• Honourable ministers and representatives of ministers responsible for science, research and innovation in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia
  • Senior representatives, officials of ministries and heads of Science Granting Councils in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe
  • Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of the Department of Science and Innovation
  • CEO of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, Ms Zengeziwe Msimang
  • President of the International Development Research Centre of Canada, Dr Jean Lebel
  • Board members of the National Research Foundation, and the CEO of the National Research Foundation, Dr Qhobela
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Today, it is a privilege to join you as we reflect on the lasting legacy of Oliver Reginald Tambo – a man who fought fervently for the liberation of our country – and to launch the O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative, one of the many ways in which the South African Government, including the Department of Science and Innovation, continues to honour and acknowledge the contributions of Oliver Tambo to our democracy.

Allow me to reflect on the ideological believes espoused by Oliver Tambo, which have proved to be timeless in their wisdom and foresight, and whose values, endeavours and innovation have fundamentally shaped the evolution and design of the pioneering continental initiative we are celebrating today.

Oliver Reginald Tambo was an educator, a prolific and influential leader and an internationalist who understood that building strong bonds of solidarity with other nations was imperative. Not only to ensure the liberation of South Africa, but to ensure the liberation of Africa, and the world. Throughout his career and life, O.R. Tambo demonstrated the importance of hard work, passion, excellence and belief in the power to change one’s circumstances. Similarly, to Tambo’s commitment to education, science and excellence, the South African government is committed to investing in education, science and excellence for the development of South and for Africa. This includes ensuring access to world class research facilities, investing in blue skies research, and supporting the nurturing of young and emerging researchers so that they can harness and develop their talents accordingly.

Long before Tambo was an anti-apartheid politician, revolutionary and President of the African National Congress (ANC), he was an African child for whom the pathways to and through school and higher education were neither smooth nor equitable. Despite significant setbacks, and thanks to the dedication and persistence of his parents, O.R. Tambo went on not only to be educated, but to become an educator himself. For Tambo, teaching was more than just an occupation – it was an opportunity to nurture and groom the next generation. He encouraged his students to be bold in their thinking; to reason out a problem without fear of being incorrect. His keen interest in each individual’s style of learning and his participatory style of instruction made him an exemplary teacher. “Give people an opportunity to solve the problem themselves,” he said, “and you will get leadership qualities from among them.” He later applied this style of teaching to his management of the ANC.

Following the Sharpeville Massacre, on 21 March 1960, Tambo embarked on a ‘Mission in Exile’ to gain international support for the South African liberation movement. The power of strategic partnerships in support of a shared ideal was epitomised in his life during this time. He galvanised support from ordinary men and women; from governments in Africa and the Diaspora; and through multi-lateral interventions through the former Organisation of African Unity – now the African Union. The liberation struggle was supported on the continent through humanitarian assistance for freedom fighters and exiles; support from the OAU and the United Nations; sanctions against South Africa; and military and training assistance. In other words, through partnerships.


The science and education systems in South Africa have undergone radical transformation since Tambo was a student. Investing in strategic programmes, which synergistically seek to develop research groups, train a cadre of next generation and emerging researchers, and build an individual researcher’s career trajectory, is one of the innovative mechanisms that Africa must harness to contribute simultaneously to research excellence and human capital development.

As exemplified through Tambo’s leadership, strong partnerships are vital to enabling excellent and sustainable research and innovation in Africa. They play a key role in galvanising innovative international research collaboration, and can leapfrog individual and institutional capacity strengthening.

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed colleagues

You will recall that a new strand of Research Chairs, with a clear and inclusive focus on the African continent, was announced by my predecessor, Minister Naledi Pandor during the 2017 Science Forum South Africa. Over the past two years, as we have heard from the CEO of the National Research Foundation, significant milestones have been reached enabling us to gather here to announce the inaugural host institutions and individual research chairholders.

The O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative seeks to further catalyse a collective approach to quality improvement and enhancement of the knowledge endeavour on the African continent. These are the ideals that O.R. Tambo had in mind for African unity for the many years he was in exile, and we are pleased to be able to honour his legacy through this initiative. I would like to show our appreciation and gratitude to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation and the Tambo Family, for lending us his name for this innovative, value-adding and strategic initiative, which is driven by a deep believe of inclusivity, competitiveness, and the desire to champion scientific excellence on our beloved continent.

The O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs combine political, development and higher education objectives. They aim to honour a leading figure in the development of African unity; have a catalytic impact on the development of research infrastructure in recipient countries; and contribute to knowledge production and high-end skills in alignment with the AU Agenda 2063 and STISA 2024. To accomplish this, the O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs build on existing continental frameworks and interventions geared towards institutional capacity strengthening; the development of high-end skills; recruitment and retention of excellent researchers; and incentives to support research that contributes to socio-economic and transformative development. We are particularly pleased about the catalytic progress of the Science Granting Councils Initiative, supported by the NRF, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), The UK’s FCDO, Germany’s DFG, and Swedish Sida, working with 15 countries on the continent.

The O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative is enabled through a partnership-based approach and in collaboration with organisations who share our ideals and goals. A collaborative model involving African public research-intensive universities, African science granting councils and funding agencies, international funding agencies, the private sector and the not-for-profit sector will enable the initiative. I acknowledge and thank each of these partners for their commitment and investment in this endeavour, with special recognition to the IDRC, represented here by its President, Dr Jean Lebel. The ideals espoused by O.R. Tambo himself have deeply inspired the design of this initiative and we believe that it will play an important role championing scientific excellence for Africa’s future. In the words of Tambo himself, this is an opportunity for people to solve problems themselves.

To move forward we must build on our successes. In South Africa, the O.R. Tambo Chairs compliment the successful DSI-NRF South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), which was established in 2006 as a strategic intervention to attract and retain research excellence and innovation within South African universities. Since inception, over 240 SARChI Chairs, including through international bilateral (co-funded with the United Kingdom, Namibia, Canada and Switzerland) and trilateral partnerships, as well as with the private sector have been awarded. The lessons learned over the past decade and the foundations built through the SARChI initiative have paved the way for the establishment of the O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs, which we believe is a bold and forward-looking approach to building capacity, promoting excellence and leveraging longstanding partnerships for science to contribute to development in Africa.

Fittingly, we are also able to make this announcement during South Africa’s current Chairing of the African Union during which our President Ramaphosa, has consistently worked to advance intra-African cooperation and solidarity, notably in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.   The Oliver Tambo African Research Chairs Initiative will also be a proud legacy of South Africa’s Chairing of the African Union in 2020.

It gives me great pleasure to officially announce the inaugural 10 host institutions of this prominent programme by the NRF, the Tambo Foundation, and the IDRC.   The names of the ten chair holders will be announced in the video presentation following my address. The institutions are:  

Botswana International University of Science & Technology, Botswana

Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique

Université Joseph KI- ZERBO, Burkina Faso

University of Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana

Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania

Makerere University, Uganda

Copperbelt University, Zambia

University of Zambia

Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Tanzania

I would also like to congratulate the 10 individual research chairholders who will undertake research in the areas of:

Climate Change

Health Sciences

Food Security

Humanities and Social Sciences

Environment and Development

Water Research


You now have a mandate to use your scientific expertise and the prominence of this Initiative to truly contribute to the Africa we want, and I wish you all the very best. You can count on our full support for this crucial mission.

Thank you esteemed guests for your attention.