H.E. Professor Amon Murwira Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development of Zimbabwe;

H.E. Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, Minister Science, Technology and Innovation of Uganda;

H.E. Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor, Commissioner of AU Division of Human Resources, Science and Technology;

Chief Executive Officers of DSI entities;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen 

 

This year we celebrate Africa Day during a time when our continent and the world wages a battle against the novel corona virus. Projections of the potential effects of this virus on our healthcare systems, our economies and the very social fabric of our communities, look grim.

 

Overburdened healthcare systems, insufficient and reliable data, threats to economic growth as well as reduced access to education for learners and vulnerable youth, are just some of the knock-on effects that will be experienced at the hands of this virus.

 

In spite of the current and future challenges we are likely to witness, Africa Day reminds us that we are a continent and a people that are resilient. Our fight and victory over slavery, colonial and racial oppression, stand as a reminder that we shall indeed overcome the coronavirus. COVID-19 stands as a reminder on this Africa Day, that Africa’s unity is the primary instrument, for a continent-wide renaissance through which we will achieve the Africa We Want. Even at the height of colonial oppression we never carried ourselves as helpless victims, but instead we stood up to fight to change our situation. That is the same spirit and determination we need now to confront Covid 19!

 

We are also a continent that is equipped and armed with Pan-African strategies, including in science, technology and innovation, that have found new relevance in our current circumstances. The prevention and control of diseases features as one of the priority areas within the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA 2024) adopted by African Union Heads of State.

 

As South Africa, we strongly believe that we need to significantly ramp up our multidisciplinary scientific capacity to deal with pandemics. There is indeed strong evidence that there is a strong relationship between destruction of our environment, climate change and emergence of pandemics. Therefore as a continent we have a double challenge of intensifying our struggle to protect the environment as we also build our scientific capacity to fight climate change and better handle future pandemics. Our President announced earlier this year that’ll will build a new dedicated University of Science and Innovation. We do indeed want to position this institution as a strong player in this regard and to be a resource for the continent as a whole.

 

STISA highlights the need to utilize and build on the continent’s research capacities to produce new and effective medicines, diagnostic tools and vaccines, promote research and innovation in traditional medicine and strengthen local health ecosystems that consider the socio-economic and cultural environment of the continent’s heterogenous citizenry.

 

STISA 2024 also reveals the gaps that exist in Africa’s aspirations to build innovation-driven economies that are characterised by universal access to functional healthcare services. We need to start taking the measures required for the implementation of such strategies locally. As we muster up support at a local level, we also need to draw on international partnerships, as espoused by the 2030 Agenda to identify long-term sustainable solutions.

 

Regional and global solidarity have emerged as key elements in the fight against COVID-19. The UN Secretary General has reiterated that history will judge the efficacy of the response to corona, not by the actions of any single government actors taken in isolation, but by the degree to which the response is coordinated globally across all sectors for the benefit of humanity.

 

As Chair of the AU, South Africa has heeded the call for solidarity.  In his role as AU Chair, President Ramaphosa has for example appointed  as special envoys,  highly skilled experts from Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and South Africa, to solicit rapid and concrete support as pledged by the G20, European Union and other international financial institutions for Africa’s economic recovery.

 

From a Science and Innovation perspective, South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) working with the Department of Science and Innovation has leveraged funds from partners in Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom to launch a Covid-19 Africa Rapid Grant Fund to support Covid-19 research cooperation in Africa, capacity-building for science engagement and communication, as well as scientific advice for Governments.  The Fund will have a total budget of R90 million.  

 

South Africa is also co-investing with the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) in supporting African regional health research networks for fighting the pandemic.  President Ramaphosa had announced these national investments as part of the Coronavirus Global COVID-19 Pledging Conference organised by the European Commission.

 

We are committed to support pan-African cooperation on vaccine trials and vaccine manufacturing – where we pledge the capabilities of our state vaccine manufacturing company.  We will also work to strengthen African capacity to develop and manufacture reagents, PCR test kits, point of care PVC tests and DNA extraction tools which are increasingly becoming difficult to import.  

 

Other cooperation areas should include programmes focused on the use of mobile data for contact tracing of the virus and crucially indigenous knowledge and traditional medicine.  

 

South Africa  would also like to propose that the contributions of African innovators in identifying technological solutions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic be recognised as an additional  category for the AU Kwame Nkrumah Awards for Scientific Excellence and we could make some resources available to support this.

