maths and art, linked with the theme,” said Steyn.  
The top entrants selected from the online submissions courier their artworks to GMMDC for final judging by a diverse panel that includes mathematicians, artists, teachers, lecturers, STEAM educators, architects and designers, from South Africa and abroad. 
In June last year, GMMDC published a coffee table book titled “MathArt Expressions by South African Youth”, showcasing the work of learners in past competitions. 
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Contact information
Prof Werner Olivier
Director of GMMDC
Tel: 27 41 504 2305