Programme Director, Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research;

Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria;

Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg;

Mr Raul de Luzenberger, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to South Africa;

Dr Dominique Ristori, Director-General of Energy for the European Commission;

Chairpersons and members of the boards of science entities;

Dr Phil Mjwara and the DST team;

CEOs of all DST entities present;

Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, Deputy Chairperson of the Public Investment Corporation Board;

Deputy Vice Chancellors;

Presenters and facilitators;

Business leaders present;

Representatives of labour and unions;

Civil society representatives;

Members of research community;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:

 

I would like to welcome all of you to this important summit on the White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation.  Thank you for taking the time to come and join us today, and a special thank you to Prof. de la Rey and the University of Pretoria for partnering with us in hosting this historic summit.

 

The National Development Plan (NDP) correctly recognises that, for our country to achieve the 2030 goals, we must place science, technology and innovation at the centre of our developmental agenda.

 

Recently, the World Bank reiterated this view when it advised that South Africa needs to place more emphasis on science and innovation to achieve a sustainable growth trajectory.

 

Although its primary responsibility is to promote science, the Department of Science and Technology cannot, on its own, achieve this important task. The involvement of all stakeholders – business, labour, academia and government – is vital if South Africa is to place science at the centre of its development. In fact, no government has ever achieved the necessary scientific and technological advances without the cooperation of other sectors.

 

Our society has come to appreciate technological discoveries that emanate from the sciences without necessarily accepting the principles that underpin such discoveries.  For us to use science as a force for development, this needs to change. Society as a whole needs to embrace scientific research as an important element of creating a better world characterised by low unemployment, reduced poverty and inequality.

 

As Carl Sagan cautioned in his essay "Why we need to understand science":  "We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. It's dangerous and stupid for us to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain. Jobs and wages depend on science and technology."  He was speaking about the United States, but his words could apply equally to South Africa: "If [we] can't manufacture, at high quality and low price, products people want to buy, then industries will drift out of [our country] and transfer a little prosperity to another part of the world."

 

Since the adoption of the first White Paper on Science and Technology in 1996, we have made significant progress in growing the national system of innovation. As we deliberate on how far we have come since then, we also need to ask questions about whether the national system of innovation responds adequately to the future we want to build.

 

For instance, the institutional landscape has been expanded.  The questions that arise in this regard include whether all of the institutions are still relevant; whether they are optimally configured or whether we need to reconfigure them, and whether we need to create new institutions to respond to growing needs and changing global dynamics.

 

With regard to research and human capacity development, some welcome progress has been registered. This includes a strong increase in publications, significant growth in the participation of black people and women in the research and development workforce, and a rise in doctoral graduation rates.  However, black women and men still make up less than 5% and 20% of academics.  This represents a significant challenge for making the research system more inclusive, diverse and resilient. Evidently, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to change this situation.

 

Accordingly, one of the question to which this summit must respond is what must be done practically to ensure that our national system of innovation becomes more inclusive at all levels?

 

The inclusivity we require is not only limited to human capacity. It straddles the entirety of the field of human knowledge and the inclusion of alternative knowledge systems.

 

The dominant culture in the field of science makes the basic assumption that every question has a true answer that can be attained only through a particular method, and that anything discovered outside this method is false and backward. We have always known, or at least ought to have known this to be false, but we lacked the wherewithal to challenge the idea. We must continue to explore knowledge systems from outside mainstream science, including indigenous African knowledge systems which, like all systems, hold truth. 

 

What systems will we need to put in place to ensure that the indigenous knowledge pursuit, codification and development is modernised so that our contribution to human knowledge and progress is increased?

 

We have noted, with concern, that the number of patents we've been registering as a country has been relatively low. If we intend to convert science, technology and innovation into a primary mover of economic development, we have to spend more on research towards producing intellectual property.

 

Although current gross expenditure on research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product was at 0,82% in 2017 – in a challenging economic environment – we have yet to reach our 1,5% target.  It is positive that, since 1996, business has been the largest performer of R&D in our country, placing South Africa ahead of some other emerging economies such as Chile and Turkey, but we need significant increases in investment over the next decade. 

 

With the increase in funding resources, we expect that there will be an increase in the intellectual property we produce.  Our challenge will be to commercialise this intellectual property.  Since the establishment of the office of technology transfer in institutions of higher learning, the number of start-up companies in South Africa has increased.

 

Despite these encouraging growth trends, an analysis of the average rate of conversion of intellectual property disclosures to commercialisation or use by these institutions is about 7%.  International benchmarking shows that the conversion rate of disclosures to licences in a mature system ranges between 15% and 30%.  In terms of this benchmark, the South African public innovation system appears to still be developing.

 

The question is, what mechanisms should we put in place to bridge the gap between invention and commercialisation?

 

The new White Paper is aimed at helping South Africa to benefit from global developments such as rapid technological advancement and geopolitical and demographic shifts, as well as responding to the threats associated with some of these global trends.

 

Of all the technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, artificial intelligence is poised to have the most disruptive impact on the place of humans in economic production. Two leading countries in artificial intelligence, the People's Republic of China and the United States of America, have developed strategies for AI, and many others have done the same.  How do we approach this important technology so that we are able to maximise its benefits for our people? What should we learn from countries that have developed strategies around this technology?

 

Ladies and gentlemen, some research shows that, while the Fourth Industrial Revolution will see technological advancement that will lead to increased productivity, it will also come with greatly reduced human labour absorption in the work environment.  These new technologies will provide capabilities in manufacturing for emerging economies like our own which will spawn new industries. This means that the introduction of technologies for the time being may not eliminate jobs but redefine them, changing the tasks and the skills needed to perform them.

 

James Bessen, an economist at Boston University, argues that the history of economics shows that automation can and often does increase jobs, citing the example of the introduction of ATMs which led to fewer tellers but more bank branches.  Such speculation is an indication that there is uncertainty on the exact impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 

Gathered here today, we have an opportunity to ensure that South Africa becomes one of the global centres of science, technology and innovation.  As our icon President Nelson Mandela said, "We owe it to … the people … that they see in us, not merely good leaders waxing lyrical about development, but as front commanders in the blast furnaces of labour, productive investments and visible change."

 

I look forward to hearing the outcomes of the deliberations in the breakaway sessions.

 

I thank you.