 

Compatriots and fellow Africans,

 

There is absolutely no doubt that the advent of COVID-19 has multiplied the demand on Africa’s Post School Education and Training as a major contributor to societal development.

 

Our University researchers are seized with the task of developing effective therapies and a vaccine for COVID-19 in as short a time as possible; to investigate the effects of the pandemic on society at large; to advise on the responses by governments worldwide; to produce young scientists and a skilled workforce with the technological know-how and intellectual competency to assist society to deal with the virus.  

 

Unwanted social behaviours that have stalked our campuses, such as gender-based violence; sexual harassment; corruption and other criminal activities are included in this.  However, COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity to examine these and to identify ways of creating social solidarity that not only looks to dealing with the pandemic but also assist with changing the way we have dealt with these scourges in the past.

 

One lesson that this epidemic has taught us is that health matters are  too big to be left purely to the hands of the bio-medical scientists, the doctors and nurses alone. While they must play a leading role when it comes to physical health, the mental and social aspects require a much broader set of role-players.

 

There is an increase in the demand that our Post School Education and Training institutions produce the requisite health, social and economic workforces for our respective societies.

 

As we have always recognised and said, the government and our public post school education and training institutions cannot succeed on their own to deal with societal challenges.

 

Africa needs to secure much higher levels of private sector involvement and investment in post school education and training, especially in science and innovation. This investment is crucial if we are going to solve the development challenges of the Continent. The so-called triple-helix of government, universities and the private sector in funding research and innovation has been the driving force behind the technological hegemony of many advanced industrialised countries. However, this model needs to be expanded into a quadruple-helix on the African continent to include the role of communities as sources of innovation. What Africa needs is a technological ‘grassroots’ revolution, of innovation from below. Equally important is the need to include international funders and the non-governmental organisations too.

 

Not only do we need partnerships and collaborations across the social spectrum of our societies, this pandemic has also highlighted the need to work with each other across the borders of our countries.

 

Our fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, must transcend our national borders because this epidemic know no borders. We therefore need to build solidarity and use each other’s strengths by collaborating more and building stronger ties than ever before.

 

In our fight against Covid 19 we have also been greatly helped by our HSRC in conducting social surveys on social behavior and perceptions of citizens and communities in the wake of this virus. We cannot fight pandemics and other public disasters without the mobilization of social sciences and humanities to be part of such efforts right from the start.

 

For us in South Africa, in order to manage the negative effects of this epidemic, our government commenced with measures to provide remote multi-modal teaching and learning methodologies in our universities and colleges, supported by the provision of technology devices and telecommunication data  to students receiving State financial support, through our schemes such as the National Student Financial Aid and the Funza Lushaka schemes.

 

This period of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has also allowed and encouraged our TVET colleges to share new materials using various platforms such as TV, radio, YouTube and social media platforms to support remote learning.

 

We are also reviewing our universities and colleges plans in order to reprioritise earmarked funding to support the implementation of these teaching and learning plans by the 1st  June 2020. We have also reprioritised funding for a special Covid-19 Responsiveness Grant (CRG).

 

Through our agency called Higher Health, we are assisting all our public universities and colleges  to review  their health based readiness plans, which will assist to ensure that adequate COVID-19 health and safety standards are put into place across the PSET system.

 

Our universities will also be delivering paper-based teaching and learning materials to students who do not have the resources to engage electronically or online.

 

As we try to find better ways to implement effective multi modal, augmented remote learning systems, we are also considering the use of Space Science and Earth Observation technologies and platforms in support of our plans to reach to vulnerable students.

 

One important aspect of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the realignment of our academic calendar. We have committed ourselves to resume academic activities in line with the national risk-adjusted strategy. This includes planning the gradual return to campus by students and staff during various phases of the risk-adjusted strategy.

 

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

The African Continental Free Trade Area presents an opportunity for African countries to adopt integrated regional responses by investing in industrialisation, manufacturing, research and innovation as well as infrastructure development. These investments are required not only to ensure economic recovery but to also secure resilient communities and a sustainable future characterised by economic transformation for the continent’s citizenry.

 

As I conclude, I would like to reiterate the inspiring words of President Kwame Nkruma from his book Africa Must Unite “the task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge - a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve - to achieve the highest excellencies and the fullest greatness of man. Dare we ask for more in life?”

 

I thank you