Address by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande on the occasion of the Fifth Science Forum South Africa and Innovation Bridge held at the CSIR International Convention Centre Pretoria

Participants in the Science Forum South Africa Innovation Bridge 2019,

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the fifth Science Forum South Africa, presented together with the Innovation Bridge. True to the spirit and now already proud history of the Forum, we have come here together to ignite conversations and engage about science.

Over the years, the Forum has become one of Africa’s foremost platforms to interrogate the role science should play in our society, and in the development of our countries. This year, the focus and theme of our discussions, will be to critically consider how science should be harnessed to ensure that innovation optimally impacts the improvement of the quality of life of all in our society.

I have three tasks this morning: firstly, as host, to welcome you all; secondly to encourage your active participation in the coming days by reflecting on some of the highlights of our exciting programme; and thirdly to share with you our ambition of how the outcomes of the Forum will inform our future work in the Department of Science and Innovation. Hopefully, the outcomes of the Summit will positively impact and provide lessons in all your different endeavors and location.

But first and foremost, and most importantly, a warm welcome to you all, especially to all our international guests. Over the years the Science Forum has benefitted significantly from the outstanding support from the diplomatic community in Pretoria, and I would like to acknowledge all Ambassadors and High Commissioners Excellencies, you are most welcome and thank you for your support.

I would like to express a special word of welcome to their Excellencies the Ambassadors of the Republic of Cuba, the State of Palestine and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, nations with whom South Africa enjoy deep ties of friendship and solidarity. I would also like to pay tribute, to His Excellency Ambassador Radhi-Sgaiar Bachir of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, who would have been with us but sadly passed away last week after a short illness. Our most sincere condolences go to the Saharawi people, his friends and comrades, and to his loved ones.

One of the key objectives of the Forum is to advance the African agenda for science and this year again the programme will benefit from the contributions of many of Africa’s eminent scientists and thought leaders. In this regard, our special appreciation goes to the African Academy of Sciences, represented here by its President, Prof Felix Dapare Dakora and Executive Director, Prof Nelson Torto.

Our Southern African Development Community is especially well represented with delegations of senior government officials from no less than thirteen countries, together with the SADC Secretariat. I would like to express a special world of welcome to the Parliamentarians from SADC countries who are participating in a science and technology policy training programme with UNESCO, presented together with the Forum. Honourable Members, you are all welcome.

We believe our Science Forum is a powerful instrument and platform for science diplomacy and we are therefore grateful for the support we enjoy from the United Nations system, especially UNESCO and I would like to acknowledge all its representatives, including Prof Michel Kazatchkine, who served as one of the Secretary-General’s special envoys for HIV-AIDS, and in 2018 received the Forums’ Science Diplomacy Awards for his role in the global fight against infectious diseases.

A special welcome also goes to the fourteen delegations from members of the Non-Aligned Movement. Indeed thanks to the support of the NAM Centre for S and T, and the Forum is also playing its part to reinforce South-South cooperation.

Science knows no borders and I would also like to acknowledge the participation of Deputy Director-General Patrick Child, who is representing the European Union, and Professors Antoine Petit and Jean-Paul Moatti, leaders of two of France’s most important research organisations, the CNRS and IRD.

I would also like to greet two South Africans, important leaders of global science, who have come home for the Forum, Dr Heide Hackmann, the CEO of the International Science Council, and Prof Albert van Jaarsveld, Director-General of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

But ladies and gentlemen, the Science Forum would be nothing without the enthusiastic and active participation by the large number of South Africans young and old, from government and industry, from academia and civil society, from the larger, bigger and inclusive South Africa we want. The Forum is a celebration of open science, science for all. Welcome to you all, especially to the leaders of our National System of Innovation.

Ladies and gentlemen, a rich and stimulating programme awaits us over the next three days, with close to three hundred speakers and panellists from more than forty countries will inform, provoke and hopefully inspire during more than fifty-six individual debates. Your most difficult task will undoubtedly be to choose which sessions to attend or rather which not to miss.

