Science Forum SA 2020 closes after three days of vibrant discussions

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Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) 2020 has contributed to deepening cooperation on science, technology and innovation (STI) in South Africa, reinforcing the country's national system of innovation.

SFSA 2020 ended on Friday, 11 December, following three days of robust discussions on various topics. Thirty-two parallel sessions were held, most of them virtually owing to COVID-19 social distancing requirements.

Speaking at the closing session, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Buti Manamela, reflected on the value of the Forum for the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).

This followed the call by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, for participants to provide inputs that could be used in the finalisation of the DSI's decadal plan for STI.

The plan is being developed to implement the Department's 2019 White Paper on STI, the plan is intended to expand and transform the research enterprise in South Africa, including human capacity and the NSI.

"I have no doubt that the rich discussions on topics such as open science, skills development and technology transfer have provided our drafting team with much food for thought, and will considerably enrich the finalisation of the plan," said Mr Manamela.

The Deputy Minister also spoke about the importance of partnerships for science and innovation, referring to developments with the establishment of the South African Centre on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR), which is an affiliate of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

South Africa and the WEF in 2017 signed an accord to host an affiliate centre of the WEF's C4IR. China, India and Japan already have affiliate centres.

South Africa's affiliate centre is expected to launch its first project in March 2021, following a public expression of interest for possible partnerships and the establishment of a governance board by mid-February 2021. Collaborations to develop C4IR smart cities and cross-border data policies are also being established with European and African countries such as Rwanda and Norway.

The Deputy Minister congratulated the South African Human Sciences Research Council's Radical Reasoning Consortium on its efforts, which brought together many leading South African social science scholars to organise the event.

SFSA 2020 this year was being presented in partnership with the consortium, a body of South African social sciences and humanities institutions which engage in knowledge-stimulating activities.

Prompted by the events of 2020 that saw life, science and race issues given a high profile, the Consortium seeks to stimulate critical knowledge that reflects the full complexity of the lived experiences and conditions of the world.

The Deputy Minister also welcomed the focus of several debates on how the role of science advice could be enhanced in policy and decision-making. He also noted the discourse on major social issues such as gender-based violence and substance abuse.

"The critical analysis of South Africa's COVID-19 response strategy debated during the forum is a good illustration of the role research can play in government's monitoring and evaluation. Science permits us to learn and progress towards our objective of creating a better life," said the Deputy Minister.

He said the DSI was committed to harnessing science and innovation for South Africa, building a capable state, and working responsively to address the needs of its society, and to attain truly sustainable and equitable global development.

"This is our mission, and the Science Forum South Africa 2020 certainly played its part in bolstering our ability to perform this task."


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