18 May 2021

Programme Director;

Deputy Minister Buti Manamela;

Director-General of the Department of Science and Innovation, Dr Phil Mjwara

DDGs present;

Chairpersons and CEOs of our entities;

Members of the media;

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon.

On 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national disaster and announced measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa, including a lockdown, and a R500 billion stimulus package to reignite the economy.

This global crisis also brought science, technology and innovation (STI) into the spotlight.

Our government, through the DSI, despite a relatively small budget, has invested in infrastructure to enable world-class research in genomics, epidemiology, vaccine manufacturing and other relevant fields. 

We have also invested in human resource development to ensure a pipeline of knowledge workers to advance our country's scientific endeavour, though much more still remains to be done.

These investments, and the talent that exists in our national system of innovation, have seen our country produce premier science that is also contributing to the global body of knowledge on COVID-19, including the detection of new variants of the novel coronavirus.

In May 2020, the DSI contributed funding towards the establishment of the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa.

Based at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, local scientists led investigations into the evolutionary characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 and detected a new variant, dubbed 501Y.V2.

South African scientists were the first in the world to make these findings, showing that the 501Y.V2 variant has a number of mutations on its spike protein, which increases the ability of the virus to infect humans and potentially enables the virus to escape certain vaccines.

We are investing R25 million more to ensure the completion of the sequencing of 10 000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes in South Africa and Africa.

This work and many other initiatives will be crucial in shaping the country's ongoing response to the pandemic.

As a Department, we have invested R69,4 million in COVID-19 research and innovation.

This covers 21 projects. Notable among them is the first plant-based manufacturing of antibodies for COVID-19 study, which seeks to utilise various plant-based expression platforms to facilitate the rapid development of vaccine candidates, therapeutic antibodies and diagnostic reagents against SARS-CoV-2.

Among some of our achievements, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research entered into an agreement with Kentucky Biological Products on the potential manufacturing of the antigen of their vaccine.

The total DSI investment in this study is in the region of R2,4 million.

Ladies and gentlemen

In order for us to respond adequately to the challenges and to seize the opportunities presented by the national system of innovation (NSI), I am pleased to inform the House that the Cabinet has recently approved our draft Decadal Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), which is an implementation plan for the 2019 White Paper on STI.

Our Decadal Plan is our roadmap for driving STI policy and programmes over the next ten years, with specific areas of focus and development.

Ensuring a transformed, inclusive, responsive and coherent NSI

In order to ensure a transformed, inclusive, responsive and coherent NSI, historically disadvantaged universities and individuals will receive targeted development support and funding to ensure that they contribute as much as possible to the research and knowledge enterprise.

We will commence with the implementation of our new postgraduate funding policy that provides for full-cost support for financially disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and exceptional academic achievers.

The South African Women in Science Awards, the South African Research Chairs Initiative, the centres of excellence, research grants, internships and special programmes such as Thuthuka have contributed significantly to improving female representation in the NSI.

I can proudly point out that female representation in the NSI has increased to 46% of our scientific workforce – an important advance towards gender equity in the STI space.

We are also determined to double our effort to promote participation of black researchers towards achieving a more inclusive NSI.

Ladies and gentlemen

In this financial year, we will resume and intensify science awareness and engagement initiatives such as the annual National Science Week, science centre-based activities and school-level science engagement, using both virtual and minimal contact methods.

These awareness and engagement initiatives were placed on hold in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will also launch the Cofimvaba Science Centre in the Eastern Cape to mark the piloting of an intergovernmental model for developing and managing science centres.

The Department will also support the development of critical high-end skills in selected technology areas such as the bioeconomy, space science and technology, energy, intellectual property management, nanotechnology, robotics, photonics and areas of technology convergence that are important in building a knowledge society.

Support will also be directed towards the development of technical and artisanal skills that will contribute to the deployment of newly developed innovations.

Increased knowledge generation and innovation outputs

By the end of 2018/19, through the National Intellectual Property Management Office, the DSI had provided financial support in excess of R176 million for, among other things, the creation of 132 posts for highly skilled individuals through the Offices of Technology Transfer Support Fund.

Furthermore, our financial support for the statutory protection and maintenance of intellectual property (IP) rights has exceeded R160 million since the inception of the IP Fund.

Both these areas will continue receiving support in the 2021/22 financial year. We have to lead by example in preventing the theft of IP from the African continent!

Both my departments, the DSI and DHET, through the Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDI) Development Grant, will develop targeted programmes aimed at ensuring that a critical mass of publishing academics is established at HDIs, and that research outputs per capita are increased.

As a Department, we will continue to provide funding support in the form of research infrastructure grants to researchers and institutions across the innovation value chain.

For South Africa to become one of the leading nations in the discipline of astronomy, it has to develop world-class infrastructure and the requisite skills, allowing for notable scientific discoveries.

In our case, this is already being made possible by the MeerKAT telescope.

