Department of Science and Technology

14 July 2017           

University of Lisbon, Portugal

 

I wish to begin by expressing my humble and sincere thanks to the university for having agreed to grant me this great honour. No words can describe my deep feelings, humble, pride and excitement.

 

Relations between Portugal and South Africa have traditionally been close and pragmatic due to historical and cultural ties that go back to the seafarers Bartholomew Dias and Vasco da Gama in the fifteenth century but more specifically to the emigration of Portuguese into South Africa after the independence of Mozambique and Angola in 1975.

 

South Africa now has the third largest Portuguese population outside Portugal, approximately 600 000 in number. The Portuguese community contributes to promoting good relations between us, as well as economic development and job creation in our country, it also plays a key role in strengthening our bilateral relations.

 

This ability to co-exist with a diverse and multi-national population remains a positive characteristic of South Africa.

 

Our country is well known for having embraced the ideal of unity in diversity when we established a constitutional democracy. Our experience of the debilitating pain of racism and exclusion resulted in an extraordinary response by our leaders and the majority of our people, we chose reconciliation as our foundation and the pursuit of a nation united in diversity, building a new society committed to humane ideals and basic human rights.

 

This is an ambitious ideal for a country shaped by apartheid – one of the most horrendous attempts at social engineering since the slave trade. We have been fortunate however, as we continue to strive to retain this ideal and we have had the benefit of learning from great leaders such as Nelson Mandela whose birthday (100) we will all celebrate with 67 minutes in service of others in just four days’ time.

 

We have somewhat similar ambitions for progress through science, technology and innovation. In the area of work, I am responsible for I have been fortunate to receive exceptional co-operation and support from my counterparts in Portugal.

 

As a young minister of education we established firm links with the late Professor Mariano Gago. Together we laid the foundation for strong bilateral collaboration.

 

In 2015, I was pleased to host Minister Nuno Crato in Durban, South Africa. We signed a science and technology agreement which forms the basis of initiatives that Minister Manuel Heitor and I will oversee in the next few years.

 

We are ready to start implementing science and technology projects. We are further encouraged by Portugal's turnaround strategy for the use of renewable energy to curb the effects of climate change.

 

Given our intention of continued growth in the South Africa Portugal collaboration. I wish to briefly highlight some areas for joint research.

 

We have five "grand challenges" – identified in South Africa’s Ten Year Innovation Plan – adopted in 2008.

 

The grand challenges relate to, one, our investment in bio-sciences for public health and food security; two, better understanding and mitigating the impact of global change; three, achieving energy security; four, using science and technology to fight poverty and exclusion in our society in transition; five, optimally exploiting the potential of space science and technology, and astronomy.

 

With regard to the bio-sciences, South African scientists have for years been at the forefront of the fight against infectious diseases such as HIV-Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. Internationally acclaimed work underway includes the development of a malaria drug, an HIV-Aids vaccine and a microbicide gel to prevent HIV-Aids infection.

 

South Africa contributes to many international observation systems. We are also well placed to leverage the opportunities of the so-called green economy, with exciting plans for example in the field of waste research and innovation.

 

Energy security is high on the world’s political, economic and environmental, but also scientific agenda. Our hydrogen and fuel cell programme, is showing promise. It's an excellent example of the beneficiation of our raw materials through science and technology. We are expanding our work in the renewable energy field, especially solar, and are currently building large solar plants to create an innovative energy mix in South Africa.

 

South African programmes to lift people out of poverty especially in remote rural areas through science- and technology-based interventions have attracted huge international interest from respected partners, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

South Africa is recognised as a nation successful investing in space science to improve the quality of life. This is, for example, achieved through making data and information products obtained from space platforms available to improve decision-making in managing disasters and supporting rural planning and urban development.

 

The jewel in our scientific crown lies in the field of radio astronomy. Economically, the SKA represents the largest science-based capital injection into Africa by far. The estimated initial investment is in the order of €1.5 billion or R15 billion. This investment will result in a number of immediate and long term socio-economic benefits accruing to the entire continent.

 

Because of the scientific nature of the project, the biggest benefit will be the improvement of the skills base and access to top international research facilities and networks which will in turn boost our output of scientific publications.

 

The study of science and technology is not just beneficial to our students in and of itself. The study of science and technology is primarily about finding solutions to real problems that we face, particularly in the fields of nutrition and health care.

 

South Africa spends less than 1% of GDP on research and development. Yet South Africa leads research on the African continent. A concerted African effort is required to generate a greater investment in science and technology and I am hopeful Portugal will partner with us in such efforts.

 

South Africa places great value in forging mutually beneficial partnerships with other governments across the world.

 

Our collaboration with Portugal is among our most valued partnerships, and we would like to see it grow from strength to strength.

 

Innovation and investment in new knowledge have been strong foundations for economic growth and societal change in many emerging economies in Asia and Europe.

 

The current affluence of developed countries is largely the outcome of their investment in new knowledge and the resulting spread of information and communication technologies, both through the use of modern transportation technologies, and virtual movement through the Internet and other global communication networks.

 

It's imperative for Africa to develop a larger body of scientists to work in Africa, to support development on the continent, to play a role in smooth technology transfer, and to drive innovation. It is objectives such as these that Minister Heito and I will advance hopefully with the support of the academic community at this wonderful institution – I wish to conclude by thanking the university for the prestigious honour you have granted me by bestowing an honorary to me and to my country South Africa.