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Finding the right answer

| September 5, 2010

Omphemetse Keepile, a Matric student at St Mary’s School for Girls in Waverley, Johannesburg, is remarkably composed for a young person who’s just won R100 000.

She’s the winner of the ‘Name the Sediba skeleton’ competition, sponsored by Standard Bank and the Paleontological Scientific Trust (PAST) in association with Wits University and the Department of Science and Technology. Keepile was one of 15 000 entrants, doing so on a whim after seeing a poster in her school’s Science  department.

She made the right choice

“Of course the money was a motivating factor, but I never thought I’d actually win!” she laughs. Contestants had to choose an appropriate name for the famous skeleton discovered by young St John’s College pupil, Matthew Berger. “I decided on ‘Karabo’, which means ‘answer’ in Setswana. It’s my little sister’s name.”

Keepile was in sync with competition organisers and scientists alike. “I know the discovery of the skeleton raised a lot of questions about the origins of mankind. In time, I think scientists will find all the right answers.” A week before a grand event held at Wits to announce the winner, Keepile received the exciting phone call. “They told
me I was a finalist. I couldn’t believe it!”

In good company

On the big night – the occasion was the seventh annual Standard Bank PAST Palaeontology public lecture in the Wits Great Hall – each of the five finalists had to tell the audience, and the judges, about their chosen name. “The judging panel included paleoanthropologist Professor Lee Berger, his son Matthew (who discovered the first fossil), radio DJ Gareth Cliff, and representatives from Standard Bank, the Department of Science and Technology, and PAST.” Keepile says she wasn’t nervous about speaking in public. “That’s one of the skills St Mary’s has given me.” In her submission, she said that the discovery “has enabled scientists to broaden their former understanding of the concept of humankind”. She was impressed with some of the other name choices. “I liked ‘Jabulani’ – ‘to make happy’. That was the choice of
another finalist in Grade 9 at our school.”

Young people part of the conversation

To Keepile’s delight, part of the prize was a facsimile of the Sediba skull. To her disappointment, she didn’t get a giant cardboard cheque. She’s had time to get over it, though. “I’m so grateful for the R75 000 from Standard Bank that will cover the cost of my tertiary education. The balance of the money goes to St Mary’s.” Winning the competition hasn’t persuaded Keepile to become a palaeontologist. While she’s interested in art, writing and entrepreneurship, she’s decided to pursue a B Com degree.
She’s also become more interested in scientific discoveries since her win. “We have the technology to discover so much about the early days on the planet. That’s exciting.” She also thinks there should be more competitions of this nature. “It drew young people into the discovery and gave us a chance to contribute to the conversation.” PAST CEO Andrea Leenen thoroughly enjoyed the judging process. “The response we received was incredible and the quality of the submissions was amazing. Students really thought about what the fossil meant to them, and expressed their ideas with great passion and eloquence.” Tina Eboka, Standard Bank Director of Group Corporate Affairs, also a competition judge, adds: “We are proud to play a role in making Karabo relevant to young children – we really want to be part of building a culture where African children are as passionate about their heritage as we are.” Like young Berger, Keepile became a bit of a media celebrity for a
time. Now, however, it’s back to the books. Matric exams are around the corner, and she’s got that B Com degree to qualify for.

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Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2010 Edition

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