Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, MP, at the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Communications conference (ICC), Cape Town
24 May 2010
President of IEEE Communications Society, Dr Beyeong Gi Lee
Conference Vice General-Chairs, Dr Khaled Letaief and Mr Reuben September
Members of the ICC 2010 Local Organising Committee
Ladies and gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here today.
I hope you find our communications in Cape Town and in South Africa to your satisfaction and your advantage. I think you will find the data download speeds of some of local providers faster than your own providers at home.
Last week South Africa hosted two important international information and communication technology (ICT) conferences.
The first was Information Society Technologies in Africa ("IST-Africa") held in Durban. This is a multi-stakeholder initiative focused on analysing African ICT policy and research priorities, and promoting the participation of African organisations in the ICT theme of the European Commission's seventh Framework Programme ICT Thematic area.
The second event was the general assembly of the Network for the Coordination and Advancement of Sub-Saharan Africa-European Union (EU) Science and Technology Cooperation project, better known as CAAST-Net also held in Durban. This initiative is also supported by the European Union and aims to add particular value to Africa and Europe's identification of joint research and development priorities.
It's no secret that South Africa's scientific capacity is considerably larger and more advanced than that of most other African countries. South Africa boasts some world class facilities and economic infrastructure in sectors such as finance (South Africa has one of the best banking services in the world), telecommunications and ICT.
South Africa uses this relative advantage to facilitate regional and continental development not simply because it is morally correct but also because we cannot feasibly develop ourselves more, while our neighbours stagnate, such a situation would be politically and economically unsustainable and undermine the clear imperative to enhance regional integration.
For this reason, South Africa very actively promotes a wide scope of bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation with African partner countries, leveraging both in our own capacity, but also increasingly using our good standing with international development partners to facilitate regional projects.
As part of South Africa's ten year innovation plan, the development of space science and technology is one of our grand challenge areas.
Our coordinated efforts in space science and technology have started to bear fruit, with the successful launch into space of South Africa's second low earth orbiting satellite, the SumbandilaSat. This remarkable milestone in our space programme was achieved when SumbandilaSat was blasted into orbit via a Russian Soyuz rocket in September 2009, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Today as we speak, we have already acquired in excess of 130 high quality images from this satellite. Besides the earth observation data that supports various applications such as disaster management (floods, fire), food security (crop yield estimation), land cover or land use and safety and security. The SumbandilaSat carries a secondary communication payload which was commissioned by our Department of Communications.
South Africa recognises the importance of participating in global initiatives with respect to satellite and other space-related programmes.
South Africa participates fully in the GEONETCast initiative, which is a system that offers semi-convergence of communications and earth observation satellite. It is a global collaboration system of systems by various regions and countries of the world including Europe, China, Russia, USA and Africa, which allows for coordinating and integrating satellite data and information such as video broadcasting and imagery for earth observation.
In this regard, I am pleased to state that South Africa plays a critical role in GEONETCast as we act as a receiving station for Africa.
Equally important is an initiative we have embarked upon which will further strengthen our efforts of developing a geo-stationary satellite for Africa.
We are, together with European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) company, proposing a new dedicated satellite sensing source to be owned and operated by African authorities called GEO-Africa. GEO-Africa will be a permanent African space observatory based on innovative mid-high resolution geostationary satellite to be operated by Africans. It will be developed and implemented in partnership with the European Union.
The GEO-Africa will ultimately provide for the much needed real time mapping for Africa, together with the associated communication of the spatial information for various societal and economic applications.
Moving away from space, my department, the Department of Science and Technology, is currently implementing a national ICT research development and innovation strategy, which was developed in 2006/07.
The strategy, which is managed by Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in partnership with other role players in the national system of innovation, seeks to ensure the development of high-end skills (masters and PhDs) to enable, build and strengthen the innovation chain and the capacity of SA to perform competitive research in ICT.
Some of the initiatives implemented as part of the ICT Research Development and Innovation (RDI) programme target the rural and marginalised communities.
Among these is the Digital Doorway, which is a robust computer facility designed to provide access to computing resources to these communities. Usually placed outdoors Digital Doorway facilities are designed such that they can withstand harsh conditions and vandalism and is available 24 hours to the communities to learn basic computer skills and access information resources such as Wikipedia, as well as any learning content.
Another project from our ICT RDI implementation programme, that seeks to enhance access to ICT in rural areas, is a large scale technology demonstrator pilot project, which seeks to deploy affordable broadband connectivity infrastructure.
