Minister of science and innovation (DSI), Dr Blade Nzimande yesterday said his department has rallied behind President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to help combat the spread of Covid-19 in the country by deploying various appropriate technologies at its disposal.
The DSI’s budget allocation for 2020/21 financial year has been revised downwards from R8 797 393 to R7 362 088. Of these, an amount of R324 175 million was redirected to COVID-19– related responses, said Nzimande during his budget vote speech in the national assembly.
Nzimande said the DSI invested in human resource and infrastructure to enable world-class research in genomics, epidemiology, vaccine manufacturing and other relevant fields. He said through these investments the DSI contributed to the “global body of knowledge on COVID-19 – including the detection of new variants of the novel coronavirus”.
Nzimande said the local scientists led investigations that led to the “evolutionary characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 and detected a new variant, dubbed 501Y.V2”. He said they are investing R25 million more to ensure the completion of the sequencing of 10 000 SARSCoV2 genomes in South Africa and Africa.
“As a department, we have invested R69, 4 million in COVID-19 research and innovation. This covers 21 projects, notable among them is the first plant-based manufacturing of antibodies for COVID-19 study which seeks to utilise various plant-based expression platforms to facilitate the rapid development of vaccine candidates, therapeutic antibodies and diagnostic reagents against SARS-CoV-2,” said Nzimande.
He said cabinet has finally approved the draft 10 year plan which is a roadmap for driving science, technology and innovation (STI) policy and programme. Nzimande also highlighted a 46% increase in female representation within the national science initiative saying this is an important advance towards gender equity in the STI space. He also said they will promote participation of black researchers, adding that they will also intensify science awareness and engagement initiatives such as the National Science Week and school-level science engagement.
He said the DSI will also support “the development of critical high-end skills in selected technology areas such as the bio-economy, space science and technology, energy, intellectual property management, nanotechnology, robotics, photonics and areas of technology convergence that are important in building a knowledge society”.
Nzimande said the completed MeerKAT telescope will make South Africa one of the leading nations in the discipline of astronomy. He said DSI will enhance the “scientific capabilities of the MeerKAT through the installation of S-band and L-band receivers, and expanding the MeerKAT by an additional 20 dishes”. He said they will ensure socio-economic benefits accrue to the surrounding communities in the Northern Cape where the telescope is positioned.
Nzimande said they are working with other sister departments to ensure knowledge utilisation for economic development.He said theDSI will “develop a number of sectoral master plans to be implemented over the strategic planning period, including agriculture, the oceans economy, energy, mining and health”.
Indigenous knowledge system also features prominently as the DSI is “finalising the IK-Based Bio-innovation Institute framework which aims to ensure the alignment of various players in the innovation system”.
Other areas that Nzimande highlighted include utilising knowledge for inclusive development; commercialisation of grassroots innovations through the use of the multi-tiered package and enabling the participation of grassroots innovators. Most of these are often marginalised in technology-based economic development opportunities.
He said DSI will be studying provincial growth and development and local economic development strategies so that it can align its innovation-support interventions with the District Development Model.
“We will be piloting technologies that facilitate service delivery to ensure appropriate technology deployment for waste management, water and wastewater management, housing, sanitation and energy provision, among others”, said Nzimande.
Below is the breakdown of the budget appropriation to the DSI’s entities in the current financial year:
- The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) has been allocated R24 840 000.
- The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has been allocated R893 581 000.
- The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has been allocated R289 325 000.
- The National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) has been allocated R5 300 000.
- The National Research Foundation (NRF) has been allocated R859 469 000.
- South African Council for Natural and Scientific Professions (SACNASP) has been allocated R 5 000 000.
- The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) has been allocated R161 196 000.
- The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) has been allocated R408 825 000.
- The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) has been allocated R 802 407 000.
- The South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) has been allocated R 346 666 000.
- The National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS) has been allocated R 272 121 000.