Hanekom: Advancing science & technology

ADDRESS BY MINISTER DEREK HANEKOM ON THE OCCASION OF THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BUDGET VOTE DEBATE, ON 16 MAY 2013, IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, CAPE TOWN

Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen

Science and technology are rarely the first things one thinks of when one talks about our major challenges as a nation, and few people fully appreciate the toil and investment that goes into the generation of knowledge, discovery and inventions.

The National Development Plan, however, identifies the important role of science, technology and innovation in achieving our country’s longer term vision.

Honourable Members, as many of you will recall, Minister Pandor appointed a high-level committee to conduct a comprehensive review of South Africa’s National System of Innovation. The committee’s report, which was released last year, makes a number of useful recommendations, including that the DST should strengthen its links with the private sector.

I am pleased to report we are making good progress in implementing a number of these recommendations:

  • The Department has secured R500 million over the next three years from the Economic Competitiveness Fund to strengthen innovation and research partnerships with industry.
  • An international expert committee has been appointed to develop a framework for a national integrated cyber-infrastructure system.
  • An important step in enhancing coordination between government and the private sector is the first multi-stakeholder science, technology and innovation summit that we are convening in July this year.
  • And, also arising out of the Committee’s recommendations, I appointed a panel to conduct a review of the Technology Innovation Agency earlier this year. The panel has completed its work and their report was presented to the newly appointed TIA board yesterday.

Overview of the Science and Technology budget vote

Honourable members, the total appropriation to the Department of Science and Technology for 2013/14 is R6,2 billion. Almost all of this (about 92%) goes to our science councils and agencies, and to other research institutions, including universities – which the Department supports in various ways. The reason for this is simple: our main mandate is to fund and direct research and human capital development in a strategic and coordinated manner.

The Department of Science and Technology has four main programmes.  These programmes represent distinct but complementary ways of promoting our National System of Innovation, and harnessing science and technology to benefit all South Africans.

 Research, Development and Innovation

The Research, Development and Innovation programme, Honourable Members, is at the heart of our efforts to drive innovation in scientifically strategic areas.

This programme focuses on space science, biotechnology and health innovation, and energy.

The announcement made a year ago that our country, together with eight other African partner countries, is to host the greatest portion of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, was a massive acknowledgement of the capabilities of our scientists and engineers, and the advances our country has made in science and technology.  The SKA will be one of the biggest scientific projects the world has ever undertaken.

This year marks the start of the detailed design and pre-construction phase of the SKA project.  The construction of the 64-dish MeerKAT has commenced, and will be completed by 2016.  On its own, the MeerKAT will be the largest radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.  When its 3 000 dishes have been completed, the SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world by far. We have been given almost R2 billion for the SKA project over the MTEF period and, since this is a global project, this investment will leverage significant international resources.

World-class science is already emanating from our KAT-7 precursor instrument.  Local and international astronomers have used the instrument to observe repeating radio outbursts from a neutron star system known as Circinus X-1. Their results have just been accepted this week for publication in a prestigious journal of the Royal Astronomy Society. A global media release on this ground-breaking science coming out of South Africa has just been issued.

Maybe there is life out there, Honourable Members, somewhere on another planet. We just don’t know. But what we do know is that the SKA will be able to pick up even the faintest of extraterrestrial signals, and cast light on some of the mysteries of the universe.

It came as no surprise to us, Honourable Members, when the Director of the South African SKA Office, Dr Bernie Fanaroff, was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe for his excellent contributions to astronomy and for putting South Africa on the map with the SKA Project.  He is with us today, in the gallery.

Through the South African National Space Agency, we are further developing the country’s capacity to design, build, maintain and possibly even launch satellites.  As part of the four-country African Resource Management Constellation, South Africa has begun work on the ZA-ARMC1 satellite. R272 million has been set aside this year. This satellite will greatly enhance Africa’s ability to monitor and manage its precious natural resources.

The process to transfer the capabilities and intellectual property of Sunspace into a continued satellite programme is being pursued through the services of a Business Rescue Plan.

Turning to the work we are doing in energy, Honourable Members, there are some exciting developments to report on.

Hydrogen South Africa Centres of Competence include the Catalysis Centre at the University of Cape Town, the Infrastructure Centre at University of North West and the Systems Centre of Competence at the University of the Western Cape. I am happy to report that a memorandum of understanding on the joint development of hydrogen and fuel cell vehicle platforms and technologies has been signed between the University of the Western Cape, Coventry University in the UK, and Microcab Industries Ltd. The MoU will see Microcab using HySA technologies with the prospect of HySA becoming a major supplier to Microcab.

