Derrick Swartz, chairperson of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI), says building public trust in and ownership of South Africa’s science, technology and innovation (STI) assets, is crucial to deepening democracy and ensuring economic growth. Coupled with these imperatives, Swartz says, is the need to make the public feel they have a stake in the utilisation of these assets as enablers of equitable human development.
This is key judging from the fact that the world has evolved into an age of hitherto unprecedented and spectacular advances in the techno-sciences which have changed the way mankind lives, works and recreates. What with the advent of major advances in information and communication technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and 3D-printing. “It is for this reason that STI must, at its core, be grounded in public good purposes – strengthening the capacity and integrity of public institutions, rebuilding communities and family households ravaged by the vagaries of neo-liberal economic and social policies, restoring the social agency of individuals, especially the marginalised youth, women and the poor, to build prosperous futures and the creation of a non-racial, equal society,” Swartz says. “Such imperatives require greater levels of participation of not only state and private sector actors, but also civil society and community stakeholders in the emerging STI system.” He makes this observation in the preamble to the South African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators Report (2019). The report is part of NACI’s contribution to building the monitoring, evaluation and learning capability necessary for assessing the state of South Africa’s national system of innovation (NSI).
Following are key highlights from the report which must be ventilated by key stakeholders:
• While the set target of 1.5% gross expenditure on research and development (GERD), as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) target, has not been realised (0.82% in 2016/17), government funding of research and development (R&D) was more than its R&D budget by 2016/17;
• Aggregate levels of gross private sector investment in R&D has declined in recent years. South Africa experienced an increase of 7% in the number of scientific publications per million inhabitants between 2008 and 2017. It has the highest world share of scientific publications in artificial intelligence (1.01%) and Internet of Things (0.68%), which are examples of research areas related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR);
• South Africa has lost its competitive advantage in terms of medium-technology exports when compared to the average of other upper middle-income countries; and
• South Africa dropped from 44th to 67th position on the Global Competitiveness Index between 2007 and 2017, and from 38th to 58th position on the Global Innovation Index between 2007 and 2017. South Africa ranks low in several indicators on social progress and human development indices, for instance, life expectancy (161st of 189 countries), personal safety (135th), health and wellness (102th) and nutrition and basic medical care (100th).