Distinguished guests

Science Forum South Africa participants

Ladies and gentlemen

It is a privilege and pleasure for me to deliver the closing address for Science Forum South Africa 2020.

Over the past three days, our digital platform has seen vibrant and intense debate, igniting conversations about science, and the achievement of social justice through science.

In addition to thanking all who have contributed to the Forum's organisation, my task this afternoon is to reflect on how successful we have been in achieving the objectives that Minister Nzimande set out in his opening address on Wednesday. I would also like to share with you some of our plans on how we wish to take the outcomes of the event forward.

Firstly, the Minister invited Forum participants to, through their participation in the various science policy debates, provide input for the finalisation of our new decadal plan for science, technology and innovation. The decadal plan is intended to expand and transform the research enterprise, human capabilities and the national system of innovation in South Africa.

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.

Secondly, the Minister expressed the hope that, as in the past, the Forum would be fertile ground for the formation of new and meaningful partnerships for science and innovation. On this account, it is undoubtedly mission accomplished. Perhaps the best example is this morning's session presented by the South African Affiliate Centre of the World Economic Forum's Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, on the mobilisation of public-private partnerships to shape technology governance and thus fight inequality.

The Forum also saw a range of new international partnerships launched, like the new South African-Irish fund to support technology entrepreneurs. We also celebrated and recommitted ourselves to several initiatives that will deepen science cooperation and integration in Africa. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing support of the African Union Commission for our event.

Crucially, the Forum also contributed to deepening cooperation within South Africa; the ties that bind our national system of innovation together. I salute the efforts of the Radical Reason Consortium, which brought together many leading South African social science scholars to organise sessions at the Forum. This is the type of collaboration we would like to see grow and continue across our science system.

Thirdly, the Minister asked participants to ensure that the outcomes of the Forum and the discussions on science for social justice are translated into concrete interventions that make a difference, especially to the lives of the most vulnerable in our society. I welcome the focus of several debates on how we can enhance the role science advice plays in policy and decision-making.

We will ensure that our discussions on major societal scourges, such as gender-based violence, substance abuse and unemployment are used as valuable knowledge resources, which will guide not only the actions of government, but also our collective efforts to work in the interest of society. 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 monitoring and evaluation. Science permits us to learn and progress towards our objective of creating a better life for all.

So, what lies ahead for us in 2021? What is our task? Encouraged and inspired by the outcomes of the Forum, the Department of Science and Innovation, with its partners in and outside government, will continue to work for and invest in the development of human capability. Science begins with and depends on people.

We will redouble our efforts to support and create opportunities for the next generation of South African researchers and innovators, paying special attention, as highlighted during the Forum, to addressing gender imbalances and advancing transformation.

Furthermore, we remain committed to nurturing and growing the research enterprise, and the generation of new knowledge in South Africa. Our efforts in this regard will benefit significantly from the Forum's discussions – most notably the vibrant debate we enjoyed yesterday on the future of transdisciplinarity in research. However, in increasing and improving our knowledge-generation capacity, we must ensure that knowledge is applied to enhance economic growth and advance inclusive social development. This will be at the heart of our Department's work in 2020. The discussions at the Forum on, for example, leveraging new technologies to create new growth industries, will be most useful in our planning.

The Department of Science and Innovation is committed to harnessing science and innovation for South Africa, building a capable state, and working responsively and proactively to address the needs of its citizens. We will also continue to support South Africa's role as a responsible partner in the community of nations, working for equitable and truly sustainable global development. This is our mission, and Science Forum South Africa 2020 certainly played its part in bolstering our ability to perform this task.

I would like to thank everyone who participated in the discussions over the past three days. Thank you for your time, thank you for critical thinking, and thank you for your courage to speak out, to make a difference. The organisation of the Science Forum is a collective effort delivered by a partnership comprising our Department, South African research and technology organisations, and our international partners.

To everyone who contributed our most sincere thanks – especially to our strategic partners for 2020, the Human Sciences Research Council's Radical Reason Consortium and the European South African Science and Technology Advancement Programme. I would also like to express our appreciation to the team at the CSIR International Convention Centre which, despite the challenges of COVID-19, assisted us to present an event that did more than justice to its aim of igniting conversations about science.

I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season and everything of the best for 2021. In the New Year we will continue, in partnership, to ignite conversations about science, and ignite action towards a better life for all.

I thank you.