Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, at the launch of the University of North West Mafikeng Campus Science Centre, Mafikeng
30 Aug 2010
Professor Dan Kgoadi Rector of the North West University, Mafikeng Campus
Professor Kgwadi Vice Rector of the North West University, Mafikeng Campus
Learners and educators
It’s a pleasure to be here today.
The opening of this science centre marks an important milestone in the community-engagement programme of the North West University. The science centre will benefit learners, students and the public in Mafikeng and adjacent areas.
The world in which we live is highly dependent on science and technology to improve the social and economic lives of South Africans.
Yet I am often asked what science and technology has done for South African development.
Science produces both social and economic benefits. For the moment, never mind the economic benefits. Just think of the social benefits that science and engineering provide.
Our lives have been immeasurably improved by science and engineering.
Together, they have provided us with fast transport and communications, safe and comfortable accommodation, better medical care, abundant energy, reliable and clean water and food, and infrastructures to support all these necessities.
Science has helped us gain an understanding of how human activity is warming the climate and what impact that will have on food and water security and crucially, what needs to be done to slow or reverse the warming trend.
Engineering offers humanity hope to meet these challenges by developing clean energy sources and transforming our ageing buildings and transport technologies so that they are efficient and sustainable.
Just think about the engineering that has gone into building our football stadiums.
Just think about first heart transplant, SASOL’s coal to petrol technology, the discovery of Australopithecus Sediba.
You would have thought that this alone would encourage young people to become more curious about science and technology.
Not so. So I’m often asked what should be done to increase the number of scientists in South Africa.
The major responsibility lies with school education, because we have to interest our young people at school. That is where careers are chosen. Ask your parents. What were you best at in school? What did you choose as a career? More likely than not, they will be the same.
However, the Department of Science and Technology also has a responsibility to encourage both boys and girls to become scientists.
In science and technology we encourage children to become scientists through initiatives like the youth into science strategy, National Science Week and a range of other events and competitions.
Another way we encourage young people to discover science is to fund science centres like this one.
In fact, we believe science centres have a crucial role to play in strengthening grass-roots science awareness campaigns.
This is particularly important for provinces such as the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga that unlike Gauteng and the Western Cape, for example, do not have the benefit of housing some of our country’s leading universities and research facilities.
The task of taking science to all corners of our country is a huge one that no single individual or organisation can carry out alone.
If we are to sustain a national effort and achieve the desired results, we will need to deliberately forge quality strategic partnerships with key stakeholders.
The task of nurturing a passion for science, engineering and technology is huge.
So the Department of Science and Technology (DST) designs programmes around major international events. For example, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared 2009 the International Year of Astronomy.
South Africa has a special interest in astronomy through our bid to host Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.
Sutherland is home to some of the most sophisticated astronomy infrastructure in the world, including the largest single telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern African Largest Telescope, or SALT.
It’s one of the few places where one has the privilege of viewing the southern skies without any form of obstruction.
This geographic advantage gives South Africa a good chance to win the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.
As some of you may know, the SKA will make it easier for scientists to investigate the so-called “dark ages”, when the early universe was in a gaseous state, before stars and galaxies were formed.
Or take another example.
The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.
The conservation of biodiversity is of particular significance to South Africa.
Did you know that South Africa is one of the three most biologically diverse countries in the world?
What does this mean? Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth at all levels: from genes to species to ecosystems. Why is biodiversity good for us? The answer is that it is good for us because of the services provided to eco-systems. The more diverse our ecosystem the better is our supply of food and clean water. In a word: food security. Is our biodiversity threatened? Yes it is. Many scientists will tell you we are destroying our biodiversity faster now than at any time in our history.
Then there is the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists. I’m sure some of you will have been to the Expo. It’s a local science fair that offers pupils from as early as grade 5 an opportunity to show others their own scientific investigations.
In 2007, a grade 11 learner, Simone Abrahams, presented an exhibition on “The future of identification”. Not only did her exhibition win her an award, she provisionally patented the intellectual and commercial rights for her world-first invention biometric method for identifying people.
Here, today, we take another important step in our campaign to popularise science.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my pleasure to declare this science centre officially open.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
30 Aug 2010
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