Department of Science and Technology

13 July 2017               

Lisbon, Portugal


Commissioner Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science;


Minister Manuel Heitor, Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education in Portugal;


Minister Gilberto Kassab, Minister of State for Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications in Brazil;


Distinguished guests, dear friends and partners of the Atlantic, ladies and gentlemen.


It's a privilege and a pleasure to be with you today. I would like to thank Commissioner Moedas for inviting us to Lisbon. Ever since we first met in Cape Town in December 2014 at the launch of the second phase of the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership or EDCTP, South Africa has been fortunate to be able to count on the Commissioner’s goodwill, friendship and support. 


I recall that on that occasion in Cape Town we had a first discussion on strengthening research and innovation cooperation in the South Atlantic. It's in no small part due, Commissioner, to your personal drive and commitment over the past three years that we are able today to launch our ambitious new partnership. On behalf of us all, thank you. I have no doubt, Commissioner, that our Atlantic Ocean partnership will be as successful as the EDCTP, which continues to make a critical difference in the fight against infectious diseases in Africa.


I would also like to thank Minister Heitor and the Government of Portugal for their hospitality. I’m truly delighted to be back in Portugal only three months after the very successful Atlantic Interactions industry-science-government dialogue, which Minister Heitor convened in the Azores last April.


South Africa’s bilateral science and technology partnership with Portugal is growing from strength to strength comprising a rich and diverse portfolio of initiatives. For example, we greatly appreciate Portugal’s commitment to the global Square Kilometre Array or SKA radio telescope project, major components of which will be located in South Africa. Our experts are also contributing to the reflection on the future development of the proposed Atlantic International Research Centre. The Atlantic will indeed be a strategic focus of our research cooperation.


I would also like to acknowledge the very special relationship between South Africa and Brazil. In addition to the long-standing bilateral research cooperation between our two countries, we also cooperate in various multilateral forums, not least the BRICS partnership. Earlier this week, Minister Kassab and I launched the South Africa – Brazil Science Plan for Research Cooperation on the South Atlantic. It's an important milestone for not only South-South, but also global, cooperation in regard to our oceans. 


I hope that the Science Plan will not only act as catalyst to strengthen regional cooperation between African and South American countries, but that it will also bolster South-North research and innovation cooperation on the Atlantic Ocean system as a whole. Indeed, within the context of our discussions here in Lisbon, the Plan is intended to complement the efforts of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance established between the European Union, the United States and Canada. To Minister Kassab, my sincere thanks for the excellent cooperation.


In South Africa we live by the credo that science knows no borders. International cooperation is imperative for science to advance and to improve the quality of living of all on our planet. No country is strong or big enough to act on its own. We need to join forces – share our resources, experience and expertise. Shared global challenges like climate change, food security and poverty and inequality demand a united global response. In this context the importance of investment by global partners in Africa’s science, technology and investment capacities, cannot be underestimated.


I value the opportunity to cooperate with of all you to ensure the responsible custodianship of our Atlantic Ocean, ensuring its resources are managed and sustainably exploited for the benefit of all our citizens.  I will spare no effort to ensure the success of our partnership, a flagship for sustainable development, fully realizing the vision and achieving the objectives of the Belem Statement, which Commissioner Moedas, Minister Kassab and I will sign later today. 


South Africa is well equipped to contribute to the partnership and to add significant value to the investments of our partners. Our location at the Southern tip of Africa, at the confluence of three ocean systems provides us with a strategic, geographic advantage for the marine sciences, most notably in understanding the climate-ocean interface.  Indeed, the study of Earth systems science in South Africa and our waters offers unique insights into climate variability and change.


South Africa’s national marine science investments are guided by a recently approved Marine and Antarctic Research Strategy, which coordinates national research in these fields and provides a solid platform for international engagement. Our extensive national marine and oceans science programmes is complemented by the South African National Antarctic Programme and many related research and development platforms. South Africa for example played a leading role in the Antarctica Circumvention Expedition, the exciting outcomes of which our keynote speaker, Prof David Walton, will later present to us.  


Relevant research infrastructures include our research base in Antarctica, SANAE IV, and several coastal and ocean-going research vessels, the newest of which is just three years old – the icebreaker Agulhas II, which is our main research vessel. South African research platforms, which will make an important contribution to our Atlantic partnership also include the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, the South African Environmental Observation Network and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory. 


South Africa’s investment in science and technology is driven by our government’s objective to accelerate sustainable and inclusive economic growth. We have identified a number of economic sectors, which offer the potential for high and rapid growth, one of which is the ocean or so-called blue economy. 


We are making significant and strategic investments in these areas as part of what we call Operation Phakisa, which loosely translated from one of our indigenous languages, means to hurry up.  The Operation Phakisa efforts see a concerted and coordinated effort across our Government to bring together the capacities and resources of different ministries and institutions, including the Departments of Environmental Affairs, as well as of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and my own department.


In conclusion I would like to mention that in order to maximize the potential impact of these activities, I have asked my Department to look into institutional improvements we might make to our national landscape that could improve the economies of scale. I have specifically asked that we explore the potential of establishing a national marine and Antarctic research institute that consolidates the major investments we are making.


I have no doubt that what I will hear in today’s meeting will deepen my conviction that this is a step we must take.  


Our meeting in Lisbon takes place at the same time as the United Nations’ High-Level Political Forum 2017, the most important global platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Sustainable Development Goal number fourteen commits all of us to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. What we are launching here in Lisbon is a partnership which puts that commitment into practice, ensuring that within the spirit of the SDGs, that no-one will be left behind.


I thank you and look forward to informative discussions and successful cooperation.