, , ,

Thebe Medupe (Credit AfroLegends)

Thebe Medupe (Credit AfroLegends)

“Thebe Medupe grew up in a poor South African village near Mafikeng, about four hours north-west of Johannesburg. He went on to gain a doctorate in astrophysics at the University of Cape Town, and was presenter and associate producer of “Cosmic Africa”, a feature documentary about traditional African astronomy released in 2002. He is a researcher at the South African Astronomical Observatory, where he is participating in a programme to encourage black South Africans to take up astronomy. He is writing a book, in the Setswana language, on ethno-astronomy”[1]

“Professor Thebe Medupe, South Africa`s first black Astronomer and Astrophysics lecturer[s] in the department of Physics at the Mafikeng Campus” [2]

He is also one of only two black Astrophysicists worldwide. [2012] [6]

His studies involve theoretical understanding of stellar oscillations in the atmospheres of stars. In particular, he investigates the interaction of radiative transfer and pulsations in the atmospheres of A stars by solving non-adiabatic pulsation equations numerically. Now and then he also does observations of these stars in collaboration with Prof. Christensen-Dalsgaard of Aarhus university and Prof. Don Kurtz of Lancashire University. He currently works as a researcher at SAAO, and both teaches and supervises students at the university of North West (UNW). He is a leader of the recently formed theoretical astrophysics programme in the physics department of UNW. His other interests involve a study of African ethno-astronomy with a view to use this to attract students into astronomy and science in general.” [3]

“By shedding new light on traditional African astronomy, and in turn global understanding of the world’s oldest science Dr Medupe looks at celestial beliefs from different parts of the African continent and how some of these ancient African perceptions link with current scientific knowledge.” [4]

Cosmic Africa Trailer –

Thebe Medupe also served as an Associate Producer on the documentary “The Ancient Astronomers of Timbuktu”: “Guided by astrophysicist, Dr Thebe Medupe, a group of modern scientists engage in the first exploration of the scientific contents of the great manuscript archives of Timbuktu. As the ancient papers are in grave danger of being destroyed by the ravages of time – the team race against the clock to unlock the mysteries of this incredible library before this valuable history is lost forever in the sands of the Sahara.

For four hundred years Timbuktu flourished until being invaded by the Moors in the 1590’s. Academics were banished and Timbuktu slid slowly into insignificance. Miraculously thousands of documents have survived – safe-guarded by the ancestors of the ancient scribes.
Brittle and damaged the film reveals the painstaking work done by conservators and manuscript owners who face the daunting task of restoring and preserving the manuscripts for future generations and academic research.

Dr Medupe works together with noted Islamic Science Historian Dr Petra Schmidl on deciphering the meaning and significance of these fascinating papers. With comment from Islamic Science Historian Dr George Saliba and Dr John Steele we reveal the historical background to the information found in the manuscripts and the relevance of Timbuktu’s Islamic history.

Throughout the documentary recreations of life in medieval Timbuktu illustrate and enhance discoveries – bringing to life the ancient work of these African academics. Technical and scientific information is revealed in an informative and entertaining manner with the use of graphics.

The Ancient Astronomers of Timbuktu is a complex and intriguing documentary exposing ancient science to the present world. By using modern ‘state of the art’ digital technology we reveal the cosmology of an ancient time bringing the archives from sandy obscurity to global cyber access.” [5]


1. Curtis Abraham, “Astronomy and the legacy of apartheid”, New Scientist, 15 January 2005, [Accessed 23 September 2013] (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18524822.000-astronomy-and-the-legacy-of-apartheid.html)

2. Morth-West University,  “COMMUNITY REACH FOR THE STARS”, [Accessed 23 September 2013](http://www.nwu.ac.za/content/nwu-news-community-reach-stars)

3. Research Profile, National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme,  [Accessed 23 September 2013](http://www.mth.uct.ac.za/nassp/lecturers/medupe.php)

4. Synopsis, “Thebe Medupe: Cosmic Africa”, 2004, British Universities Film and Video Council, [Accessed 23 September 2013](http://bufvc.ac.uk/dvdfind/index.php/title/av37227)

5. Synopsis, “The Ancient Astronomers of Timbuktu”, [Accessed 23 September 2013](http://www.offthefence.com/detail/the-ancient-astronomers-of-timbuktu/1093662/)

6. http://www.amazon.com/Africa-Speaking-Earth-Michael-Hutchinson/dp/086486664X