Executives and Senior Managers of local and international research companies, research organisations and higher education organisations;

 

Researchers, government colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

 

May I start by saying what an honour and privilege it is for me to address such an esteemed gathering.  It is my pleasure to extend a warm Cape Town welcome to you all, especially to those of you who have travelled from abroad to attend this very important Forum. I sincerely hope that the early spring sunshine is a good omen for this event.

 

The Department of Science and Technology is proud to host this important event as we endeavour to debate issues, exsite2016 ideas and arrive at positive conclusions that will ultimately lead to significant improvement in the quality of life of millions of people, and at the same time promote strategic international relations.  Some of you at this Forum may have attended last week’s International Research Conference at the Walter Sisulu University in East London.  Mr Tjama Tjivikua of Namibia’s University of Science and Technology said at the Conference that research was about connecting ideas to reality, and people to people.  He also said that the relevance of research lies in the fact that it brings solutions to problems besetting people.  I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments.  Research would, after all, remain a purely academic exercise if it did not lead to solutions to problems and to an improvement in people’s lives.   

 

Ladies and gentlemen, this Forum has three objectives: firstly to facilitate an exsite2016 of information regarding existing international research opportunities, secondly to showcase the economic impact of international research partnerships and thirdly, to enhance networking opportunities among leaders in industry, academia and government in support of the development of new international research and development partnerships.

 

So - what do we hope to achieve over the next two days?  Well, firstly our hope would be that delegates will share, in an open, transparent and productive manner, the outcomes and impacts of the research partnerships they are part of, or supporting.  Secondly, we hope to arrive at a deeper understanding of how public-private sector international research partnerships benefit economic development and social programs. This Forum will also give us an opportunity to ponder the role of these partnerships in international research cooperation.  The final desired outcome of this event, ladies and gentlemen, is that it will ultimately lead to the new research partnerships being established.

 

Given the Forum’s focus on important technologies involving, amongst others, water management, aerospace and satellite applications, renewable energy and waste management, I have every confidence that delegates will emerge from this gathering of motivated, like-minded individuals feeling energised and galvanised as you return to your various areas of expertise.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, by participating in international research partnerships, South Africa is able to both make a significant contribution to global knowledge and, at the same time,  benefit from international research expertise.  Our investment in research continues to reap rewards in a wide number of fields, and the benefits are passed on to our country’s citizens.    Allow me to cite a few examples.

 

A project was launched by the Department of Science and Technology last year to provide clean drinking water in six remote rural villages in the Eastern Cape, where people had been collecting drinking water from polluted rivers and streams.  Partnering our Science councils and the local municipalities, and working closely with local communities, we installed solar-powered water purification units and provided local households with ceramic water filters.  More than 1 775 households in these villages now have access to safe drinking water, showing how even relatively simple innovative technologies can make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, particularly those in poor and vulnerable communities.

 

Another  example of a positive outcome from an international partnership was very much in evidence yesterday, when Minister Naledi Pandor announced the identification of a possible single-dose, orally administered malaria cure following extensive research undertaken by the Medicines for Malaria Venture based in Switzerland, and the Drug Discovery and Development Centre, led by Professor Kelly Chibale, at the University of Cape Town. 

 

Professor Chibale quite rightly called this “a proud day for African science and African scientists.”  This possible cure, ladies and gentlemen, represents  an African solution to save African lives – Malaria accounts for 24% of total child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.  What makes this recently discovered compound so exciting is that apart from being a potential single-dose malaria cure, it shows potent activity against multiple points in the malaria parasite’s life-cycle, and it might also be able to block transmission of the parasite from person to person. To quote Dr Tim Wells, the Chief Scientific Officer of Switzerland’s Medicines for Malaria Venture, “a great achievement and an excellent example of the quality of research that can be fostered in Africa.”

 

I would like to echo the sentiments expressed by Minister Pandor yesterday by congratulating this Swiss/SA partnership for developing this drug and for providing world-class training for the next generation of African scientists. 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, these are indeed exciting times for research and science.  Most of you will know that atthe International Aids Conference in Washington DC towards the end of July, Aids experts announced that significant new progress had been made in the search for a cure for Aids.  Findings of several studies have shown that the HI virus can be controlled and prevented from multiplying, and be completely eradicated in some cases, through mechanisms such as gene therapy.  