Honourable Members, it is worth noting that just a 1% global penetration of fuel-cell-powered vehicles could increase platinum demand by 25%, and our nation holds almost three-quarters of the world’s known resources of this metal.

There are also huge opportunities in solar energy in our country.  The DST, working closely with the Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency, will finalise the Solar Energy Technology Road Map this year. The value of both solar and wind energy still needs to be unlocked, though, through more efficient and affordable energy-storage technologies. Our main focus at this stage is on battery technologies. Some of the novel battery systems we are developing are based on manganese and, given that South Africa has 80% of the world’s manganese reserves, this represents another significant beneficiation opportunity.

By 2015 more than 2,5 million HIV-infected South Africans will need antiretroviral treatment, and it is therefore essential that we have a secure and affordable supply of antiretrovirals.

Cabinet has given the go-ahead for the Ketlaphela consortium, which was established as a joint venture between the Industrial Development Corporation and Pelchem.  The consortium will initiate an open process to secure a technical and investment partner for the construction and operation of a facility for the local manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients for antiretrovirals, as well as formulated tablets for government’s ARV treatment programme. We will soon issue a request for information to start the process of finding such a partner.

Honourable Members, local researchers and scientists in the area of health innovation are increasingly receiving recognition for their contributions, especially in respect of TB and HIV/Aids-related research.  Two outstanding scientists received the Order of Mapungubwe at the National Orders ceremony last month: Prof. Glenda Gray for her life-saving research into mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and Prof. Quarraisha Karim for her work in the field of HIV, Aids and tuberculosis research.

Last month the University of Cape Town’s Prof. Valerie Mizrahi won the Grand Prix Christophe Mérieux prize for her tuberculosis research. We will hear more about Prof. Mizrahi’s research this evening when she makes a presentation during dinner.

Honourable Members, I am pleased to report that our Bioeconomy Strategy has been finalised and will be presented to Cabinet for approval.  We have built capacity and infrastructure, and have developed value chains in the application of biotechnology to a range of areas – new diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics, improved crops and livestock, and cleaner and more efficient industries. The Strategy will assist us in creating a world-class biotechnology-based system of innovation. Over the MTEF period more than R400 million has been budgeted for the implementation of the Strategy.

Towards the end of last year, the Technology Innovation Agency, in partnership with the Agricultural Research Council, the NRF, the University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort Biological Products and the CSIR, launched the Tshwane Animal Health Cluster.  The initiative aims to create an environment that enables the local animal health industry to develop and commercialise safe, effective and affordable animal health products and services for the benefit of our local livestock industry.

The Animal Health Cluster is currently funding a portfolio of 29 investments in various animal diseases.

International Cooperation and Resources

Honourable Members, our International Cooperation and Resources programme has been allocated R148 million for the year ahead.

The primary purpose of this programme is to promote the exchange of knowledge, capacity and resources with foreign partners. The DST has formal bilateral and multilateral arrangements with 62 different partners, encompassing country-to-country agreements as well as science and technology agreements with international multilateral bodies.

To mention just a few highlights, last year, in partnership with the European Union we co-hosted a planning conference for the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership.  The conference set the tone for a new, larger phase of clinical trials to begin in 2014.  This, we believe, will also help channel resources from partners to build human capacity and health research infrastructure in Africa.

Early last year, the German-South African Year of Science was launched to celebrate 16 years of successful cooperation between our two countries. Forty-one new collaborative initiatives were funded during the Year of Science, including a schools essay competition. Three of the winners announced at the closing ceremony in Berlin last month are with us today.  They are Thandeka Nzimande from Litsibogo Girls High in Gauteng, Zandile Mashabane from Mahhusha Agricultural High School in Mpumalanga, and Mukundi Mushiana from Mbilwi Secondary School in Limpopo.

Honourable Members, our successful partnership with the government of Finland continues to strengthen our innovation capacity.  One of the partnership’s success stories is RLabs, a community project established in 2008 by Marlon Parker, whose dream was to find a way of using information and communication technology to bring hope to young people. Through the DST’s initial investment, RLabs established an academy and outreach programmes that have reached thousands of youngsters in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng, providing free training in web literacy, social innovation and entrepreneurship.

More than 1 500 community members will receive training at the RLabs Academy.

Marlon is with us today in the gallery. I am sure he will be available to tell you more about this project after the debate.

