MESSAGE FROM THE MINISTER OF HIGHER EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND INNOVATION AT THE LAUNCH OF NATIONAL SCIENCE WEEK ON 30 JULY 2022 AT THE UMLAZI CAMPUS OF MANGOSUTHU UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY

Councillor Mxolisi Kaunda, Executive Mayor of the eThekwini Metro;

Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of Science and Innovation;

Prof. Mathabeng Marcus Ramogale, Acting Vice-Chancellor of MUT;

Senior leadership of the Department of Science and Innovation and the senior KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education;

Learners, students, educators, parents and members of the media;

Ladies and gentlemen

 

It gives me great pleasure to address the launch of National Science Week 2022. 

 

Although I am unable to attend in person, I am happy that once again it is possible to gather together at a physical event to celebrate science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) in our daily lives. 

 

This year, we host the National Science Week under the United Nations' theme, "Celebrating the role of basic sciences in the modern world".

 

The NSW is a mass participation initiative within the context of the Science Engagement Strategy and its objectives are the following:

 

  • to popularise science to the broader SA society;

 

  • to serve as a vehicle for showcasing local innovations in science and technology, and the leadership role of the DST and other government departments in enabling research, development and innovation;

 

  • to make Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Innovation (STEMI) appealing to learners, such that they consider STEMI as preferable career options, and

 

  • to familiarise targeted participants with the science linked to areas in which South Africa has knowledge and/or geographic advantage so as to contribute in making them informed and critically engaged citizens.

 

In South Africa, and throughout the world, we all experienced the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – becoming sick ourselves, or losing loved ones, or suffering the economic consequences or all of these three. 

 

It is therefore important to highlight that our responses to the pandemic came from science, technology and innovation.

 

South Africa, through the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) identified the coronavirus beta variant.

 

The KRISP team’s genome sequencing demonstrated South Africa’s leadership in this area on a world stage, and contributed to the understanding of emerging variants and their effect on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

 

This work informed government decision-making on which vaccines to procure, with genomic surveillance becoming a critical component of a targeted response to the epidemic throughout the country. KRISP’s research has been used to inform the planning and responses of other countries too.

 

Indeed, our scientists and researchers worked hard and with determination to find out what COVID was, how it was transmitted and how we could slow down its spread in our communities.  Based on what they learnt, we wore masks and washed our hands. 

 

As scientists learnt more, we increased the social distancing from one metre to two, and started focusing on ventilation.

 

It is Science, technology and innovation that enabled us to monitor where the virus was spreading, and how it was changing. 

 

Mathematical modelling also enabled us to make predictions we could use in planning.  Additive manufacturing enabled us to produce face shields. Genomic sequencing enabled us to identify new variants, and so on.

 

As researchers worked together and shared knowledge on a global scale, we eventually developed vaccines that helped to slow the spread of the virus and reduce its most severe effects. 

 

We were vaccinated, we became more resistant, our health services were no longer overwhelmed.  While COVID has not disappeared, we were able to move forward.  All these was made possible by science. Thanks to science and all our scientists that we can once again attend school and church and gather at a physical event to launch National Science Week.

 

Government's previous investments in science skills and infrastructure – laboratories, for instance, and high-performance computing – enabled South Africa to respond the COVID-19 crisis and make a global contribution by detecting new variants. 

 

With the World Health Organization's mRNA technology transfer hub in the Western Cape, we are building capacity to manufacture vaccines not only for ourselves but for the rest of the African continent.

 

Science can also help us to plan for and mitigate the devastating effects of climate change, like the recent devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal, where we are holding the launch today, in which lives were lost, homes, schools and business destroyed. 

 

The Department of Science and Innovation is ready to support local municipalities in the province through the work of our entities like the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the South African National Space Agency, as well as through local innovation projects under the District Development Model.

 

I want to remind you, especially the learners here, that to tackle climate change and rebuild our economy after COVID, we need scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians and innovators. 

 

The government will continue to invest in the future, but we need young people like yourselves to work hard at maths and science at school so you can become the next generation to take up this important work.

 

I urge the leaners and everyone attending the launch to visit all the exhibitions and engage with exhibitors on the work they are displaying.  Science is about curiosity – ask questions; find out what subjects you need for careers in STEMI. 

 

The South African public will be able to participate in a number of National Science Week programmes taking place from the 1st to the 6th August across our country. 

 

The Department and its entities, particularly the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, have organised activities at universities, libraries, museums, zoological societies and science centres.  A number of events have also been organised online, like this launch event, which is being livestreamed.

 

I want to thank the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government, the eThekwini Municipality and MUT for supporting this important national science engagement initiative.

 

I have no doubt that this year's focus week will be a huge success.

 

I thank you.

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