Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor MP, at the third CSIR Biennial Conference
31 Aug 2010
Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, President and CEO of the CSIR
Dr Nqaba Ngcobo, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology
Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here.
The need to expand decent employment opportunities in a growing economy is a core priority of the current government. Our aim is to create decent jobs by boosting manufacturing exports and activating industrial policy. Science and technology is a key enabler in our efforts in this regard. Many of the projects showcased at this conference highlight the CSIR’s central role in building and growing the economy.
Most of you are aware that government has prioritised 12 key outcomes that we hope will help to mobilise all levels of government and all sections of society. Science, technology, and innovation have a vital contribution to make to the attainment of all of these outcomes.
More specifically the DST, primarily through the CSIR, has a key role to play in the 2010 Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP).
We have included in the current IPAP a focus on R&D-led industrial development. On an ongoing basis, the IPAP will be improved and refined and it is vital that we strengthen opportunities for R&D-led industrial development across the areas of focus of the CSIR, from the biosciences to ICTs.
The DST is the lead department in three projects under the plan - two in vaccines, and one in advanced manufacturing. It is the main assisting department in developing an electric car. And it is an assisting department in 18 other projects.
I would like to challenge the CSIR to think beyond individual projects and to look at how to play a more catalytic role in the development of industry sectors that will constitute a strong and vibrant 21st century South African economy.
The CSIR needs to redouble its efforts to play a more strategic and influential role in research and development in South Africa.
It’s crucial, for example, that we harness the power of science to prevent or reduce the burden of disease.
The very exciting developments at University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZNs) centre for the AIDS programme of Research of South Africa (CAPRISA) made headline news recently.
The research that will be presented today on affordable treatments, diagnostics and public health will expand South Africa’s impressive portfolio of advances in medical research.
In the DST, and the CSIR, we think about these advances in terms of grand challenges. In fact, the DST structured its ten-year innovation plan (2008 to 2018) as a series of grand challenges.
It’s not a “grand challenge” to state the problem (for example, malaria or AIDS).
It’s not a grand challenge to call for a specific intervention (for example, a drug or vaccine).
It is a grand challenge “to call for a discrete scientific or technological innovation that will break through the roadblock that stands between where we are now and where we would like to be in the future”.
That’s what J F Kennedy did when he called in 1961 “to put a man on the moon and bring him safely home by the end of the decade”. That’s what Bill Clinton did when he called for the sequencing of the human genome DNA within 15 years.
And that’s what we have done when we called on South Africa to become one of the top three emerging economies in the global pharmaceutical industry, based on an expansive innovation system using the nation’s indigenous knowledge and rich biodiversity.
The CSIR is playing an improved role in partnership with university, public entities and industry researchers on all grand challenge areas of the Innovation Plan.
As part of the Innovation Plan we have made it a priority to develop new and cleaner energy alternatives and to enhance our understanding of global change and how to respond to it effectively.
As part of the Innovation Plan we have made it a priority to protect our environmental assets and natural resources and to advance our knowledge in this field continually.
As part of the Innovation Plan we have made it a priority to reduce emissions and improve our air quality, as well as to enhance the quality and quantity of our water resources, to protect our biodiversity, and enhance our efforts to bring about more sustainable land management.
In addition, as part of our long-term economic development plans we have prioritised the development of a green economy. A high-level summit was held recently to craft a long-term strategy. Delegates identified research, development and innovation as crucial components of this strategy.
In addition, there is a growing demand globally for green technologies.
By identifying and growing specific niche areas, we are in a strong position to build entirely new sectors and industries.
This is already happening with efforts such as the development of advanced battery technologies, fuel cells, biocomposites, and hydrogen bicycles. Creating these types of new, high-tech industry sectors must be balanced with efforts to look at how we can accelerate the deployment of existing, off-the-shelf green economy options.
This conference is focusing sharply on this important contemporary challenge. I believe that you will be impressed by the significant as well as wide-ranging contribution the CSIR is making in this area. This includes work in energy, the built environment, the natural environment, new greener materials for aerospace, and logistics.
I know that the CSIR’s work supports many of the other priority outcomes that guide the current government. This includes the development of planning tools for municipalities, such as the Toolkit for Integrated Planning, the Risk and Vulnerability Atlas, and various information communication technology-based projects that support enhanced service delivery such as the Wireless Mesh Networking project, for example.
I would like to end by reminding you that we are entering a crucial phase in our bid to host the Square Kilometre Array – the SKA. In a few years’ time, the SKA’s funders are expected to announce whether Africa or Australia will host this prestigious science initiative.
The SKA is a science project that offers immense opportunities for advancing technology development, engineering and innovation in areas that range from computing and information and communication technology, as well as the development of new materials to construct the satellite dishes, right through to innovative energy solutions to power the SKA.
In the run-up to the vital decision about who will host the SKA, all of us must make an effort to showcase our strong science and production capabilities across all of the areas that are required for the SKA to run successfully.
We need to highlight that such a project has the power to strengthen science, technology, and innovation in Africa. Researchers, the media, local industry – all of us have a role to play in strengthening our bid.
In closing, I’d like to extend my thanks to the organisers for their focus on emerging researchers.
The emerging researcher symposium held yesterday as a ‘curtain-raiser’ to the conference set a high standard that I hope will be matched by what is expected to happen during the course of today.
In particular, against the backdrop of exciting developments and opportunities in South Africa, I am confident that the country’s emerging scientists will begin to swell the ranks of our core of established and world-renowned scientists and researchers.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
31 Aug 2010
[ Top ]