The International Resources and Cooperation programme also provides support to the Africa Institute of South Africa. AISA has generated valuable information and knowledge about Africa on key areas of development, such as governance and security, sustainable development, and science, technology and innovation.

Draft legislation providing for the incorporation of AISA into the HSRC is currently with the Portfolio Committee.  I met the AISA Council members last week to discuss some of the key considerations that need to be applied in the process of incorporation AISA into the HSRC, and I was able to express my appreciation to the Council for the work they have done.

Human Capital and Knowledge Systems

Honourable Members, science and technology is advanced by people ‑ by our scientists, our technicians, our engineers and our computer programmers.  But do we have enough scientists?  And do they have the resources to do their jobs to the best of their ability?

That is what the Human Capital and Knowledge Systems programme is about, and it is by far the largest of our programmes, accounting for about R2,5 billion of our budget.

The success of our efforts to develop science, engineering and technology human resources depends largely on having sufficient numbers of school leavers with passes in mathematics and science.  This means that we have to encourage more learners to choose mathematics and science when they enter grade 10, and then attract the best performers to science-based careers.

Our 34 science centres play a critical role in popularising maths and science. They depend on the generous support of the private sector. In the past two months, we have launched two science centres; the Cape Town Science Centre (which was supported by a number of organisations) and the Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre, which was sponsored by Volkswagen South Africa. We are pleased to announce today that BMW SA is generously donating educational cars to five science centres across the country.Tomorrow, the Cape Town Science Centre will be the first to receive one of these cars.

Allow me to express my appreciation to the Head of Communications and Public Affairs for BMW SA, Mr Guy Kilfoil, who is also with us today.

The South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) was established in 2011 with the aim of encouraging learners to take science as a subject. SAYAS hosted the Global Young Academy General Assembly in May last year, which brought young scientists from more than 50 countries together to deliberate on sustainability.

We have a number of instruments that are designed to strengthen research capacity at our universities, including the research chairs and centres of excellence programmes, both managed by the National Research Foundation.

The South African Research Chairs Initiative is steadily gaining traction, with an additional 35 chairs to be filled this year, bringing the total to 152 research chairs, covering a wide spectrum of disciplines.

Last month we launched our ninth centre of excellence, the Palaeosciences Centre of Excellence at the University of the Witwatersrand.  It will build on the remarkable work done by Wits palaeoscientists over many decades, and will showcase South Africa’s wealth of fossil evidence of the earliest life on Earth and, in particular, the extraordinary discoveries of our early human ancestry at the Cradle of Humankind.  The Centre will collaborate with a number of institutions across the country, including the Iziko Museum, where the DST is holding its exhibition today and tomorrow.

The NRF has made a call for proposals for four additional centres of excellence, and the selection process will take place during the course of the year.

We continue to look for different ways of supporting the research community, trying especially to make research a more attractive career choice. The DST has increased its investments over the 2013 MTEF in programmes such as once-off research development grants for qualifying young, black and women researchers, to assist them to become established researchers; research career advancement fellowships offered to senior postdoctoral fellows; and sabbatical grants awarded to fast-track the completion of doctoral degrees by academic staff at universities.

The number of PhDs produced across the system has increased from about 1 200 to 1 500 per annum between 2009 and 2011. This 25% increase in PhD output represents a small but significant step towards increasing the country’s high-end skills.  We are, of course, delighted about the additional R400 million that has been allocated in support of our postgraduate bursary programme in the last year of the MTEF.  This will enable us to increase both the number and size of our postgraduate bursaries.

One of our key partners in human capital development is the Department of Higher Education and Training.  An agreement has been reached that Higher Education will be responsible for ensuring the provision of basic research training equipment in universities, and the DST will fund specialised research equipment.

Honourable Members, competitive high-quality research is simply not possible today without adequate research infrastructure. A total of 139 research and educational sites have now been connected with high-speed networks through the South African National Research Network (SANReN). This has virtually eliminated the digital divide between urban and remotely located institutions. Through SANReN, rural universities are just as able to participate in global experiments as urban universities.

Furthermore, SANReN opens up new possibilities in the way teaching and research are conducted, with the high-speed transport of large datasets, participation in global experiments regardless of physical location, and collaborative online teaching. The investment in SANReN has reduced internet costs for participating institutions by a factor of more than 10. The DST will invest about R600 million in the next five years to more than double the international bandwidth of SANReN.

In the area of information dissemination, the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) has established SciELO, a high-quality and prestigious open-access journal collection aimed at serving the South African research community. SciELO will promote South African research by enhancing its visibility and making it easier to access. ASSAf’s budget has been increased by 40% to allow it to play a stronger role in support of research in South Africa.

