Department of Science and Technology

06 March 2017             

9.30

Sun City, North West

 

Throughout human history, technological progress has fuelled economic and social development.

From agriculture to commerce, from health care to communications, from manufacturing to education, technology has transformed the human experience.

Innovation is the primary driver of technological development and higher living standards. In government we see a need to strengthen the links in the chain in the very complex interactions between diverse public and private actors in our national and regional innovation systems.

Effective innovation systems depend on a flow of knowledge and technology between enterprises, universities, and research institutions.

The mechanisms that enable this flow of knowledge include joint industry-university research, public-private partnerships, technology diffusion, and movement of personnel.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is our most successful public-private partnership in the science and technology sector.

It is a good example of how South Africa is positioning itself as a strategic partner and an attractive destination for global science and technology infrastructure, projects and investment.

Multinational companies such as IBM, Cisco and Intel are already showing increasing interest in becoming involved in various SKA spin-offs.

The construction of the 64-dish MeerKAT, the precursor to the SKA, is well under way, and scientists from all over the world have already booked time to do research on it. Preparing for the huge amounts of data produced by the MeerKAT and the SKA is also preparing South Africa to play a leading role in big data.

As industry you should seize such opportunities. Together we can become a global leader in this emerging field if we make the right interventions now. It's clear that the current bigdatachallenge requires a wide range of new skills, policies and practices, technologies and legal frameworks. Fast broadband networks, trusted repositories and national accepted practices are required.

The scope of big data activity is vast - in the breadth of research possible; broad range and roll-out scale of skills development needed; diversity of applicable technology; wide ranging application domains; and numerous business opportunities.

The Department is coordinating its efforts and crafting its own strategic framework in big data to position South Africa as a key global player.

Last year we signed a memorandum of understanding with Cisco, centred mostly on the establishment of a Centre for Broadband Communication at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which will be jointly funded by the DST (through the CSIR Meraka Institute) and Cisco.

The centre now plays a significant role in undertaking appropriate research to provide solutions to the broadband challenges faced by South Africa. It also contributes to the achievement of the key objectives outlined in the National Broadband Policy for South Africa (2013). Cisco intends this research to enhance its suite of products and expertise on next-generation networking, particularly in the context of the SKA.

There is a growing urgency for business and government to find each other in a wide variety of economic collaborations, but nowhere more important than in increasing South Africa's gross expenditure on research and development from the current 0,8% of GDP to 1,5% by 2019.

While the target is ambitious, we are committed to achieving it.

My department is developing a dedicated foreign investment strategy focused on cooperation with partners such as international foundations and philanthropic organisations, which are already investing significantly in South African science, especially in health research.

Currently 15% of R&D investment in South Africa comes from foreign partners. We encourageinternational companies to relocate some of their R&D programmes to South Africa. We have some means and instruments - smart investments and incentives - to make South Africa a preferred destination for global R&D.

We applaud General Electric, for example, for the announcement of a R500 million investment in a customer innovation centre in Gauteng. We welcome its decision to invest a further R200 million to support South African SMMEs through technology transfer.

We also applaud IBM for its announcement of a R700 million investment over 10 years into ICT research and development.

The partnership is anchored in the Black Economic Empowerment - Equity Equivalence Investment Programme (BEE-EEIP) of the Department of Trade and Industry.

The research programme is centred around the establishment of an IBM research lab in Johannesburg, started in April 2015.  It focusses on advancing smarter decision making, analytics, cloud, and next generation infrastructure.

The partnership is significant because it's the first time an international company has invested in R&D through the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) financial instrument

We applaud Cisco, as I said earlier in relation to SKA, which has a three-year partnership worth R66 million to increase the company’s research and development activities in South Africa.

Government will continue to work hard to promote relationships with global partners and to leverage foreign investment in science and technology in South Africa.

Yet we face a number of challenges in South Africa - high broadband costs, and a lack of innovative economic models for providing connectivity to rural communities.

We are not sitting on our hands in this regard.

The DST has an ICT Research and Development and Innovation Strategy and a a 10-year Roadmap, that are being implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) Meraka Institute.

The Meraka Institute has seen some of its R&D programmes graduating into large-scale technology demonstrators. For example, the wireless mesh network project is an alternative model for the deployment of broadband infrastructure and the provision of electronic services in rural areas.

In the implementation of the ICT R&D and innovation strategy, collaboration with the IT industry and academia is of profound importance.

Our aim is to catalyse the development of an innovative, sustainable and indigenous IT industry that addresses a significant portion of South Africa’s IT needs, as well as attracting investments from global IT corporations in R&D and manufacturing facilities in South Africa.

With the increased investment in R&D by both private and public sectors, opportunities exists for bold interventions that will enable South Africa to secure a greater share of global markets in both R&D and manufacturing.

Thank you.