The fourth Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) kicks off on 12 December 2018, with President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering the keynote address. Organised by the Department of Science and Technology, the SFSA provides a public platform for debating science and society.


Intended to ignite conversations about science, SFSA 2018 provides Africa with an "open science" event similar to forums like the EuroScience Open Forum, American Association for the Advancement of Science Forum on Science and Technology Policy and Japan's Science Agora, convened with great success elsewhere in the world.


The DST's Deputy Director-General (DDG): International Cooperation Resources, Daan du Toit, describes the SFSA as a marketplace of ideas. "The core mission and objective of the SFSA is to have a vibrant debate on the role of science in society; not confining the discussion to a closed community, but making it accessible to everyone with an interest in what role science should play in society," he says.


"With the SFSA, we seek to remain relevant, and to interrogate topical issues related to the role of science in society. When the Fees Must Fall movement was in the news, we had sessions on higher education and the minimum wage. This year there is a strong focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR)," adds the Du Toit.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been described as the beginning of an era in which technological developments blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. It includes cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things, big data and cloud computing, robotics, artificial intelligence-based systems and additive manufacturing.


Among the SFSA sessions focusing on the FIR are Harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to Advance the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa, Artificial Intelligence and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa and The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of work.


A consistent focus, which has been embedded in SFSA since it was first held in 2015, is pan-African science cooperation.


"This year, what is special is that we have partnered with the African Academy of Sciences which recognises eminent scientists from across Africa – the continental version of our Academy of Science of South Africa," says Du Toit.


He adds that the African Academy of Sciences will hold its General Assembly in South Africa two days before the SFSA, which will further boost the number of African scientists and researchers participating in this year's event.


This year there is also a focus on the youth, particularly youth entrepreneurship and youth in science.


While only in its fourth year, the SFSA has already gained global recognition and continues to attract more people every year.


"The forum has earned its reputation as Africa's premier science event," said Du Toit.


According to the DDG, SFSA has succeeded in putting local science, technology and innovation on the global map. He said the platform has had positive spin offs like the establishment the African Open Science Forum, an initiative driven by the International Science Council and supported by South Africa and other international partners. This platform helps African countries to shape policies and strategies to deal with open science, which is currently a major policy debate in the science community.


The SFSA has seen South Africa's science partnerships strengthened, for example with the United Kingdom under the Newton Fund, and new partnerships have been formed with countries like Austria."


This year, the science event will take place over two and a half days, with the opening event at the University of Pretoria's Rembrandt Hall. The rest of the Forum will take place at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.  SFSA 2018 is expected to bring more than 2 500 participants together from all over the world for debates, panel discussions and interactive science talks. Engaging exhibitions and science demonstrations will create further opportunities for conversation.