Department of Science and Technology

Friday, 9 June 2016                       

CSIR, Pretoria

 I congratulate officials in DST, SAASTA and all our science councils for creating space for an Indaba on technology and innovation.

The recently published statistics on unemployment in South Africa, especially youth unemployment point to the need for South Africa to devote focused attention to creating opportunities for young people to be innovative in response to our socio-economic challenges. The decline in economic growth and reduced investment in manufacturing and industrial sectors also serve as an urgent call to action.

The future for our country and the African continent depends on increased support for and development of talented scientists and entrepreneurs who can take up the opportunity to create new technologies and innovative solutions for our pressing problems, or use existing technologies to respond in new ways to challenges.

With the unprecedented growth in many tech sectors – in particular mobile and information and communication technology – there has never been a better time in history for young South Africans to develop solutions that can address a range of challenges.

One of the things we must do is to get many more young people to study and pass Mathematics and Science subjects. This in itself is a massive enterprise opportunity.

There's much to be proud of in South African science and innovation. We have made a disproportionate contribution to technological innovation worldwide, considering our relatively small economy. 

We boast a long list of impressive inventions - from early tools for collecting, cutting up and storing food, to traditional medicines, horse-drawn vehicles, medical apparatus, attack helicopters, vuvuzela horns and articulated dump trucks. 

We are particularly renowned for breakthroughs in the medical field, which includes heart transplant procedure, the development of the Computer Axial Tomography (CAT), which led to breakthroughs in X-ray scanning, and most recently a penis transplant (since copied in the US).

We are now also renowned for creating pioneering tech companies, such as PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX (Elon Musk), Ubuntu Linux (Mark Shuttleworth) and Youtube, Instagram, Tumblr (Roelof Botha).

But we are also renowned for less fancy (call it frugal) innovation and entrepreneurship - in clean energy, food security, and water resources.

We have some of the best conditions for solar energy in the world, and sufficient wind-energy potential to respond to our energy needs.

Scientists are doing good work on the area of food security. For example, Agriprotein Technologies, a technology start-up company, successfully developed and piloted a nutrient recycling technology that converts organic waste to animal feed protein.

South Africa is a water-scarce country. Those of us who grew up townships or informal settlements know what a problem the lack of water can be. Ludwick Marishane knew what it was like when he was growing up in a township in Limpopo and so he  dreamed up a type of gel that people can use to clean themselves - without water - when he was a pupil and developed it into an award-winning product when he was a student. He responded to the challenge of how to save water in a water-scarce country.

The DST offers programmes that create awareness of the value of science and technology, and the critical role science and technology play in ensuring national prosperity and sustainable development.

The DST has created thirty-four new science centres in the past decade. This growth in science centres is partly driven by community engagement initiatives by the higher education sector and corporate social responsibility programmes. 

In the technology sector we have a technology top 100 company internship programme. Internships are really important for young people. Youth employment is critical in building a stable society and in promoting and sustaining national economic growth. And internships are part of our country’s efforts to expand the science and engineering workforce for those with scarce skills.

Internships give innovators and entrepreneurs the incentive to build startups of their own. 

Start-ups are the heartbeat of a developing economy.

We are inspired by the success of new entrepreneurs and innovators who have taken advantage of the booming tourism industry, the booming mobile industry, the growing market in renewable energy, and the evolving market in the cultural and creative industries.

It is our local innovators and entrepreneurs who will ultimately create the millions of jobs that we need to grow an inclusive economy.

But know this. Innovation and entrepreneurship doesn't only take place at a national level. Innovation and entrepreneurship takes places in cities and towns. At the national level we encourage local and regional innovation systems. We encourage a system that connects local government, big business, start-up entrepreneurs, venture capital, research organisations, and grassroots innovators.

And yet we know – from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor - that our early-stage entrepreneurship is low in comparison with other similar countries. 

The DST is focussing on tackling four main issues through its grassroots innovation project:

   Underdeveloped provincial systems of innovation that are inadequately integrated with the national system;

   a lack of provincial innovation institutions like innovation incubators and science parks;

   poor communication and collaboration between national and local levels of government;

   lack of connection and cooperation between the formal and the informal economies.

Interventions like the Innovation Hub in Tshwane or the Cape Information Technology Initiative in Cape Town are different ways of approaching the challenge of building linked national and provincial systems. 

Recently we began to build a network of science parks and special economic zones in cooperation with China. A key requirement for us is for these developments to tackle the spatial legacy left by apartheid planning in a rational and sustainable way.

You must remember that small and medium-size companies contribute 40% of our GDP and account for 60% of all employment. 

Government provides an enabling environment for small to medium size enterprises, while the business and foreign donors provide financial and technical support to motivate social entrepreneurs and NGOs to expand and extend their social innovation activities. In particular, the DSTs social innovation programme partners with these organisations to ensure development and efficiency of delivery, and consequently enhance social impact.

Government has created many financial incentive schemes. For example, in 2015 the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (sefa) launched a R2.7 billion Youth Fund aimed at fostering entrepreneurship among South Africa’s youth (18-35).

In areas where the organisation can’t directly reach young entrepreneurs, it builds a presence through micro-finance institutions or uses the network of its sister agency the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda), which provides non-financial support such as the drawing up of business plans and mentorships.

In addition, the DST has begun to invest in the development of regional innovation forums - the first pilot forum in the Eastern Cape Province and the second in Gauteng.

It's up to you, young men and young women, to take new and old knowledge and to apply it not only in small scale projects but in big technology projects that will change the shape of the African continent.

A country enhances its prosperity through investment in new ideas, new opportunities, new jobs.

It's your turn now to make history.

Thank you.