Address the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, at the 2019 South African Women in Science Awards Gala Dinner, Port Elizabeth, 15 August 2019

Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Mr Buti Manamela;

Deputy Minister of Communications, Ms Pinky Kekana;

Guest Speaker, Prof. Charlene Africa;

Directors-General of Science and Innovation and Higher Education and Training, Dr Phil Mjwara and Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde;

Ambassadors and High Commissioners;

Representatives of our award sponsor, TATA Africa;

Representatives of our product sponsor, L'Oréal;

All honoured and special guests present;

Members of the media;

Ladies and gentlemen:


Welcome to the 2019 South African Women in Science Awards, or SAWiSA.  What a great evening!  I am grateful for the opportunity to welcome you tonight.


As the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), our core values of excellence, innovation, collaboration and accountability are the foundations of our commitment that have sustained us since 2003 in hosting these awards, which have grown in stature as a flagship initiative of our department.


These awards reward and celebrate excellence among women in science and research, and profile our celebrated women in science and innovation as role models for younger women and girls.


I am deeply grateful that we are hosting these awards in August – a month in which as a country we pay tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on the 9th of August 1956 in protest against the extension of the Pass Laws to women.


This year we host these awards under the theme "Making the fourth industrial revolution work for women".


As you may know, the first industrial revolution changed the life and the economy of the world from an agricultural and craft economy into an industry-driven and machine-building economy.  Oil and electricity facilitated mass production in the second industrial revolution.  In the third industrial revolution, information technology was used to automate production.


Although every industrial revolution is a separate fact, we can better understand them if we consider them as a series of historical facts based on innovations that led to advanced forms of production.


We are now at the beginning of a technological revolution that will fundamentally change the way we live and work.  The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) describes a world where people move between the real and digital environments.  We should therefore should acquaint ourselves with it and manage it for our benefit.


These changes will bring changes in power, knowledge and shifts in wealth.  Only if we understand the changes of this new era and the speed at which these changes will take place will we be able to benefit from them.


These developments will surely have a strong impact on our citizens as a whole, but mostly on women, who represent 51% of our population.


However, we must not see ourselves as passive victims or consumers or recipients of the impending industrial revolution, but must seek to be its leading drivers and innovators ourselves.  Two things make me say this.  Firstly, it is not technology that invents humans, it is humans that invent technology.  Secondly, South Africans have huge potential to be even better innovators given our relatively high rankings and achievements in this regard.


According to statistics recently cited by Prof. Michael Kahn, over the past two decades our scientific publications rose from 0,44% to 0,88%.  According to the 2019 Global Innovation Index, South Africa is ranked at number 63.  Although this is down from 54th in 2012, we are still among the top performing middle-income countries.


Of course, we still have the challenge of raising our investment in research and development (R&D) as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) almost by double, from the current 0,8% to 1,5% by 2030.


We also have the challenge of ensuring that new technological inventions do not continue to reproduce global inequalities.  Although all the three preceding revolutions had the potential to banish hunger and raise the standard of living of humanity as a whole, especially the poor, they have in many ways exacerbated social inequalities.  This serves to underline the point that technological innovations, as social and human inventions, must be accompanied by struggles to fight poverty, unemployment and inequality, as well as by affirming the importance of the humanities and social sciences.


Similarly, we will not be able to affirm the role of women in development and the 4IR unless we simultaneously intensify the mobilisation of society against patriarchy, gender inequalities and gender-based violence.  We cannot affirm brutalised women!


This is the reason that, as a department and government, we are investing in training and lifelong learning for women.


In dealing with women empowerment, as a department, we aspire to transform our higher education, science and innovation sectors to be of high quality and demographically representative in order to provide students and staff with better access and opportunities for success.


We further acknowledge the fact that flexibility in work, particularly that which is brought about by the 4IR, should be accompanied by increased education, training and development of new skills and competencies to meet the challenges of the new world of work.


I therefore encourage women to choose careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which are most in demand in the labour market.  However, women are underrepresented in these fields.  The reason is that women are often discouraged from studying for STEM occupations because they feel that men are more likely to be successful in these areas.


In order to reduce the gender gap, we must first change our mentality and eliminate the stereotypes that are passed on from generation to generation.  Encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM fields is imperative.


Today, I want to encourage all of you as women to use technology and to set up your own businesses and in time to create new financial opportunities through the opportunities presented by the 4IR.


In terms of our support for established researches, as a department we provided research grants to 4 707 researches through DSI/NRF-managed programmes, with 35% of the overall total being allocated to black researchers and 38% to women researchers.


Ladies and gentlemen, there are branches and professions that have greater female involvement, such as psychology, medicine and nursing.  These professions will remain more competitive and more resistant to automation or 4IR dynamics.  It is therefore important that as women you keep on dominating the ranks of these professions.


Let us also not forget that women today control about 80% of consumer markets.


It now becomes a welcomed phenomenon that many companies lose talented women around their thirties, because women face the dilemma of starting families or developing their careers.  The 4IR could work in favour of women, enabling them to work from the comfort of their homes.


I urge you today to remain resilient, like those women in 1956, who ensured that they fought and ultimately conquered an oppressive regime.


I am honoured to welcome you here tonight, and thank you for accepting our invitation to share this moment of joy with us.  Tonight, we acknowledge and reward you, our "research celebrities", for your performance.  A performance rooted in focus, dedication, hard work and a desire to excel.


I believe I would not be too presumptive to think that these "research stars" all have humble beginnings.  Humble in their societal ranking, humble in their upbringing, and humble in their conduct.


But humble does not mean poor in spirit, or lacking in ambition or intelligence, because even the seemingly timid ones have shown us that their determination is simply concealed by their appearance.  As the saying goes, "don't judge a book by its cover".


Equally, every participant aspires to be at the top of her class.  For the panel of judges, this presents an opportunity to complement, reinforce, and reciprocate the goodwill, ambitions, and endeavours of all the participants.  And thus, a perfect match is made, because an excellent judge deserves an excellent participant, and vice versa.


With confidence, I can say that all of our participants can stand up to any other researcher in the world and, as they say, "give them a run for their money".


I look forward to a prosperous future for all of you, for your communities, our country and the world as a whole.  I look forward to working with you in your promising future.


Let us enjoy the event tonight, let us congratulate the top performers, and let us give thanks to all who have made this occasion possible.


I thank you.


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