Next week we will be launching the National Indigenous Knowledge Recordal System in the North West, and the IK Bioprospecting and Product Development Consortium the following month. Together, these interventions will considerably strengthen our ability to utilise indigenous knowledge as an input into the development of useful products and services.  The National Recordal System is the first ever internet-based national digital system to document indigenous knowledge, and it was developed by the CSIR, informed by data from the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the Indian Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.  We have invested R22m in its development.

Socio-Economic Partnerships

Honourable Members, our Socio-Economic Partnerships programme has been allocated R1,7 billion, 60% of which goes to our main implementation partners, the CSIR and the HSRC.  This programme has two distinct purposes.  The first is to apply science and technology to improve the circumstances of the most deprived and vulnerable in our society.

The second is to develop research and development partnerships that target opportunities for establishing niche industries and, in so doing, increase the competitiveness of our economy. A key growth sector is information and communication technologies.  I am pleased to report that just two weeks ago Cabinet approved a 10-year ICT research, development and innovation road map, which will assist South Africa to take maximum advantage of the digital revolution.

The Titanium Industry Development Initiative is making impressive progress.  More than R75 million will be invested over the next two years through the Titanium Centre of Competence, hosted by the CSIR.  A key activity is the development of a novel low-cost process for the production of titanium metal powder, which will provide South Africa with a global competitive advantage.  A pilot plant, with the capacity to produce 2 kg of titanium powder per hour, is currently under construction at the CSIR campus in Pretoria.  It will be officially launched next month.

Through donor funding of €30 million from the European Union, the Department has been implementing a number of initiatives that use science and technology to make a contribution to poverty alleviation, such as in essential oils and aquaculture, and improved human settlement models. Our main objective is to capture the lessons from these initiatives for consideration and implementation by other government departments.

An excellent example of a DST initiative involving successful intergovernmental collaboration is our pilot education project in the Cofimvaba District of the Eastern Cape. Through this initiative, we are exploring innovative ways to improve the quality of learning and teaching in rural schools. The initiative involves 26 schools in the Nciba Circuit, and is being conducted in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education and the Eastern Cape Department of Education. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has contributed R22 million to the pilot.

The pilot will examine how the use of tablet computers can best improve educational outcomes in a rural context, and will help us determine which tablets work best, how to deal with important operational challenges such as re-charging tablets at schools without electricity, and how best to support learners, teachers and parents in the use of new technologies. As a start, over the next three months 3 000 tablets will be distributed to learners and teachers in 12 schools and, through our implementing agency, the CSIR’s Meraka Institute, all 26 schools in the Circuit will be connected to the internet via satellite and wireless mesh network technology.

The pilot will also test different sanitation options, alternative forms of energy, and models for improving the school nutrition programme.

The HSRC has been contracted to monitor and evaluate aspects of the project, and to assist in extracting the policy lessons for the possible scaling up of some aspects to other districts and provinces.

I should say at this point, that both the CSIR and the HSRC are doing impressive research in a wide range of specialised areas.

The CSIR’s capabilities in the field of defence science and technology have grown to be of world class standard. Working with the SANDF, the CSIR has contributed a number of interventions to optimise technologies used by our patrol teams – both on land and at sea. Readily available tools such as smart phones, GIS applications, radio and camera surveillance are integrated into these systems.

 

The Human Sciences Research Council has been appointed as the South African think-tank incubator for the BRICS grouping, with Dr Olive Shisana as its leader, to coordinate BRICS work undertaken by researchers atthe HSRC and other institutions around the country. The HSRC also conducts invaluable research on attitudes and behaviour regarding HIV and Aids, maintains the long-standing South African Social Attitudes Survey and the South African National Survey of Research and Experimental Development, and performs vital work in trying to bring social scientists and policy makers together.

Conclusion

Honourable Members, I would like to conclude by thanking the many researchers, scientists and business innovators who are the backbone of our National System of Innovation, and acknowledge our many partners in government, the private sector, the science councils and agencies, with particular thanks to those who serve on the boards of our public entities.

Sincere thanks also to Dr Mjwara, our Director-General, and the fine staff of the DST for their dedicated efforts to get science and technology to make a real, lasting difference in people’s lives.

And finally, I would like to express my appreciation to the Portfolio Committee for their support, but also for holding us to account.  We certainly welcome the oversight work they are doing – it is all in the interest of science and technology making a positive contribution to South Africa, and taking our country forward towards the realisation of our dreams and aspirations.

Thank you.

 

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