Our focus in the 2020-2025 period is on enhancing the scientific capabilities of the MeerKAT through the installation of S-band and L-band receivers, and expanding the MeerKAT by an additional 20 dishes.

We will also work closely with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Northern Cape government to ensure socio-economic benefits to the surrounding communities and to enhance public awareness of the project and the opportunities it presents.

I am delighted to report that the SKA Organisation is progressing well with preparations for SKA Phase 1, and South Africa continues to play an active role in the project.

Knowledge utilisation for economic development

Our Department will continue participating in the development of a number of sectoral master plans that will be implemented over the strategic planning period, including agriculture, the oceans economy, energy, mining and health.

In partnership with other national, provincial and local government departments, the DSI will implement common flagship programmes in support of priority economic sectors as reflected in the reimagined/revitalised national industrial strategy.

One of our partnerships, with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, sees the DSI continue to deploy fuel cells at government buildings and critical infrastructure such as airports, as well as formal rural and informal urban settlements.

Through the indigenous knowledge-based bioinnovation sector, we will continue to focus on interfacing and mainstreaming the creation of high-end products (traditional medicines, cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals, including herbal beverages), enterprise development and SMME support, and the commercialisation of natural products.

We are also finalising the Indigenous-Knowledge-Based Bioinnovation Institute framework, which aims to ensure the alignment of various players in the innovation system in order to create a seamless process, from concept generation and applied research to product development and commercialisation.

We will be giving priority to the development of COVID-19 solutions in terms of antiviral therapies, immune modulators, nutraceuticals and health supplements.

This will be done under guidelines produced by the World Health Organization's African Regional Expert Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19, which is chaired by a South African.

We also have a collaboration with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to facilitate the advanced development of indigenous-knowledge-based products and the upscaling of SMMEs, and the manufacturing and commercialisation of natural products in a properly regulated environment.

Both the Technology Innovation Agency and the Industrial Development Corporation have created a value-chain that will close existing commercialisation chasms and promote the flow of knowledge, research, innovation and commercialisation.

The Department will continue to scale up its network of technology stations/platforms in order to provide cross-cutting/cross-sectoral technological support for SMMEs, potential entrepreneurs and co-operatives.

The Department will also continue managing a portfolio of projects with potential for creating new industries or rejuvenating existing industries.

The current projects in this portfolio are the mining extraction research, development and innovation programme, the bioeconomy, hydrogen fuel cells, and the fourth phase of the Fluorochemicals Expansion Initiative.

Knowledge utilisation for inclusive development

In support of knowledge utilisation for inclusive development, firstly, we have identified grassroots innovations, whose commercialisation has been facilitated by the support/access of the multi-tiered support package provided by the DSI.

Secondly, we have publicly financed intellectual property made available in support of grassroots innovators.

The key aspects of the multi-tiered package to support the commercialisation of grassroots innovations include technology development; compliance with industry standards (where applicable), protection of IP and mentorship.

These aspects are key in enabling the participation of grassroots innovators, who are often marginalised in technology-based economic development opportunities.

In pursuing these two outcomes, we will be focusing on strengthening our partnerships with relevant government departments and research institutions, organisations responsible for compliance and setting standards, higher education and post-school institutions, the private sector and non-profit organisations.

 

Innovation in support of a capable and developmental state

The DSI is a national department that does not have a provincial or local footprint, which can be a challenge in implementing national STI interventions.

However, through the Regional Innovation Support Programme, we are contributing to the development of innovation ecosystems and a capable and developmental state.

In this regard, we are engaged in a concerted effort to increase our spatial footprint of innovation support so that innovation can enable localised socio-economic development.

We will be studying provincial growth and development and local economic development strategies to enable our Department to better align its innovation-support interventions with the District Development Model.

In this regard, we will be piloting technologies that facilitate service delivery to ensure appropriate technology deployment for waste management, water and wastewater management, housing, sanitation and energy provision, among others.

We will also prioritise and develop capacity to use 5G and other wireless technologies optimally to enable the state and citizens to take advantage of digital economy opportunities.

The DSI's total budget for the 2021/22 financial year is R8,9 billion.

Public entities

In the current financial year, the budget appropriations to our entities are as follows:

  • The Academy of Science of South Africa has been allocated R33,2m.
  • The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has been allocated R978,4m.
  • The Human Sciences Research Council has been allocated R314,4m.
  • The National Advisory Council on Innovation has been allocated R5 300 000.
  • The National Research Foundation has been allocated R962,6m.
  • South African Council for Natural and Scientific Professions has been allocated R5 000 000.
  • The South African National Space Agency has been allocated R202,2m.
  • The Technology Innovation Agency has been allocated R447,7m.
  • The Square Kilometre Array has been allocated R802 407 000.
  • The South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap has been allocated 644 million.
  • The National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System has been allocated R272 121 000.

As I conclude, let me take this opportunity to thank you all for attending our pre-budget vote media briefing. More details on our plans will be contained in our Budget Vote statement this afternoon.

I will now hand over to the Programme Director.

Thank you.