 

On the subject of Aids, allow me to use this platform to congratulate my colleagues at the Department of Health.  Over the course of only five years, from 2005 to 2010, the number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment in our country has increased ten-fold: from 101 000 to well over a million people. 

 

There have also been breakthroughs in the treatment of tuberculosis. According to the Global Alliance for TB drug development, results of a clinical trial of a new combination of drugs to treat tuberculosis offer new hope to TB patients, including those who are HIV-positive.  The new drug cocktail was found to kill 99% of TB bacteria within two weeks.  This is a phenomenal development, especially given the fact that there have been no new drugs to treat TB in the past 40 years.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, our government is the largest funder of research and development in this country, with the Department of Science and Technology prioritising research, development and innovation in seeking to provide policy leadership in areas such as Space Science and Technology, Hydrogen and Energy, and Biotechnology and Health Innovation. 

 

The recognition of our Department of the importance of research is further strengthened by the fact that just over 1% of the world’s scientific researchers are from Africa – yet this continent accounts for more than 13% of the world’s population.  Responding to this and to other challenges, our Department has developed a Research, Development and Innovation Infrastructure Funding Framework to improve the research infrastructure of South Africa’s higher education and research institutions to make them more globally competitive and more attractive to international students and researchers.  The funding framework prioritises four areas: scientific equipment, specialised facilities, high-end infrastructure and access to global infrastructure.  

 

To be able to respond to some of the fundamental questions of science we simply have to participate in research efforts using that global infrastructure, as it provides capability beyond the resources available at regional or national level. 

 

One of the best examples of this sort of global infrastructure is the Square Kilometre Array telescope, which will be largely be located in South Africa and eight African partner countries.  Upon completion it will be by far the most sensitive telescope in the world, and could shed light on many of the as yet unanswered questions about the origins of our universe, and things like dark energy, that we know about but are little understood

 

Sharing infrastructure means sharing resources and skills, which in turn facilitates research on, for example aspects of climate site2016, and site2016s occurring in our oceans, to our natural resources and the atmosphere.  This is the kind of research that individual countries would not be able to undertake in isolation.  Allow me to give a short overview of South Africa’s international research co-operation.

Today, our country has more than 30 bi-national science and technology agreements, compared to a mere handful in 1994.  In 1996 we signed a science and technology agreement with Germany, resulting in the establishment of a joint research fund.  To date, ladies and gentlemen, this partnership has funded more than 400 research and development projects. 

 

At the end of March of this year, 67 students were involved in the research projects under the Swiss / South African Joint Research Programme.  In 2011 and in the first half of this year, 22 young South African researchers attended a summer school in Switzerland.  Four of these entrepreneurs have subsequently started their own companies.

 

We have also formed international research partnerships on this continent. To date, we are funding joint projects with African partners to an estimated value of over R50 million, helping to facilitate active research networks between South African researchers and researchers from African partners such as Algeria, Namibia, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, Egypt and Angola.

 

Domestically, the South African government continues to provide resources in support of scientific research partnerships.  Our eight science councils are all engaged in technology transfer and capacity-building by undertaking research for social, scientific and technological development – development that leads to an improvement in living standards for all South Africans.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, as you draw from and contribute to this Forum over the next two days, remember that scientific research leads to scientific knowledge – the key to developing solutions to the confronting challenges.  This must be the ultimate goal of research.  The American author Bill Bryson once said: “Think of a single problem confronting the world today.  Disease, poverty, global warming… If the problem is going to be solved, it is science that is going to solve it.  If anyone ever cures cancer, it will be a guy with a science degree.   Or a woman with a science degree.”

 

To conclude, I wish you all a rewarding and productive Forum.  We must intensify our efforts of taking science to the people.  Keep on with your research, because, as the great astronomer Carl Sagan reminds us, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

I thank you