Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:


Opening remarks


It is my honour and privilege to speak to you this evening as we celebrate some of the most outstanding researchers of this great university.


As you may be aware, we are now the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). This change in our name means a number of things. One of them is that, there is now a greater and much clearer expectation on us to ensure that we lead the project of developing South Africa to become a beacon of innovation excellence. By this I mean world-class purpose-driven innovation that is geared towards achieving both scientific excellence and meaningful societal transformation.


Leonardo Da Vinci as one of the greatest innovators


To illustrate the point, I wish to start by reflecting on the meaning and significance of one of the greatest innovators in human history, Leonardo Da Vinci. As you may be aware, Da Vinci was a multifaceted genius, who is credited with a number of inventions, discoveries and designs, across a variety discipline.


Some of his contributions include conceptualising the use of concentrated solar power, a calculator, a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics and many others. He designed what today is known as Leonardo’s robot or Leonardo’s mechanical knight.


While working in Venice, he thought of a way of protecting the city from invading ships by sending men underwater in diving suits to cut holes in them. This led to his design of the diving suit. When scuba divers tested his suit, they found it to be a workable precursor to a modern diving suit.


As you may be aware, he also made very important discoveries in human and animal anatomy and was also a celebrated painter. I am sure we all know his two famous paintings, The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa. Da Vinci was also fascinated by the flight of birds and so he pursued his dream of building a flying machine throughout his life.


Lessons from the work of Da Vinci


From this brief reflection on the life of Da Vinci, it becomes immediately clear that Da Vinci was a man who was full of ideas. A bold and imaginative thinker, who was not afraid to experiment with ideas and go into uncharted territory. But also, the nature of the innovations that he pioneered cut across the known disciplines and fields of scientific endeavour.


This means that Da Vinci didn’t think of himself as a mere physicist, engineer or painter. But he saw himself as someone who could use his intellectual curiosity and scientific acumen to grapple with and find solutions to whatever challenges that humanity was grappling with.


Most importantly, the epoch-shaping work of Da Vinci reminds us not only of the infinite potential of human imagination, but also of the potential that such imagination has to ignite us in our quest to change the world for the better.


The confidence that has been expressed in us as the science sector


As I stated in my introductory remarks, under the leadership of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), one of the major national tasks we as the science sector have been given -is to ensure that we lead the project of developing South Africa into becoming a beacon of innovation excellence.


As some of you may be aware, this task is clearly articulated in our country’s develop compass, the National Development Plan (NDP) and it entails the following:


  • For the period 2012 to 2017, we are expected to intensify the building our National System of Innovation (NSI);
  • For the period 2018 to 2023, we are required to strengthen the capability of the state, business and social sectors; and
  • Then as 2030 approaches, we are required to improve the productivity of the economy through innovation. This means the better utilisation of the country's comparative advantages and increasing exports from local innovations.


By whatever measure, this is a monumental task and that it is given to us in the science sector, also symbolises a huge vote of confidence in us. Do we recognise this and what does it mean to us? We rightfully expect those of you who would be honoured there tonight to play a pioneering role in helping us fulfil the task that has been thrust on our shoulders.


UKZN’s commitment to research excellence


As stated, the responsibility that has been thrust upon our shoulders as the science sector is monumental, but we are confident that we will be able to fulfil this task. Our confidence is inspired by among others, the culture of research excellence that is the hallmark of this university. Examples of your commitment to research excellence include the following:


  • The fact that between 2011 and 2017 your research inputs rose by 60% and for the same year, your per capita research outputs for staff stood at 2.9 publication units and you had 325 NRF-rated researchers.


  • During the same period, you hosted 18 research chairs out of the 236 awarded research chairs, hosted the Centre of Excellence in HIV Prevention and the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and filed 22 IP disclosures, and 16 patent applications.


  • You have a dedicated programme called Imbokodo, that focusses on capacity development of women in both academia and professional services and have established a Science & Technology Innovation Park (STIP) whose primary focus in on projects that look at energy and environmental Sustainability.


  • You have a world-class project called HIRAX whose aim is to establish an interferometric radio telescope in the Karoo and will address key scientific questions in priority science areas Cosmology, Galaxy Evolution, and Stellar and Compact Object Astrophysics.


  • You also established the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC) Joint Centre for Computational Astrophysics. This centre facilitates the exchange of students to work on computational astrophysics and cosmology that is related to new observational facilities in South Africa and China. It assisting to cement astronomy partnerships between SA and China, which are members of the iconic SKA project



Concluding remarks


All of this is very commendable and as I stated, epitomises your commitment to research excellence. It is therefore not unreasonable for us to expect that the researchers who will be honoured here tonight, should not just be inspired by this university’s culture of research excellence, but that they will also commit to maintaining it.


Most importantly, it is my sincere hope and wish that the researchers who are being honoured here tonight will, in much the same way that Da Vinci did, use the power of their imagination to produce epoch-shaping innovations that will not just cut across the known disciplines, but ones that will also position our country and continent as a leader in innovation for meaningful social transformation.


Thank you for your attention.