Minister Blade Nzimande: World Science Forum 2022

Welcome address by South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education, Science And Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande on the occasion of the opening session of the World Science Forum 2022 held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre 

His Excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa and our Guest of Honour;
Prof Tamas Freund, President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and my esteemed Co-Chair of the World Science Forum 2022 Steering Committee;
Excellencies, Ministers of partner countries of the World Science Forum and distinguished representatives of the Diplomatic Corps;
The leadership of the World Science Forum partner organisations: the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation;
The International Science Council; the American Association for the Advancement of Science;
The World Academy of Sciences;
The InterAcademy Partnership; and the
European Academies’ Science Advisory Council Delegates to the 2022 World Science Forum

Allow me to warmly welcome you all to our beautiful country and in Cape Town in particular for the World Science Forum 2022.  

It has been a long road, since November 2019, when at the end of the ninth World Science Forum in Budapest, Prof Freund on behalf of the WSF partnership, had entrusted South Africa with the responsibility of hosting the 10th Forum in South Africa, the first to be held in Africa, originally planned for 2021. As you know, we could not host this important event as the whole world faced an unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic which have had made international travel and conferences virtually impossible until recently.

It is thus with great joy and immense pride that South Africa today is able to honour its commitment to host this prestigious event. Indeed, we should remind ourselves that this august gathering has only been made possible on the strength of remarkable breakthroughs, extraordinary science diplomacy and courageous leadership that enabled us to bring the pandemic under control. In this regard, our State President had played a seminal role in speaking on behalf of the developing world, including Africa, around issues of vaccine equity, social justice and inclusivity.

In November 2019, I had announced that the theme for South Africa’s hosting of the World Science Forum would be “Science for Social Justice”. We chose this theme because we believe that the greatest societal challenge of our time is the massive poverty and inequality, which continues to hobble the life chances of millions across the world, particularly in developing countries, but also within the developed world. 

This theme is particularly poignant if we reflect on a central paradox of the truly magnificent advances made in modern science and technology over the last century or so against the equally spectacular failures of the dominant economies to create a more equal, inclusive and fairer deal for millions of people. How can we improve our science to ensure its benefits reach the most vulnerable in society? And what in our political, cultural and social systems require changes in order to ensure science truly serves all society?

For the World Science Forum 2022 to make a difference we must confront these challenges. It is of course a dialogue about science and technology which cannot only be amongst the scientific establishment – as important as you are. It must also be a dialogue with society, with policy-makers, citizens, public institutions and private sector interests.  

I am confident that we have all the ingredients to achieve this mission.  We have the people, you are here: scientists and scholars, policy-makers and government officials, the business community and entrepreneurs, civil society and media, the young and the old, from a one hundred and eighteen (118) countries, assembling exactly the diversity in experience and expertise we need.  

I am especially delighted that a large number of delegates have joined us from other African countries and would like to thank the African Academy of Sciences for its support. For us, broader African solidarity, strategic cooperation and unity in action to pursue the goals of advancing the frontiers of science and technology for social justice is absolutely imperative. We cannot achieve this as single nation-states. It has to be forged on a wider regional and continental basis. 

For this reason, I hope that African science leaders can work together in building a common African science and technology research agenda to enable our societies to tackling the major developmental and existential challenges of our time. Such an agenda must also facilitate much more effective pan-African policy interventions to direct our continent on a new and more sustainable development path. 

Global science events such as the WSF presents a unique opportunity to also occasion dialogues across all the continents represented here, bringing together many diverse countries using the common language of science to find more effective ways of helping our respective societies to tackle issues of climate change, degradation of ecological systems and loss of biodiversity, and rising levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment in the face of globalization and technological disruption. 

But we require not only dialogue between the developed and developing worlds, but also between different generations. It is for this reason that I deeply appreciate the participation of Young Scientists at the WSF, meeting and talking to each other across different cultural and geographical boundaries about their role in science leadership. After all, if my generation and generations before brought the world to the brink of ecological and climate disaster, perhaps we should place much greater faith and responsibility of young people to become stewards of the earth.

This Conference is also the product of many invaluable international partnerships. A special word of thanks must also go the WSF Founding Partners, UNESCO, ISC and AAAS, for their huge investment in our Forum.  

We are indeed proud that the WSF Programme for this week in Cape Town presents not only five plenary and twenty-eight (28) thematic debates, but also more than sixty (60) side and satellite events.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, tonight we are privileged that the President of the Republic of South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa, is with us to deliver the keynote address, which will officially open World Science Forum 2022.  

Mr President, we look forward in anticipation to your address later tonight.  Thank you for being with us at this historic event and allow me also extend my deep appreciation for the extraordinary leadership role that you have played during the darkest hours of the global COVID-19 pandemic. We remember the valiant role you played as a leader across the developing world in campaigning for greater vaccine equity and justice. And how you stood firm to uphold the name of science in the face of fake news and pseudo-scientific disinformation. And more recently, we also know of your dynamic role in the global campaign for a ‘just transition’ in the face of major pressures for global adaptations to climate change. 

I am proud to announce that the South African Cabinet most recently approved a new Decadal Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation for the next decade.  In early in 2023, President Ramaphosa will chair the first Presidential Plenary meeting convened under Decadal Plan, which will bring together senior government, business, science and civil society leaders, to commit through South Africa’s first Innovation and Skills Compact, to implement an agenda, which can best be described as one for science for social justice.

We look forward to the address by President Ramaphosa. 

We will also receive a key message from President Katalin Novak of Hungary, to be delivered by Ambassador Horvath. And we will also receive key messages from Prof Freund and the other WSF leaders.  

Yesterday Mr. President and dear colleagues, I had the privilege to visit the site where the international Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope is being erected, in Carnavon in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. I was accompanied by a distinguished delegation, including the Chair of the SKAO, Professor Catherine Cesarksy. 

The construction process, which has only just begun, will take several years to complete, but will result in a revolutionary new radio telescope array which we hope will over time lead to breakthrough discoveries in modern cosmology. 

What struck me about the project was not only the tantalizing prospects of pioneering discoveries in fundamental questions about the nature, origins and evolution of our universe, but also how the SKA team has begun to involve local indigenous communities in not only the development of the facility, but also through training next generation of radio astronomers, engineers, technicians and other skilled workers driving a truly international scientific experiment.

It gives me great hope that we do not have to make false choices between knowing the world and taking people with us in the quest of pursuing that knowledge. After all, such knowledge belongs to all humanity. A truly liberating science is one which holds the prospects of liberating global humanity from all forms of domination, exploitation and ignorance, such that we can live in harmony with other species and act as responsible stewards of the earth. 

Allow me to wish you well with the Conference and express the sincere hope that from this will flow a new fountain of knowledge and wisdom to help us become pathfinders to a more sustainable and humane future for all our peoples.

I thank you.

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