Igniting talk on role of science

08 December 2016

By Minister Naledi Pandor

Topics from this Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project, to the science of peace will be discussed at the two-day Science Forum at the CSIR in the city.

TODAY and tomorrow the Department of Science and Technology will host the second Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) in Pretoria.

After the successful first forum last year, this year’s event is expected to bring together more than 1800 participants from more than 70 countries, including eminent South African and international scientists and thought leaders.

The forum is neither a typical “scientific” conference, nor an intergovernmental meeting. Its focus is on open debate with the objective of igniting conversations about the role of science in society, enabling a dynamic engagement between the scientific community and broader civil society.

This year’s programme thus will comprise more than 60 short seminars and lectures, dealing with topics as diverse as the global Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project, the affordability of renewable energy and the social science of achieving peace and reconciliation.

Consistent with our goal of providing for an open, inclusive event, the SFSA programme was compiled through an open call for session and speaker proposals.

The call saw an impressive response from across the world, with three times more proposals received than could be accommodated in the programme.

The event will have a special focus on interrogating the contribution of the social sciences and humanities to addressing our pressing societal challenges.

The role of the social sciences in informing the determination of a living and minimum national wage, or in improving our understanding of the high drop-out rate at universities, for example, will be on the agenda.

It was also important for me to have a distinct focus on science and technology in Africa.

The forum will include presentations by several of AU’s Kwame Nkrumah Scientific Award laureates as part of our celebration of African excellence in science.

The SFSA will be held at the CSIR’s International Convention Centre, close to the heartbeat of science and technology in South Africa and the headquarters of our department. The event will include an exhibition by more than 70 South African and international science and technology organisations.

Improving communication about science is one of the forum’s strategic goals.

I am thus delighted that the programme will also include the 2016 South African launch of FameLab, one of the world’s biggest science communication competitions – the “Pop Idols” of science.

Beyond the Convention Centre, an exciting public outreach programme will be organised. This will include our “Science in the Streets” campaign, aimed at encouraging an interest in and enthusiasm for science among the youth. We hope to draw thousands of pupils to Church Square and Birchacres Mall on the East Rand.

All the sessions will be broadcast live over the internet. National and community television and radio (stations) will also broadcast from the forum.

The organisation of the forum, however, is not an objective in its own right. My department is entrusted by our government with the role of harnessing the immense potential of science, technology and innovation and putting it to the service of our society, especially in the context of fighting the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

To execute this mission successfully, we need the support of all South Africans. The organisation of the SFSA and the broad public debate it enables is part of our endeavour to build this national consensus.

The forum will be considered successful if it enhances our efforts to invest in and leverage research and improve the quality of living of all.

There is, however, a second, equally important, objective. Science and technology know no borders and international partnerships are essential for South Africa to progress in this strategic domain.

It is thus critically important for our scientific community to be able to share in global experience and expertise and to have our national investments complemented by international resources.

Science Forum South Africa is therefore intended to profile and showcase South African science and technology to the world. We have a rich and diverse portfolio of international collaboration but, in our fast-changing world, we need to work even harder to profile our country as a reliable partner of choice for global scientific co-operation.

I am especially proud that, on the eve of only the second such forum, SFSA is regarded as one of Africa’s premier platforms for public debate on science. I am confident that our forum will help to foster continental consensus on the critical role of science in African society.

Naledi Pandor is Minister of Science and Technology