Programme Director

Prof. Mvuyo Tom, Chairperson of the Board

Prof. Lindiwe Zungu, Board Member

Ms Precious Sibiya, Board Member

Prof. Crain Soudien, Chief Executive Officer

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen


It is a great pleasure for me to be able to address this important HSRC Social Sciences Research Conference.


Following the release of the statistics of our economic performance for the second quarter of this year, South Africa has been declared to be in a technical recession.  This is the last thing we need in a country like ours, with very high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality – commonly referred to as the triple challenge.


The poor performance of our economy over the past few years has dealt a serious blow to our efforts to combat the triple challenge.  This level of economic performance hampers our pursuit of the objectives of a democratic South Africa, namely those of creating a non-racial society; building a non-sexist country; healing the divisions of the past; achieving the peaceful coexistence of all our people; creating development opportunities for all South Africans irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or gender; and improving the quality of life of all citizens.


Meanwhile, the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, released our country's crime statistics a few days ago, and the statistics he presented to the nation painted a very gloomy picture.  The Minister told the nation that the national murder rate approximates that of a war zone, with an average of 57 people murdered a day – an increase of 6.9% over 2017 – and 109 people on average reporting rape daily.  The broad trend of the past year is an increase in murder and rape, a very large increase in the murder of women and children, and an increase in attempted murder.  In the last year, cash-in-transit heists and bank robberies increased by 57% to 238 incidents, and from three incidents to 13 incidents, respectively. 


Experts are telling us that the increase in crime can be understood by focusing on two areas: the problem with policing and the problem with society.  The former is for the Department of Police to solve, but the latter requires a thorough study of South African society. I say this because the other day I read one of your studies, which found that almost half of the female learners in Khayelitsha primary schools have experienced sexual violence in an intimate partnership.  I began to ask myself: What kind of society have we become or are we becoming?  What has happened in our communities and our homes that young girls are no longer safe?


I deliberately highlighted our economic problem, linked to poverty, unemployment and inequality, and the crime problem because I have a hunch that there is a relationship between these two phenomena. And since I know that the HSRC Social Sciences Research Conference involves all HSRC researchers, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to test this hunch with you.  The theme for this conference, "Social innovation and the promotion of social science research", speaks to your institutional focus on poverty, inequality and inclusive development.  I am hoping that, as you conduct deep studies in areas that you have adopted as your focus areas, you will be able to tell us more about our social ills.


In your Annual Performance Plan you observe the following:  "Poverty and inequality, as conditions which are both structural and ideological, frame and modulate the macro and micro-determinants against which the issues of deprivation and their opposite, the capacity to flourish, play themselves out.  In relation to this, both the structural factors that are in play in producing these conditions, and the range of responses to the problems – the policies and interventions – require analysis and engagement.  In order to do this, the country must bring together the most sophisticated economic, political, historical and social analysis it has at its disposal.The HSRC will play a central role in promoting this development.  Flowing from this, two features will distinguish the HSRC's work for the period 2017 to 2021:

(i)   A focus on the urgent questions of the social determinants surrounding the persistence of poverty and the deepening of inequality.

(ii)  An emphasis on building the capacity for high-quality problem identification and high-quality, solution-focused research which will assist in understanding and engaging with the questions of poverty and inequality."


I am fully aware that as a Department we are placing these great expectations on you in the face of dwindling financial resources.  The truth is that in an economy that is not growing, amidst growing demands for social services, funding for research is likely to decline.  We need to find innovative ways of utilising the limited resources we have to make the maximum impact.  This means that we need to use these limited resources to continue to produce quality research that will help us understand "the macro and micro-determinants" of our country's social problems, so that we can design and implement the correct policy interventions.


It is also pleasing that in your Strategic Plan for the next five years, the research focus of the HSRC is on "poverty and inequality: diagnosis, prognosis, responses".  Indeed, you recognise the far-reaching consequences of poverty and inequality for the well-being and life chances of South African citizens and for the stability and cohesion of society.


It is important for the HSRC to move beyond the diagnosis of social challenges to finding innovative solutions.  The draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) that we launched on Monday acknowledges that for us to respond to a changing world, we have to introduce policy approaches to ensure an open, responsive and diverse knowledge system.  These include approaches such as adopting an open science paradigm, supporting a diversity of knowledge fields, increasing the contribution of the humanities and social sciences to STI, and supporting inter- and transdisciplinary research to address complex societal problems.


These policy approaches will only be possible if the requisite skills are available to carry them out.  We also need to ensure that our skills pool is balanced in terms of race and gender, so that we are able to draw innovative ideas from a diverse pool.  I am saying that the HSRC has a big role to play in ensuring that our national system of innovation becomes more inclusive.


I am told that one of the objectives of this conference is stimulating collaboration, networking and debate among all HSRC researchers.  I hope you achieve this objective, because our country needs all of us to work together to solve our problems.  Our problems as a country are huge, but they are not insurmountable.


I thank you.