The department of science and innovation (DSI) had to re-configure its resources and programmes to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, said Buti Manamela, deputy minister of higher education, science and innovation.
Manamela was speaking during the budget vote speech of the DSI at the national assembly earlier this week to further highlight some of their intervention measures during the Covid-19. He said they had to be agile and re-orientate their national system of innovation to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
“Our Downstream Chemicals Technology Station at Nelson Mandela University began producing an emergency supply of hand sanitisers for the university’s internal use at the start of the pandemic,” said Manamela.
The Central University of Technology also stepped in and began producing parts for the National Ventilator Programme through the Product Development Technology Station and Medical Device Additive Manufacturing Technology Demonstrator, said deputy minister.
He said because of the “exceptional product development capabilities in the province, the high-quality FMP2 CUT clinician respirator was developed, manufactured, tested and regulated all within two months”.
Manamela said to address the high youth unemployment rate the DSI placed 605 STEM graduates with different institutions through ‘Youth into Science strategy’. This enabled the graduates to provide service to communities and gain workplace experience, he said. The beneficiaries are also paid monthly stipends between R4 500 and R6 000, depending on qualifications for their entire duration of 12 months in this programme of the DSI”, said Manamela.
Another initiative through which DSI supports skills development is the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Training Valedictory programme. Seventeen unemployed TVET college graduates are developed as technicians for the installation and maintenance of hydrogen fuel systems across the country.
Manamela said they also provide extra-curricular support to learners involved in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) through competitions such as STEMI Olympiads. To date the DSI supports up to 35 science centres in the country, one such facility is the Cofimvaba Science Centre. The centre will be launched formally as part of the 2021 Youth Month celebrations.
To ensure the scientific innovations achieve broad societal impact, Manamela said, the DSI has partnered with the South African Local Government Association, the Human Sciences Research Council and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The relationship resulted into a Municipal Innovation Maturity Index (MIMI) – a tool designed to “measure the innovation capabilities and practices of municipalities, and their readiness to adopt innovations to improve the delivery of basic services”.
He said they formed partnership with CSIR to improve the DSI’s capacity to implement its programmes in all the nine provinces and they also implemented Regional Innovation Support Programme.
To respond creatively to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Manamela said, the DSI roped in the national and KwaZulu-Natal’s departments of human settlements and the University of Johannesburg.
“We are currently piloting the use of 3D printing technologies for the construction of houses. This flagship project will be tested in housing units and will be used to assess the policy implications, social acceptance and financial implications of 3D printed homes in the built environment,” Manamela said.
The other project related to the 4IR is a “framework for quantum technology research and innovation”, which he said “identifies niche opportunities that could kick-start a quantum technology industry in South Africa with modest investments”.
He said: “The potential applications of quantum computing cut across many industries and could help leapfrog the local high-tech industry to the forefront of the 4th Industrial Revolution.”
Manamela said plans are afoot to establish two additional research infrastructures as part of the continued roll-out of the South African research infrastructure roadmap. These are the Nano-Micro Manufacturing Facility and the South African Polar Research Infrastructure. In addition, Manamela said, they are also looking at the implementation of the national big data strategy for research, development and innovation.
“We also intend to reconfigure the national institute for theoretical physics into a national institute for theoretical and computational sciences,” said Manamela. “This re-configuration follows one of the findings of the review of the higher education, science, technology and innovation institutional landscape, namely, that South Africa’s institutional landscape has expanded far less than the scope and scale of its research, scientific and technological activities,” said Manamela.
He said this was also in “accordance with the White Paper on science, technology and innovation, which calls for an expansion of research outputs and the transformation of the research institutional landscape”.