Department of Science and Technology

Saturday, 18 November 2017                


Town Hall, Carnarvon


Government is committed to creating the conditions for a better life for all of our people. Government cannot work without your support. We need you as partners. We need you as partners in mobilising society for change, in mobilising for a better life for all.


We are here to persuade you that you have a critical role to play in changing your lives with government support and assistance.


We want all of you to become full participants in building a new and thriving society in which every person can make a difference.


In this nation-building project science has a special role to play. Science helps us understand our origins and our future as a species, to define and alter our lives, and to serve as a source of national pride and identity.


Let me give you an idea of some projects that we have established in the DST to illustrate what I mean.


Building the information society


In 2013, we adopted the 10-year ICT Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap. The roadmap focuses on six identified clusters offering 27 ICT marketing opportunities. The six clusters are broadband infrastructure, development, sustainability and the environment, grand science, industry applications and the service economy. Marketing opportunities include future wireless technologies, biomedical sciences, smart infrastructure and mobile enablement. About R120 million has been invested in ICT initiatives and strategy implementation since 2003.


Broadband4All – the Wireless Mesh Network project


This initiative connects rural schools and communities to the Internet. Project developers trained village operators in business, technical and customer service skills and assigned each operator a cluster of schools to support. The project, initiated in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, has connected more than 200 facilities, including at least 170 schools, since 2009. About 97 500 learners now have Internet access at school. The project will expand to the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape.


Digital Doorway project


This robust, vandal-proof, single or multi terminal system allows communities to teach themselves basic literacy skills. The system has been deployed in 200 rural locations, with the potential to reach an estimated 500 000 young people in the area.


Dr Math


Dr Math, an online math-tutoring service, supports learners in Mathematics, predominantly through the mobile social networking service MXit. Since 2007, students from the University of Pretorias Faculty of Engineering, the Built Environment and Information Technology have assisted the programme in fulfilment of a compulsory undergraduate module. Dr Math has supported about 35 000 registered users.


Cofimvaba Technology for Rural Education Development


The project has identified innovative technologies in ICT, sanitation, energy, school nutrition, e-health and teacher development, and has applied them in parts of the Cofimvaba District. The intervention has exposed 7 000 Eastern Cape learners, their teachers and schools to mobile learning technology through wireless Internet connections and mobile devices such as Android tablets.


Partnerships with the private sector


To expand the resources available, the DST established the ICT Multinational Companies Cooperation Office to facilitate partnerships with the private sector. Its current partners include Microsoft SA, Nokia, Cisco, IBM and SAP. Partnerships such as these have achieved successes such as mLab, a mobile application development laboratory, which has helped 11 start-up companies develop or commercialise their mobile services. The most successful of these to date is Mobility, which has developed a service for Metrorail.


Creating a science-aware society


The DST offers programmes that create societal awareness and value for science and technology, and the critical role they play in ensuring national prosperity and sustainable development.


Science centres


The DST contributes to an enabling environment for science centres by providing policy direction, technical and financial support. Twenty-four new centres were established in the past decade. This growth in science centres is partly driven by community engagement initiatives by the higher education sector and corporate social responsibility programmes. Visitors to the centres have access to hands-on and interactive exhibits that expose them to developments in science, technology and innovation, as well as familiarising them with some useful scientific concepts.


Science centres provide learners with a stimulating environment that complements the formal classroom teaching of Mathematics and Science and technology. Science centres are currently visited by up to 1,6 million people a year.


Exploring the universe through astronomy


The pursuit of fundamental scientific knowledge drives long-term economic competitiveness. Astronomy is a discipline that gives context to our place in the universe and a framework for how we see the world.


Studying astronomy also helps prolong the survival of the human species. For example, understanding the future of the climate or mapping the movement of objects in the solar system allows scientists to understand potential threats to the planet and human survival. Medical imaging, wireless internet and global positioning systems are some of the technologies resulting from astronomical studies.


The Southern African Large Telescope


SALT is the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world. SALT can detect the light from faint or distant objects in the universe, a billion times too faint to see with the unaided eye.


SALT is situated at the South African Astronomical Observatory field station, here, near Sutherland, in the Northern Cape, about 380 kilometres from Cape Town. A consortium of international partners from South Africa, the USA, Germany, Poland, India, the United Kingdom and New Zealand fund SALT.


The construction phase was completed at the end of 2005 and from 2006 to 2009 it entered a period of commissioning and performance verification. Since September 2011, observing has been conducted and the telescope is realising its huge potential as Africas “Giant Eye on the Universe”.


I need hardly tell you that SALT has transformed Sutherland from a sheep farming/ agricultural town to a tourist destination. Before SALT, there were approximately 250 tourists annually. Now there are over 12,000. This has spurred economic development in the village, with the establishment of many new guesthouses and related businesses. Before SALT, there were two bed and breakfast businesses in town. Now there are 40 B&Bs and 18 guest farms, each business employing 3 to 5 persons. In addition the Sutherland hotel has been revived and is thriving. 


As part of the SALT Collateral Benefits Program, SAAO has established a community outreach centre in Sutherland, providing a safe, welcoming environment where learners can study and use computer technology and adults can acquire new skills.


SALT paved the way for the SKA as a frontrunner to demonstrate South Africa’s capabilities and this was a key element in the successful bid to host the SKA. Though it is usually overshadowed by the SKA project, it remains an iconic project. It shows that South Africa is leading the way in the field of astronomy, taking advantage of our natural resource – the excellent clear skies in the Karoo


The Square Kilometre Array in Africa


On 25 May 2012, an international consortium chose to co-locate the SKA radio telescope in Australia and South Africa (together with eight other African partner countries).


The SKA will be one of the biggest scientific projects in the world.


Already supported by 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom – SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope. Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2018, with early science observations in 2020.


Scientists will use the SKA to try and understand how the universe evolved, how stars and galaxies form and change, as well as unravelling the mysteries of “dark matter” and “dark energy”. Scientists expect that the SKA will make new discoveries unimaginable at present.


South Africas SKA site in the Karoo is currently a hive of activity as teams of contractors are preparing the infrastructure for MeerKAT, our own telescope precursor to SKA. They are building roads, dish manufacturing sheds, antenna foundations, and installing the electrical and fibre-ducting reticulation network.


Africas share of the SKA project means that the continent is set to become a sought-after science destination. Over the next decades, many top scientists and research students will come to our shores for cutting-edge science.


The SKA will collect and process vast amounts of data and will stimulate cutting-edge advances in high-performance computing.


Producing the thousands of dishes required for the SKA within the projects time scales will also demand an entirely new way of building highly sophisticated and sensitive scientific instruments, which should lead to innovations in manufacturing and construction.


For the next 10 to 12 years, the building of and support services to MeerKAT and the SKA itself will create jobs. Following that, the running and maintenance of the SKA will create jobs for the next 50 years.


Another important impact of South Africas SKA Project (and the countrys successful bid to host the SKA) is the surge of interest in studying Mathematics, Engineering and Astrophysics at local universities it is causing, as well as attracting top students and academics from around the world to South Africa.


The SKA SA Project invests in developing skills for MeerKAT and the SKA through its dedicated Human Capacity Development Programme. Close to 500 people, ranging from artisans to postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows, have already received bursaries and grants.


This megaproject is therefore an ideal platform to excite young people about a SET career, and to train skills that will be in demand in the global knowledge economy of the future.


After the International Space Station and the Large Hadron Collider, the Square Kilometre Array is the world’s next great science project.


Through the Square Kilometre Array South Africa has made a major investment in the future.