The 19th National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) – South32 awards celebrated Sustainable Tourism for Development in recognition of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Hosted by the NSTF and South32, the awards recognise outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation for researchers and other SET-related professionals. These include experienced scientists, engineers, innovators, science communicators, research and engineering capacity builders, organisational managers/leaders, and research managers.

The awards held last week encourage and reward excellence in scientific research, innovation, environmental sustainability/green economy, water management, data set management/stewardship, technology transfer, education and training, research or engineering capacity building, management and communication and outreach.

“Travel and tourism create jobs, drive exports, and generate wealth across the world”, said the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, who delivered the keynote address.

The Minister said this year’s focus should be on the potential of tourism to advance the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Our researchers should play a leading role in generating the evidence base for changes in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more sustainable tourism sector.” 

Some research sectors are more easily available to science tourism than others - the study of the sky and the search for our origins. Science tourism is not the same as sustainable tourism but the former provides resources to research the latter.

Science tourism can be described as visiting and exploring scientific landmarks, museums, research facilities (and laboratories), observatories, nature reserves, science centres and institutions of higher learning. But, this is a very narrow perspective of the sustainability focus of the UN theme.

 “More is demanded from our scientists. Virtual visits to protected sites, research initiatives that integrate integrity in the research agenda, visit programmes that emphasise diversity and learning across cultures. It has also been termed “knowledge oriented tourism”, as the tourist makes a contribution to academic scholarship/research, as well as learning more about scientific issues and principles, and a potential support base for future work,” the Minister added.

The DST is collaborating with the Department of Tourism, the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, and the Kareeberg Municipality in establishing a Science Visitor Centre in Carnarvon to take advantage of the expected surge in science tourism as a result of the development of the MeerKAT and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) projects.   

The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) has boosted tourism significantly in Sutherland and transformed it from an agricultural town to a science tourism destination. Before SALT, there were approximately 250 tourists annually, now there are over 12,000. This has spurred economic development in the remote village, with the establishment of many new guesthouses and related businesses. The downside of this has been the challenge of ensuring the poorest and most marginalised are also beneficiaries. 

Similarly, the South African Space Agency (SANSA) has visitors’ centres at their Space Science and Space Operations site, in Hermanus and Hartebeesthoek, respectively.  

At both sites, the programme offered to the public and school groups emphasises the role and benefits of space science and technology to our everyday life, and highlights the significance of the site locations with regard to the important science that is taking place there. 

The DST is also a partner to the Department of Tourism on the National Heritage and Cultural Tourism Strategy whose mission is to unlock the economic potential of heritage (including palaeo-sciences) resources through sustainable tourism development.  

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage sites form part of the Gauteng provincial government’s premier tourist destinations, this includes the development of the associated tourist facilities (Wits Origins Centre, the Sterkfontein Interpretation Centre and the Maropeng Centre). These have made a significant impact on Gauteng’s economy. 

The special sustainable tourism award, went to Prof Melville Saayman of North West University for his research on tourism economics and management in nature-based tourism, event management and leisure and recreation.

While the winner for Lifetime Award was Prof. Nicolas Beukes of the University of Johannesburg for his work in the study of iron and manganese ore deposits and the nature of early earth environments.

In the TW Kambule-NSTF category for research and its outputs by an individual over a period of up to 15 years after award of a PhD or equivalent, predominantly in South Africa were Profs Atella Schutte of North West University, Nancy Phaswana-Mafuya, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. For emerging researchers by an individual in a period of up to 6 years after award of a PhD or equivalent in research, were Prof John Ataguba and Dr Robyn Pickering of the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The University of South Africa’s (UNISA) Prof. Diane Hilderbrandt and Prof. Ochieng Aoyi of Vaal University of Technology scooped the Engineering Capacity Development award, while the University of KwaZulu Natal Prof Colleen Downs and University of Witwatersrand Prof João Rodrigues secured Research Capacity Development award.

The winner in the NSTF-GreenMatter award towards achieving biodiversity conversation, environmental sustainability and greener economy was the UCT’s Prof. George Ekama.

The WRC-sponsored award, NSTF-WRC award towards achieving sustainable water management, knowledge generation and solutions went to UNISA’s Executive Dean of College of Science, Engineering and Technology Prof Bhekie Mamba.

Prof Martin Wittenberg of UCT’s Data First research unit, in the Data for Research category, by advancing the availability, management and use of data for research, took the award.

Stellenbosch University’s Prof. Eugene Cloete won research leading to innovation in a corporate organisation award.

A privately owned company that provides molecular genetic services to agricultural industries, CenGen won the first prize in the research leading to innovation in a small, medium and micro-sized enterprise category.

Mobile Agri Skills Development and Training was the winner for non-governmental organisation for technology transfer or training activities.

The Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials team at the University of the Witwatersrand, Prof. Lesley Cornish, Alex Quandt, Deena Naidoo, and Mr Casey Sparkes, Operations Manager took the Communication for outreach and creating awareness award.

Minister Naledi Pandor and the DST DG Dr Phil Mjwara with the winner for Lifetime Award was Prof. Nicolas Beukes of the University of Johannesburg