Science diplomacy will of course be high on the agenda, and many sessions will interrogate how international cooperation should best be promoted ensuring truly equitable partnerships, from which developing countries derive real benefit.

In this regard, I very much look forward to the address by Prof Francisca Mutapi, later this morning. Indeed Africa, like other continents, should set its own research agenda and I am confident our Forum will play its part to contribute to this enterprise.

Our main focus of course is to interrogate the role science should play in our society. I am there encouraged that many sessions will address the role science should play in addressing pivotal societal challenges, not least poverty, unemployment and inequality.

In this regard I very much look forward to the interrogation of what the African scientific response should be to the challenges and opportunities associated with what many refer to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The role science should play to inform policy- and decision-making, for example, with regard to environmental sustainability, renewable energy, and other relevant and important topics on our agenda.

I am also delighted that the role of the youth our future in science will also receive attention, as will the promotion of women in science.

One of the success stories of the first twenty five years of South Africa’s young democracy has been the significant rise in terms of quantity and quality of South African scientific output. South African scientists are publishing more than ever in international journals and South African science is punching above its weight.

However, we can and should do much better with the innovation challenge, translating this reach into new products and services, which make a difference to our economy and people. Hence this year the Forum is combined with the Innovation Bridge, one of South Africa’s primary technology showcasing and matchmaking events.

In a special programme tomorrow, close to a hundred commercial ready technologies, which were developed with public funds, will be showcased to potential funders and partners.

I do encourage that you visit the exhibition dedicated to the technology showcasing it is a truly a showcase of South Africa at its best and what South African science can achieve.

Our Department is committed to support innovation especially through availing to our technology entrepreneurs, opportunities for mentorship and training as well as access to funding and partnership, including backing for access to international opportunities.

This is all part of the focus of the Innovation Bridge and I trust you will enjoy and derive much benefit from the marrying of science and innovation, in the spirit of open science and open innovation at this year’s event.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion I would like to share with you three key goals we at the Department of Science and Innovation have set for ourselves in the organisation of this year’s event.

Firstly, as custodians of the National System of Innovation – in other words the set of relations of all in South Africa concerned with science and innovation – we want to ensure that this System of Innovation is responsive to the needs of our society. Hence, myself and our officials will be very attentive to the views expressed during the various debates, as these will play an important part in shaping our future policy design, especially as we prepare our new Decadal Plan for science, technology and innovation in South Africa.

Secondly, the Forum is a celebration of international cooperation, but, more importantly, also fertile ground and an incubator for the development of new partnership initiatives. I am therefore excited to learn in due course of the cooperation agreements, joint ventures and other collaborations, which would be concluded at the 2019 Science Forum and Innovation Bridge. No country, no organisation is big or strong enough to progress on its own. Science and innovation progresses through the sharing of experience and expertise and I have no doubt the 2019 Forum will play its part to help this happen.

To emphasize,this is a crucial part of our science diplomacy which must be underpinned by the values and goals of promoting science for peace, justice and inclusive society economic development.

Lastly, in hosting this year’s event we are preparing to truly host the world, in even bigger numbers, at the 2021 World Science Forum, which South Africa has been awarded the privilege to host.

I have just returned from the 2019 Forum held in Budapest, Hungary, where the responsibility for hosting this important global gathering was handed to our Government. The road to the 2021 World Science Forum starts here today and it is a journey I encourage you all to travel with us.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion, I would like to quote from democratic South Africa’s first President, Mr Nelson Mandela, when he stated in 1996 on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Academy of Science of South Africa that:

None of us will need to be persuaded of the utility of science to national growth and prosperity. But neither will we need to be reminded of its capacity to lend itself to destruction and repression. Whether knowledge is used for good or evil depends on the goals to which we aspire and the decisions we make, as government, as scientists and as ordinary citizens.

Those words certainly still ring true today and should inspire our engagement here at the Forum and beyond, and hence our emphasis on science for peace and development. I would like to thank all who have contributed to the organisation of the event, and wish you all an engaging and fruitful Science Forum South Africa and Innovation Bridge 2019.

Source: Department: Science and Technology (DST)