Currently, the pilot focuses on providing broadband connectivity to schools and other government and public facilities in three municipalities, each in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape. It is hoped that this project will usher in a new era where our historically deprived communities will get the opportunity to participate in socio-economic activities using the ICT platform.
In order to attract critical mass in the advanced human resources in ICT, the ICT RDI strategy employs several models which include students in employment, research grants, internships and instruments to support innovation and technology based enterprise development such as the Innovation Fund (which is now part of the Technology Innovation Agency), Technology and Human Resource for Industry programme (THRIP) and Support Programme for Industrial Innovation (SPII).
Addressing demographic and gender imbalances within the ICT RDI environment receives high priority in the Department of science and Technology's implementation of the ICT research and development strategy.
The Department of Science and Technology has a whole range of human capital development (HCD) instruments in place across the national system of innovation. Most of these instruments fund students from honours, master and doctoral level (innovation bursaries) and fellowships (innovation postdoctoral fellowships) are managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Almost all the Department of Science and Technology's HCD instruments have equity requirements of 80 percent black and 60 percent female as one of the criteria of awarding funding.
The challenge we face in the implementation of these initiatives has to do with attraction and retention of students in the system because of funding levels which are not that attractive, especially for students and fellows whose skills are in huge demand by industry and at the same time having family obligations to fulfil.
Retention of students in the system is far more of a challenge with information technology (IT) and engineering students because of salaries that attract students out of the system.
South Africa has a long history of activity in information security with numerous innovations resulting from research in this area. Through the establishment of the Information Security Centre of Competence we aim to enable triple-helix collaboration between the research community, government and industry, while building on existing expertise for smart and secure government initiatives and commercial applications.
The key objective of this initiative is to close the gap between research and the commercialisation of research outputs, creating a platform for new information-security products and services, for export and local markets. The targeted capabilities include cryptography, biometrics, smartcard technology, image processing and public key infrastructure.
In pursuit of excellence in world class science, engineering and technology research, the Department of Science and Technology supports the development of world class cyber infrastructure. The department's intervention aims for unlimited processing power, bandwidth and storage. These three aspects are catered for through the Centre for High Performance Computing, the South African National Research Network, and the Very Large Database initiative.
Established in 2007, the Centre for High Performance Computing's main objective is to enable South Africa to become globally competitive in the high performance computing environment.
The South African National Research Network is another e-infrastructure initiative, which runs parallel to the Centre for High Performance Computing. It is a high speed network intended to connect research councils, research institutes within statutory bodies, government departments and universities throughout the country.
The Very Large Database complements the Centre for High Performance Computing through the effective custodianship of notably large databases in areas of environmental and climate change modelling, bioinformatics, medical sciences and astronomy.
The cyber infrastructure initiative is supported by advanced e-research techniques in the research and development pipeline for all industrial sectors and academic divisions in South Africa. In addition, the initiative aims to enhance significant research across all academic disciplines by addressing grand challenges, and growing computational research into a viable mode, through the parallels of experiment and theory.
Other research and development and innovation projects that my department has supported include the development of novel applications and platforms to support e-learning and other content delivery methods using mobile communication platforms and services, for example, the Human Language Technology (HLT) Research project which has a focus on applying ICTs to address language and cultural diversity.
South Africa is also rolling out a dedicated human capital development programme in information security. The aim of this initiative is to ensure the development of advanced technological competencies in strategic areas of information security such as cryptography, smart card technologies, security of mobile and wireless networks, cloud computing and biometrics.
In closing, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to urge you take advantage of Africa’s myriad opportunities and come up with technological innovations that can accelerate growth and development.
It is a well known fact that Africa is experiencing the greatest mobile telephony penetration rate in the world, compared to other regions and continents. This begs for innovation in mobile technologies. It is a challenge for you, the scientists, researchers and engineers, to seize the opportunity and develop novel applications that will broaden collaboration and enable access to markets, banking, education, health care and other government services.
It is our strong belief that Africa remains a fertile ground for ICT innovation. In South Africa, we have always held the view that we can only achieve these imperatives through proper and well-structured public private partnerships.
It is on this basis that I invite all the captains and leaders of ICT industry, scientists, researchers and developers to join us in building these partnerships.
Programme director, ladies and gentlemen, it is my singular honour and pleasure to declare the IEEE ICC 2010 officially open.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
24 May 2010
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
24 May 2010
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