The Minister of Science and Technology Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane opened the 2018 Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) with a call to put science diplomacy into practice by building a better South Africa, in a better Africa and a better world. The Minister said in her opening address that this should be done by drawing on the legacy of all who fought and sacrificed for a free and democratic South Africa.

 

The Minister said that the Science Forum South Africa was not an objective in its own right, but an instrument to contribute to the attainment of several of the strategic objectives of the Department of Science and Technology, and the goals set out in South Africa's new draft White Paper on science, technology and innovation (STI). The goals of the Forum include –

 

 

 

 

  • stimulating a vibrant debate on the role of STI in society, creating a networking platform for key science, technology and innovation actors, including government leaders, academics, scientists, industry, civil society, and students;
  • promoting international STI partnerships, specifically profiling South Africa as a preferred international partner for cooperation in science and innovation – over the years the Forum has been the birthplace for many concrete international partnerships and investments; and
  • providing the African continent with an influential platform for debate on the role of science in society, similar to those in other parts of the world, in support of African cooperation and integration in STI – this role is specifically valued and acknowledged by the African Union and SADC.

 

"We would also like the forum to be a platform for engagements on using STI for the advancement of the AU Agenda 2063 and the STI Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) which places science, technology and innovation at the epicentre of Africa's socio-economic development and growth," added the Minister.

 

The Minister urged participants to consider a number of critical questions. "With a growing youth population in Africa, how are we to ensure that the majority of the youth participate in science, technology and innovation? What concrete steps will we, as Africans, take to ensure that the participation of women in science is in proportion to their percentage of the population?

 

The Minister emphasised that the conversations taking place at SFSA should be relevant and address the needs of vulnerable communities.

 

These sentiments were echoed by Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology. "We need to change our narrative and make sure that our science is for development and does not remain in publications on the shelf, but responds to topical issues and the challenges of our societies," said Agbor.

 

"We have a mandate to deliver on the role of STI in Africa's development within Agenda 2063, hence the various initiatives established by the AU Commission which we need to drive together. I look forward next year to celebrating concrete actions on new discoveries, innovation and maybe an African Nobel Prize for distinguished scientists with groundbreaking discoveries," she added.

 

Agbor lauded South Africa for the strides it had made in advancing STI locally and across the continent.  She was particularly impressed by the investment the Department had made in human capital development. She praised the Spring Bots, a group of teenagers who won gold at an international robotics competition, and the young scientists who presented on their work at the MeerKAT project.

 

She said the example set by South Africa should be emulated by the rest of the continent.

 

Dr Vladimír Šucha, Director-General of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre concurred with Prof. Agbor, saying that what South Africa had done in STI in such a short time was impressive.  He said South Africa had seen exponential growth in STI with limited funds because there was drive and energy to succeed.

 

Šucha spoke of the numerous challenges facing the world today and how science should respond to these challenges and the needs of the people. "Science must be open to the public; it must not be an elitist endeavour.  Science must come out of its ivory towers and disciplinary silos to address societal challenges."

 

He believes that the time has come for hard science, natural science, technology and engineering to be combined with the social and human sciences.

 

According to Šucha, improved knowledge management is necessary. He questioned whether all the research published was adding value, as half of it was not cited. He cautioned that, "We will have all this information, but will be starving for wisdom."

 

Building on the success of third SFSA, the 2018 Forum serves as a large, open, public platform for debating the science and society interface, looking at issues such as how Africa can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Over 3 000 researchers, scientists, policy-makers and students from all over the world are attending this year's SFSA, which takes place over two and a half days.

 

While the theme for SFSA remains "Igniting conversations about science", this year sees a focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR). The University of Johannesburg's Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala kicked off the discussion, calling on Africans to create their own databases, "so we are not excluded in the revolution of science".

 

Prof Marwala made these comments in the context of aspects of the FIR like artificial intelligence and machine learning. He said that machines responded to the data fed into it.

 

Several sessions are dedicated to this topic, looking at the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the context of developing countries, and the future of work, among other angles.

 

The SFSA 2018 concludes on Friday.

 

 

Issued by the Department of Science and Technology.

 

For more information contact Veronica Mohapeloa at 082 882 3818 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.