Gauteng is well placed to become the knowledge-economy hub of South Africa, said the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor.

 

In the past two years, key knowledge-based institutions in the province have initiated several exciting research, development and innovation (RDI) projects to give them a leading edge in the 4th Industrial Revolution.

 

"Many of these projects are already at an advanced stage, and are injecting much needed energy into RDI in Gauteng, or have great potential to do so," Minister Pandor said during her address at last week's Technology Innovation Conference, hosted by the Gauteng Provincial Government.

 

The Minister highlighted the following initiatives:

 

  • The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has a 10-year, R3 billion master plan for redesigning its Pretoria campus to focus on supporting innovation-led industrial development.  The CSIR already has two industrial development centres targeting industries of the future (nanotechnology and biotechnology), which were made possible through funding support from the DST as part of the Economic Competitiveness Support Programme and the Government Technical Advisory Centre's Jobs Fund.  A third centre, targeting photonics, will be launched in the next 12 months. The nanotechnology and biomanufacturing centres have already facilitated the development and growth of 23 small and medium enterprises.

 

  • The University of Pretoria is well on the way to establishing its "Future Africa" campus, which will serve as a networking and knowledge hub in the area.  This will see leading scientists and scholars from across the world and from a broad range of disciplines, come together to address challenges such as sustainable development and good governance, citizen participation and human rights, and advancing innovation for the bioeconomy.

 

  • The Universities of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand have established the Tshimologong Precinct, in partnership with the DST,the Department of Trade and Industry, the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government.  The precinct includes a shared space for innovators and technopreneurs, an IBM Research Centre, and a host of initiatives aimed at supporting RDI in the area.

 

  •  The Mining Phakisa has kick-started the revitalisation of mining RDI in South Africa. In this regard, the DST, in partnership with the Chamber of Mines, has finalised long-term development plans for establishing a mining RDI hub and precinct at Carlow Road in Melville, Johannesburg.  It will use a hub-and-spoke approach with collaborative RDI networks.  The precinct will be formally launched in the next few months.

 

  • The government, in partnership with the mining industry (the Chamber of Mines, and research and academic institutions), is implementing the South African Mining, Extraction, Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) programme, which is aimed at materially improving the technological base of mining in South Africa.  The Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa, a manufacturing industry cluster organisation, will drive the SAMERDI programme.

 

  • The DST has provided funding to five technology stations at universities of technology –  for electronics, chemicals and advanced tooling at Tshwane University of Technology, and in metal casting, and process, energy and environment technology at the University of Johannesburg.  In the past three years, these stations have supported more than 1 766 small and medium enterprises.

 

  • The DST also supports Gauteng's Innovation Hub, which focuses on fostering innovation, skills and entrepreneurship in smart industries, green technology and biotechnology.  It offers seed funding in collaboration with the DST's Technology Innovation Agency.  Some of start-ups that have been funded are the Memeza Shout, an affordable alarm system that has been successfully deployed in Diepsloot township; Portia M Skin Solutions, which now employs over 30 young people at the Hub's BioPark; Phambili Media, whose animations were used in some of the scenes in the film Kalushi; Afrocentric IP, which provides disaster-recovery solutions; and Water Hygiene Convenience, which offers a leak-free valve that has been retrofitted to toilets in Garankuwa.

 

The impact of technology innovation on government, industry and civil society was discussed, with event host, Premier David Makhura, urging delegates to start preparing primary school learners for the 4th Industrial Revolution by giving them the right set of skills to succeed in a globally and digitally interconnected world.

 

"Let us also encourage our learners to be innovative," he said.

 

At high-school level, learners are already embarking on innovative projects.  One example is Rikalize Reinecke from Pretoria, whose aquaponics initiative, started in 2014, produced 6.1 tons of Tilapia in 2017.

 

"Young people need to be exposed to technology and innovation," said Reinecke. "We need to find a new way of doing things so we can create jobs for ourselves and society."

 

Meanwhile, the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, called for more public Wi-Fi zones to help those who could not afford high data costs.