Department of Science and Technology

Wednesday, 28 June 2017                      

Sci Bono, Newton, Johannesburg


Young South Africans are confronted with many complex challenges and opportunities. Science, technology, and innovation offer a wide range of solutions that can change the lives of young people for the better.

The future of our country and the African continent depends on our development of talented scientists and entrepreneurs who can take up the opportunity to develop new technologies and innovative solutions for our pressing problems.

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 become innovators and entrepreneurs.

Some of you may remember Mark Shuttleworth, the first South African in space, the man who sold his software firm for over a billion Rand and the entrepreneur who started a software revolution (Linux, Ubuntu). Most of you won't have heard of Sam Paddock, who this year sold GetSmarter, an online education platform, for over a billion Rand. They're the success stories but they're not alone. There are more than 300 incubators in South Africa designed to help startups thrive. There are many talented young people all over South Africa that we should fund and support.

Recently the DST held its first Youth Indaba at which discussions in the different sessions and additional inputs from the audience led to the adoption of a declaration during the closing ceremony. This Declaration recognised that an innovative and entrepreneurial youth population is key to South Africa’s long-term inclusive growth and development.

The essence of the Declaration is for the inclusion of youth on STI policy platforms, in manufacturing and the localisation of technologies.

For example, the DST partnered with the Young Water Professionals of South Africa and Green Matter on the Imvelisi Programme to develop enviropreneurs. 

The Department of Environmental Affairs has funded provincial roadshows. Selected participants are exposed through a one-week boot camp to business processes including marketing and pitching skills. The week culminates in a Dragon’s Den where the participants pitch their innovative business ideas to a set of Dragons. The purpose of the bootcamp is to assist young entrepreneurs in the biodiversity and water sectors to obtain basic skills to assist them in finding investors in their ideas and get to market.

For the first round just completed on 9 June 2017 at the Innovation Hub, which hosted the Dragon’s Den there were more than 800 applicants for the 40 places on the bootcamp.

We will be giving increased attention to social innovation. Its with that in mind that the DST has put together a strategy for grassroots innovators to bring their ideas and concepts to potential investors.

We've discussed the development of the green economy for several years, but have not yet taken up the potential it has for jobs and enterprise creation.

Powerful forces are driving a green economic revolution worldwide, providing in the process a strong lever for broad-based economic development in many parts of the globe, and often re-orienting national development trajectories. South Africa, having one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world, should be experiencing a similar revolution. Our government is strongly committed to unleashing the potential of the green economy, so we need to create programmes to support millions of green initiatives for young people.

Sustainable development is a core organising idea in the National Development Plan (NDP). The NDP is an integrated approach to policy making, with an aim of ensuring pragmatism and continuous learning in implementation and governance. It advocates a radical transformation in the economy within the context of a mixed economy. It calls for a strong and effective state that is able to intervene on behalf of the poor and marginalised in order to correct the historic imbalances of power and the accumulation of wealth. It proposes a dialogue between business, labour and government as a means towards ensuring investment, employment and growth.

In line with the NDP the DST focuses on specific sustainable areas for R&D - astronomy, energy, bio economy - in which we intend to become world leaders. We aim to catalyse vibrant, knowledge-based activities in South Africa that will be driven by the quality of the scientists we train, the quality of our research and development infrastructure, and the enablers we have put in place to turn scientific research into technology. The DST has, over the years, made significant investments in centres of excellence, research chairs and national research facilities.

For example, in support of the governments solar energy programme, the DST is driving a number of initiatives such the Renewable Energy Hub and Spokes programme (with universities), the development of a solar energy atlas (with the weather service), and the solar energy technology roadmap (with the Department of Energy). These initiatives are all aimed at developing a domestic solar industry.

While these plans are being developed and finalised there are already programmes that are being implemented. The Technology Innovation Agency is managing the Uyilo e-Mobility Programme that aims to support local development and commercialisation of electro mobility technologies. Special emphasis is placed on the development of scarce skills and diversification of product offerings by enterprises that will contribute towards the creation of new jobs. The focus is on electric motors and drives, lightweight materials, information communication and charging infrastructure.

On energy storage, the objective is to develop energy storage technologies that meet the requirements of Eskom for on grid storage, renewable energy integration and electric vehicle applications. Since 2011, the DST has been supporting the lithium ion battery (LIB) key programme aimed at local production of the batteries at highly competitive cost based on South African raw materials and intellectual property. The DST is busy finalising the broader energy storage roadmap, which will address both on and off grid applications and other battery technologies that use South African raw materials

In closing, let me repeat that the NDP endorses the need to move to a low-carbon economy, while acknowledging that this transition will require innovative solutions.

Our cities need to become leaders in climate-change mitigation and adaptation. They are affected by urban sprawl, which reduces biodiversity and increases transportation emissions. Our cities are also affected by apartheid planning where the poorest communities live far away from services or on flood plains, increasing their vulnerability and also exacerbating the transportation emissions.

The DST has science, technology and innovation in the field of climate change as one of its Grand Challenges. It is important for all of us to understand the causes and impact of climate change, so that we can be empowered to become responsible citizens and to make changes in our lives that will improve not only our environment but also our quality of life. This behavioural change in society is crucial to a sustainable future.