For us to accelerate transformation significantly in the racial and gender profile of our academic and research communities, South Africa still has a lot to do. While we acknowledge that a lot has already been done in this area, it is crucial for us to ensure that the nation’s future science, technology and innovation paradigm is intimately connected with the principles of promoting public good, equality and inclusion.
The Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology is committed to positioning science and technology as a catalyst towards faster economic growth and development in the next decade. We are also committed to broadening the participation and mainstreaming of gender, youth, and people with disabilities in science and technology. Currently, an investigation is being undertaken on obstacles that hinder the production of black and South African women academics in our institutions – and how to overcome such obstacles. The findings will be made public to kick-start dialogue and the debate on how we can accelerate transformation in academia and research communities.
However, changing the racial and gender profile of academia and researchers is a necessary but not sufficient condition in transforming relations of knowledge production in our country. Both curricula and the nature of research questions must be framed such that they help overcome patriarchy and racism in broader society, including in academia and research. In this respect, the Department will scale up the Grassroots Innovation Programme (GIP) aimed at transforming and ensuring equitable access to science, technology and innovation infrastructure for all innovators, particularly the previously marginalised innovators in townships and rural areas.
With regard to overcoming patriarchy, I take this opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of Professor Lindiwe Zungu, Executive Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of South Africa, who developed health and safety guidelines to help the mining industry accommodate female miners. Her research, which led to the development of new protective gear for women, received an award at the National Science and Technology Forum Awards. To empower our youth, during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to South Africa in 2018, government concluded an agreement for the exchange of young scientists. I am happy to report that the first cohort of young South African scientists are already in China gaining invaluable experience in some of the world’s leading research organisations, with the first cohort of Chinese scientists due to arrive in South Africa later this year.
Furthermore, in anticipation of South Africa’s presidency of the African Union in 2020, we will continue our efforts to support the implementation of the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA), which is the guiding framework for the sector’s contribution to Agenda 2063. The Department has also developed a new policy framework for science and technology, which is contained in the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, adopted by Cabinet in March 2019 and aligned to the National Development Plan. This is in response to the fourth industrial revolution and its disruptions, based on three sets of megatrends – physical, digital and biological – and involves a convergence of technologies and disciplines that are having a multi-dimensional impact, as noted in the 2019 White Paper on STI. To realise the objectives of the new White Paper, the Department will be developing a Decadal Plan on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), which will serve as an implementation plan for the period 2020-2030. As a Department, we continue to work with our counterparts in all our spheres of government and in our continent to ensure convergence of our technological advances and innovation.
Convergence is as essential to our future knowledge society as the internal combustion engine was to the second industrial revolution. In addition, to give proper expression to this multi-dimensional impact and to harness the potential power of the nation’s innovation capabilities, the Department has introduced the concept of a National System of Innovation (NSI). The NSI makes provision for a policy framework that seeks to harness the latent and explicit innovation capabilities of whole-of-government and whole-of-society in addressing the national development challenges of our nation. We will be paying attention, in particular, to expand our NSI to include social and community-based innovation systems that can draw on the creative potential of all our people.
DR BLADE NZIMANDE Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology