Speaker/Chairperson

Minister of Science and Innovation

Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation

Honourable members

Director General

Senior officials

 

It gives me great pleasure to present part of the Department of Science and Innovation Budget Vote Speech and to further expand on some areas of the budget following the Minister’s address.

 

I join the Minister in dedicaticating this speech to a great South African, Mr Mandla Spaceboy Afronaut Maseko who unfortunately lost his life over the weekend.  

 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.  

 

I would also like to acknowledge Nkamo Mowa and his mentee, Isaac Boshomane, who dropped out of school in Grade 8 and started fixing cars before creating his own small vehicle in 2016. 

 

The vehicle, named Buraki, runs on a motorcycle engine and has travelled from Pretoria to as far as Polokwane. 

 

Our agencies are working with him to help him realize his dream of mass producing this car, creating jobs and contributing to our economy.

 

We are also joined in the gallery by Moses Ngobeni, an electrical engineer who has no mechanical background but went on to realize his dream of of building a sports car from scratch using parts and metal from various models. 

 

Mr Ngobeni is very passionate about this project, and told me earlier when I chatted with him that this project is now bigger than him and he believes it will place our country on the map as it relates to the auto industry.

 

These are South Africans who want to contribute, using their skills and passion, to us being in par with the rest of the developing world in science, technology and innovation. 

 

We congratulate them and commit our support to these projects. 

 

They embody the spirit of science, technological development and innovation

 

From the invention of the steam engine to the invention of the combustible engine and through to the implementation of electronics and information technology to automate production, the various industrial revolutions have disrupted economies and societies.

 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution promises to be no different.  

 

We only have to look back to as far as the early-90’s when laptop computers and cellphones couldn’t fit in a bag, when self-driving cars were the figment of some television producers imagination, and fighter robots were a work of fiction whilst most work was done manually.

 

Today all of these will become obsolete as the smallest of computers have been designed, voice is making way for data, robots are now responsible for almost an entire production of the auto-industry just outside of Pretoria, going to space is now as frequent as going out for lunch and many other unimaginable disruptions have become the order of the day.

 

These developments have come with their challenges and fears.

Amongst these lies the potential of deepening inequality, rising levels of poverty, concentration of wealth amongst few individuals and the continued domination of a few nations that are ahead of the curve.

 

As we have seen in the past, industrial revolutions that does not address the immediate, basic, social and economic needs of all the people can only lead to regression of society and plunging nations into crises as everyone fights for their survival.

 

If this industrial revolution will merely be about technology, it would fail in bringing to the fore some of the fundamental and structural challenges that the capitalist system has failed to address over the years.

 

This should be the revolution of the people, and should resolve their immediate and daily challenges, rather than deepen these challenges.

 

One of the biggest challenges is the disruption that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on the job market. 

 

Rapid growth in advanced technology threatens to replace humans, both those performing low-skilled physical jobs and so called cognitive educated jobs. 

 

Researchers and futurists tell us that there will be limited or no need for records clerks, mapping technicians, bankers, tax consultants, tele-marketers, proof-readers and librarians.  Indeed, the picture painted can be grim.

 

So grim that the President joked last week that with hologram technology we may in the future not even need a president to go around making speeches as this can now be rob0tised.

 

But we must also remember that in each industrial revolution, new jobs were created.  

 

These new jobs brought hope and destiny to many.  

 

The power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can and must be harnessed for socio-economic development and equality.  

 

Professor Adam Habib reminded us at the Digital Economy Summit of the 4IRSA that “We need to train scholars to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, some which we may not yet have encountered. 

 

We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing, create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power.” 

 

President Ramaphosa in his 2018 State of the Nation address said that ““Our prosperity as a nation depends on our ability to take full advantage of rapid technological change”.  

 

The Department of Science and Innovation is furthering our ability to take advantage of rapid technological change so that we can build a prosperous nation.

 

The 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) notes that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is based on three sets of megatrends – physical, digital and biological – and involves a convergence of technologies and disciplines that is having a multisystem impact.  

 

In recent years, the DSI has enabled the development of individual 4IR technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communications technologies (ICT), robotics, photonics and additive manufacturing.  

 

Lately, however, there has been a realisation that an integrated approach will lead to a more holistic science system and greater convergence.

 

The DSI has initiated the Converging Technologies Platform (CTP) to introduce a more collaborative approach between technologies.  

 

The overall vision of the CTP is to fuse the assets of the national system of innovation (NSI) in order to create an innovation explosion that will result in greater and increased socio-economic impact for the benefit of all South Africans.

 

Our Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR) programme conducts foundational, directed and applied research into various aspects of artificial intelligence or AI.  

 

Over the last seven years, the CAIR programme has produced multiple master's and PhD graduates, postdoctoral fellowships, research publications and technology demonstrators.  

 

The CAIR is at the forefront of developing national capacity and capability in the field of AI, which is inextricably linked with the advancement of the 4IR in the country.

 

The DSI has been funding the Data Science for Impact and Decision Enhancement (DSIDE) programme for the past five years.  

 

In this period, more than 190 third and fourth-year students, as well as honours and master's students, have gone through the programme at the erstwhile Meraka Institute at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).  

 

To increase the programme's reach and impact, the organisers have devised innovative ways of strengthening research and practice in disciplines such as AI and machine learning (ML) for South Africa and the continent as a whole.  

 

We are driving the pursuit of new sectors and sources of growth while endeavouring to green our economy.  

 

Both the sugar and paper and pulp industries are facing decreasing demands for their primary commodities.  

 

The revitalisation of these industries requires new strategies for sustainability in a low-carbon future.  

 

An integrated biorefinery approach offers potential solutions to these challenges as well as the opportunity to derive value from by-products of these industries that were traditionally considered as waste.  

 

In this regard, we are supporting the Biorefinery Innovation Programme with funding of R18 million over three years, with the aim of enhancing the competitiveness of the sugar and forestry sectors by developing technologies to produce new renewable products from agricultural feedstocks.

 

Agri-businesses for propagation of indigenous medicines and food have been initiated in all but one province.  

 

Participating communities have been organised into entrepreneurial cooperatives and small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs).  

 

Fifteen of these are currently being incubated by a consortium of the Innovation Hub, CSIR, South African Bureau of Standards, Agricultural Research Council, and EgoliBio.  

 

Over 60 scientifically evaluated products are being commercialised locally and internationally by SMMEs.  

 

Three commercial patents for tuberculosis therapies, and two for cosmeceuticals, have been registered by the University of Pretoria.

 

The Agriculture Bioeconomy Innovation Partnership Programme (ABIPP) has funded agroprocessing initiatives through the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) in support of marula, honeybush and Cape aloe.  

 

The three projects aim to develop and commercialise these indigenous crops, exploiting new market opportunities for job creation and local benefit.  

 

A marula community development programme in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, co-funded by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and TIA, was initiated during the 2018/19 financial year.  

 

And a new project to expand the processing of honeybush to more communities, coupled with support for innovation to speed up the fermentation process, is currently being supported at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC).

 

In addition, several initiatives were undertaken to promote cooperatives and agro-processing initiatives in 2018/19. 

 

Fifteen community-based initiatives were supported with the construction and equipping of pilot pre-processing facilities and agri-businesses. 

 

Fourteen SMMEs were incubated at the Innovation Hub for business development and entrepreneurship in RDI-based natural products, and best-preforming strains of medical cannabis were identified for priority health conditions such as cancer, hypertension and Alzheimer's disease.

 

As we further our science and innovation policy goals, we must proactively support the development of both small and big business.  

 

I am pleased to report that progress has been made towards establishing a fund that will help bring locally developed innovations into the market.  

 

Our department, working with the Department of Small Business Development and National Treasury, are finalising the mandate and funding mechanisms of the Small Business and Innovation Fund.  

 

The fund is designed to largely de-risk the early stages of technology commercialisation and/or business development.  

 

An injection of R1 billion per year for five years is expected to make a significant impact in making these businesses and technologies more attractive to investors for significant scale-up.

 

We are making progress in science and innovation to ready us for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  

 

However, this should not be at the expense of our environment and sustainability of our future and that of our children.

 

Recently in the news, there have been numerous articles on air quality in the so-called Highveld Priority Area, which includes parts of Mpumalanga and Gauteng.  

 

There are serious adverse health effects associated with both short-term and chronic exposure to air pollutants, especially in children that live in and around these areas.  

 

Our department has initiated a new Carbon Capture Storage and Use RDI Flagship Programme, which aims to integrate aspects of digitisation and the circular economy in order to extract chemical elements from waste gases in an environmentally sustainable manner.  

 

By combining a selected suite of local and international technologies, and involving the triple helix of government, academia and industry, the programme will seek to demonstrate that it is possible to convert the carbon dioxide contained in coal-fired power station flue gases into multiple chemical commodity streams using green ammonia and green hydrogen.

 

The programme aims to address multiple environmental, economic and societal challenges while enabling the country to extract maximum value from its vast coal resources in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.  

 

Furthermore, the programme has the potential to ensure security of supply for selected chemical commodities, while creating new asset classes, new local manufacturing industries, and new export opportunities into Africa and the rest of the world, and honouring South Africa's international greenhouse gas commitments.

 

Of course, more needs to be done.  

 

Our budget for 2019-2020 must be supplemented by partnerships with the private sector, international agencies and donors.  

 

We will be pursuing these partnerships vigorously in order to achieve a future we are collectively imagining.

 

I thank you.