Department of Science and Technology

Thursday, 15 November 2017                  


Johannesburg Country Club, Napier Road, Auckland Park.


My warmest congratulations to Da Vinci on it’s 23rd awards dinner. Well done to nominees and awardees.


Our National Development Plan recognises science, technology and innovation as central to our efforts to achieve higher economic growth rates and ultimately improve the lives of our citizens. It seeks to ensure that South Africa's public policy fosters socio-economic growth and industry-science linkages through increased investments in research, human capital development, intellectual property and trade in high-technology industries.


Government encourages local innovation. The trouble is that we haven’t produced enough local technologies to make a real difference in the global market.


It’s noticeable that over the period 1996-2016 South African patent applications granted in the US have not grown significantly, and neither have Patent Cooperation Treaty applications. Over the same period, significant increases in trademark applications occurred − although these cannot be viewed as a proxy for innovation performance. 


There are indications that this situation is changing.  A recent survey titled “The South African National Survey of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer at Publicly Funded Research Institutions”, covering the period 2008 to 2014, shows progress made by South African Higher Education Institutions and science councils to advance an innovation agenda. 


New offices of technology, more disclosures, more patents.


And more start ups.


While admittedly we don’t know how many of these technology start-ups will last, we are seeing the potential for growth in this sector, and a potential to impact on the South African technology balance of payments in a positive way.


We’re building an inclusive innovation system through growing support for grassroots innovators and developing local innovation systems.


We’re advancing local innovation through the integration of innovation strategies in local and regional economic development planning.


We’re planning exciting new ideas through tapping into new sources of innovation and growth in the digital economy and the circular or green economy.


We’re talking about building an enabling state that steers a diverse but harmonised set of policies to support business, to develop SMEs in value chains and to incentivise the uptake of local technologies.


The trouble is the weak ability of SMEs to innovate, perform R&D, and absorb new technology. That’s what hinders their growth.


In this context, the accessing of specialised knowledge and equipment through the existing network of technology stations has proved successful, with support provided to more than 2 000 firms per annum. We are looking to extend the current model for providing broad-based support to SMEs - walk-in support at the technology stations or the bio manufacturing facility at the CSIR - in terms of geographical reach, technology scope, and participating institutions to ensure that even more SMEs can access services, equipment, and support in technology commercialisation.


We are looking at aligning the existing instruments - those of the DST, the DTI, Small Business Development, Economic Development Department, and Department of Public Enterprises - to support SMEs and emerging industries.


We know from our innovation surveys that South African businesses spend on average 2% of their turnover on innovation activities. Businesses were clear about the factors that hampered their innovation activities. Both innovative and non-innovative businesses identified a lack of funding from internal sources, the high cost of innovations, and market dominance by established enterprises as challenges.


Over the past five years, the CSIR's R300 million Technology Localisation Programme has assisted over 140 manufacturing companies. An example of the success of this programme is the  R6.3 million Casting Simulation Network that was launched in 2015 at the Vaal University of Technology. The majority of South African foundries are SMEs, which are often family-owned businesses. The cost of the simulation software is outside the means of most of these SMEs.


The CSIR's R500 million Industry Innovation Partnership encourages the private sector to invest more into R&D. It includes satellite manufacturing, titanium powder development, ICT, and nanotechnology. The new Nano-materials Industrial Development Facility provides the capabilities the industrial-scale production of nano-structures and nano-applications required for industrial testing.


The CSIR's Industry Innovation Partnership also enables strategic partnerships with small, medium and micro enterprises. Biotechnology SMEs are using the recently launched R90 million biomanufacturing facilities at the CSIR. Support from CSIR scientists and engineers ensures that products meet the needs of the market. Examples of products developed are cosmetics incorporating natural extracts, magnetic microsphere technology used in life science applications, extracts from olives that are used in cosmetics and nutraceuticals, porridges that incorporate beneficial natural ingredients and cell culture reagents.


The DST recognises the importance of meaningful public-private partnerships. These partnerships enhance our capacity to provide innovative solutions to the most pressing social challenges facing our country and continent, such as unemployment, poverty, service delivery, health and, in particular, the scourge of diseases such as HIV and AIDS, TB, diabetes and malaria.


It’s essential that the outputs of our research cooperation is translated into new products and services, impacting on the development agenda – hence public-private partnerships are essential. 


For example, we need to develop our own pharmaceutical innovation capacities – by attracting foreign investment for African platforms such as the Biovac Institute for the development and manufacturing of vaccines. 


Furthermore, by linking concerted high-level skills development with a concerted focus on and investment in knowledge production capabilities, we can also make significant strides in beneficiating our natural resources, especially raw materials.


Let me give you a few examples of what the DST is doing to beneficiate (with the benefit of science and innovation) and localise around the development of minerals. 


First, platinum. Through the development of our Hydrogen South Africa platform, we are positioning South Africa to become a global science and technology leader for the hydrogen economy. Our goal is to develop internationally competitive, cost-effective and sustainable ways of incorporating platinum group metal-based components in hydrogen fuel cell and other technologies. As South Africa has the world’s largest platinum reserves successful commercialisation ventures in this area and the development of a viable industry around mineral beneficiation, will bring huge economic benefit to our country and create employment. 


Second, titanium. South Africa is the second largest supplier of the mineral ore that can produce titanium metal. However, we add little value to the mineral before export. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed a novel process in which titanium metal can be produced from our abundant mineral resource.


These new capabilities can position South Africa as a world leader in the cost competitive production of high-grade titanium metal powder. Titanium is a sought-after metal especially in the aerospace industry where aircraft and satellites need to be lighter in weight to consume less fuel.


Third, manganese. Not many people know that the CSIR was the driving force behind the development of the lithium-ion batteries - used in laptops, cell phones and electric cars. In fact, the CSIR’s biggest impact ever on a new industry was arguably in the development of the lithium-ion battery, which has literally changed the world. All major manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries have licensed CSIR intellectual property.


Since 2011 the DST has been supporting a Lithium-Ion Battery programme aimed at local production of the batteries at highly competitive cost based on South African raw materials and intellectual property. Only a few months ago I was privileged to open a pilot plant for beneficiating manganese - we have 80% of the world’s high grade manganese - to be used in a lithium-ion battery facility in Nelspruit. And the world was watching. The DST has invested only R30 million in the manganese project but out of small investments we are looking to enormous returns in future income and jobs.


And of course, by supporting the global effort to expand clean, renewable energy systems, we are also contributing to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and advancing sustainable development for the benefit of our planet.