Remarks by Minister Nzimande at the signing of a science, technology and innovation memorandum of understanding with the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ministry of Scientific Research and Technological Innovation, 7 December 2022

Minister José Mpanda Kabangu, Ministry of Scientific Research and Technological Innovation

Mr Ndambu Mwalanga Odon, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry

Senior officials from the Ministry of Scientific Research and Technological Innovation

Ladies and gentlemen

 

This a memorable occasion for two countries that ought to have signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) a while back.

 

Our efforts to finalise the MoU in the past two years did not materialise, for one reason or another, through no fault of our own.

 

With our mutual relentlessness and understanding of the importance of formalising the science, technology and innovation bilateral relationship, towards improving the socio-economic conditions of our people, it was therefore, imperative that we ensured the eventual signing of the memorandum of understanding today.

 

Minister, I would like to thank you for honouring my invitation to be part of the World Science Forum. Your presence here taking time out of your busy schedule means a great deal to me and my department.

 

This is by no means a new relationship but a kind of renewal of our long-established relationship. The relationship between the two countries dates back to the role that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) played in the emancipation of South African people in the fight against apartheid.

 

South Africa has been involved in the efforts to ensure peace and stability in the DRC since 1994. The general bilateral cooperation agreement signed in 2004 strengthened trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, increasing the import and exports of goods between the DRC and South Africa.

 

Given that STI is regarded as a driving force towards the development of any key sector, the signing of the science, technology and innovation memorandum of understanding between our two countries gives us an opportunity to position technology and innovation capabilities to drive bilateral efforts, programmes and activities implemented as part of the foundation laid in the political and economic relationship between the two countries.

 

In an article published in Africa in Focus in February 2022, it was reiterated that the key to transforming African socio-economic conditions lies in investing in science, technology and innovation. However, Africa, a continent of 1,3 billion people, which is expected to reach an estimated 2,5 billion by 2050, contributes a mere 2% of the world's research output, which accounts for 1 to 3% of the research spending and 0,1% of global patents.

 

The lack of investment in STI has undermined Africa's transformation. Without the required infrastructure necessary for innovation, Africa will continue to rely on the colonial developed model of resource extraction which has been found to be the main contributor to debilitating poverty and aid dependency.

 

The signing of this memorandum of understanding is one step away from changing that gloomy picture of our beautiful continent. In the joint plan of action that our officials have developed and implemented to a certain degree, the strategic areas of interest, namely agriculture, mining and geosciences, renewable energy, water, intellectual property management, technology innovation, high-performance computing and space science and technology, are key and critical to socio-economic development in the two countries.  The implementation of this plan will assist in laying the foundation for fast-tracking mutual development, as follows:

 

In recent research done by the McKinsey group, an estimated 24% of Africa's gross domestic product comes from agriculture.  This is scratching the surface, because Africa has the potential to produce three times more agricultural output through the right investment in agricultural research, development and Innovation (RDI).

 

Investment in agricultural RDI will result in yield improvement, land expansion, improved post-harvest processes and increased trade in agricultural commodities. It does not make sense for us to rely on European countries like Russia for simple agricultural commodities such as grains.

 

In relation to mining and geosciences, the two countries are two of the most resource-rich on the continent. A bilateral programme will not only include programmes around geological mapping and mineral beneficiation, through institutions like Mintek in South Africa, but could include programmes to empower Africans to determine the value of our resources.

 

As you may be aware, I am the Minister responsible for South Africa's hydrogen programme, and through our partnership, our two countries could potentially solve the continent's energy crisis, given the potential of the DRC's Inga Dams and South Africa's investment in hydrogen technologies under its renewable energy programme.

 

Infrastructure, technology and human capital have been found to be the most pressing needs for health care, and a bilateral programme could focus on strengthening the capability of our health institutions, especially in public health.

 

Besides the benefits of space science and technology information for the environment and the improvement of healthcare, space science and technology is critical in fostering peace and security in African countries through strengthening our militaries, based on the ability to detect threats and provide technological solutions for our defence systems.

 

Intellectual property management, high-performance computing and technological innovation are three areas that are not only cross-cutting, but strategic in transforming our socio-economic conditions. For instance, the management of the intellectual property rights for innovations developed by African people, especially the youth, will ensure ownership, commercialisation and the development of critical industries.

 

In relation to high-performance computing, I was happy to hear that the Centre for High-Performance Computing (CHPC) will be deploying some of its computer ranger racks to the DRC and that they have also started with the technical training of DRC officials. The CHPC will ensure that the DRC will have the capacity to manage big research data, especially in the ongoing effort to strengthen its national system of innovation.

 

In closing, what will make our ambition possible, Minister Kabangu, is institution-to-institution collaboration.  We must ensure that we strengthen institutional capability in the implementing activities in each of the identified areas of mutual interest.

 

The development of critical skills by co-investing in human capital development, especially to enable the millions of young people to play a strategic role in developing key sectors, particularly in the identified areas of mutual interest. Our bilateral skills development programme could include the development of technical skills through what the DRC calls polytechnics, and what are known as technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges in the South African context. This could be done through the twinning of these institutions and the exchange of personnel for the co-development of knowledge and knowledge transfer.

 

The establishment of community-based development programmes, bringing RDI-led technologies to different communities in the two countries, would demonstrate the value of scientific and technological RDI in changing the lives of ordinary citizens. And co-investing financial resources in the implementation of the identified bilateral programmes would ensure that we achieve what we need to achieve.

 

The changing times have made it critical that these MoUs that we sign are not just seen as a gesture of goodwill or intent, but as a channel for meaningful collaborative projects and programmes in response to our pressing challenges.

 

The level of poverty in our countries is increasing, almost half of the youth are unemployed, and South Africa is the most unequal society in the world, which is the legacy of both apartheid and colonialism.

 

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, we cannot afford to be complacent and have this MoU be a symbol of today's meeting only. It must be a symbol of our joint commitment to changing the lives of our communities and the future of our beautiful continent.

 

Thank you.

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