Programme director

Guest speaker, Dr Seipati Makunyane

Ambassadors and High Commissioners present

Former First Lady, Dr Bongi Ngema-Zuma

Representatives of the sponsors of the awards

Other VIPs present

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen


I am very honoured to be here among you as we honour the women who are doing great work in science and technology.


Our theme this year is "100 years of Albertina Sisulu: Women united in moving South Africa forward".  We chose this theme because, as you would know, we are celebrating the centenary year of Mama Albertina Sisulu.  Necessarily this requires us to ask ourselves the question: Who is Mama Sisulu to us as South Africans, and more particularly as women?  What does the legacy of Mama Sisulu mean to us today?  What is it that we must do to properly honour her legacy?


To paint a picture of who Mama Sisulu was, I decided to borrow a few words from an interview that she did in 1989 as the political situation in South Africa was undergoing a fundamental change.  Apartheid was on the brink of collapse.  You will forgive me for the long quotation, but I think it captures who this giant of our struggle was.  Describing her involvement in the struggle against apartheid, she said:


"I was the First Lady, the only first lady who was present in their first meeting when they were forming the ANC Youth League, which in 1949 had a programme of action.  And in 1953 the government decided to give our children what they called Bantu Education.  We as women wouldn't take this.  We organised other women against the Bantu Education and we closed the schools.  We thought of forming an organisation that will put all the women together, so that at least our fight will be easy if we speak with one voice.  Now we formed an organisation which was called Federation of South African Women in 1954.  In 1955 we joined, as Federation of South African Women, the launching of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown.  In 1956 we organised 20 000 women to go to the Union Buildings and protest against Bantu Education to our children."


You will recall that she was also a founding member of the United Democratic Front (UDF), which was very instrumental in bringing apartheid to its knees.  From what she said in this interview, it is clear that she was not only involved in almost all the seminal political moments involving her generation, she was also passionate about the emancipation of women and involvement of women in shaping society for the better.  It is also evident that she was someone who was not only passionate about education, but who also understood the importance of good education.  She led women in her community to fight against a bad education system that caused a lot of damage in our country.


Again we should ask ourselves the question, more especially as women: What is it that we must do to properly honour her legacy?


We are gathered here to celebrate women who through education and hard work are making a huge contribution towards knowledge production in our country.  The South African Women in Science Awards have become symbolic for South Africa's celebration of Women's Month since their inception in 2003.  The event has been growing in leaps and bounds over the years.  This year marks the 15th edition of these awards.  We have taken the decision to change the name of the awards, from the "Women in Science Awards (WISA)" to the "South African Women in Science Awards (SAWiSA)".  We did this to avoid confusion with the Water Institute of Southern Africa, an institution that also bears the WISA acronym.  Henceforth, the awards will be referred to as SAWiSA. 


You will recall that last month we launched the 64-antenna MeerKAT telescope, which was a huge milestone for science and astronomy in our country.  To celebrate this milestone, we have decided to introduce the "Commemorative MeerKAT Award" for an outstanding women astronomer.  This award will be given to a distinguished woman astronomer nominated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).


Other changes we have made which are in line with celebrating Mama Sisulu and her legacy.  With permission from the Sisulu family, the Department has henceforth renamed the "DST Fellowships" to the "DST-Albertina Sisulu Fellowships".  In addition, the personal prizes have been increased by R15 000 per award.  And Tata Africa has also increased the values of the Tata Scholarships by R15 000 per award (from R60 000 to R75 000).


To pay further homage to Mama Sisulu's legacy, the DST will establish an Albertina Sisulu SARChI Chair in Nursing Care.  It should be remembered that Mama Sisulu trained as a nurse and encouraged graduates to use their learning to improve people's lives.  The new research chair will deepen research in nursing policy and/or practice and contribute to the advancement of health care and the betterment of society.  The chair will be awarded to a university that is linked to a relevant health facility, such as a hospital.  In the coming months we will initiate the process of making the chair active and it will be subjected to an authoritative peer review process run by the National Research Foundation. 


In conclusion, I wish all the nominees in the various award categories the best of luck, and I must say that you are all winners tonight.