Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane: Science Forum South Africa 2018

12 Dec 2018

Speech by the Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, at Science Forum South Africa 2018, Pretoria

Programme Director
Dr Sorena Sattari, Iranian Vice President for Science and Technology, our special guest for the 2018 Forum
Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology
Her Royal Highness Sikhanyiso, Minister of Information, Communications and Technology, Kingdom of eSwatini
Prof. Felix Dapara Dakora, President of the African Academy of Sciences, who partnered with us in the organisation of the 2018 Forum
Dr Vladimír Šucha, Director-General of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, and all other representatives of our international partners
Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria, our host
Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, who will deliver our keynote lecture
Members of the diplomatic corps
Leaders of the South African national system of innovation
Science Forum South Africa participants
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

Let me first take a moment to thank Prof. De la Rey and the University of Pretoria for their partnership and always welcoming us with open arms. Prof., we will miss you as you take on your new responsibilities, but we look forward to continuing the partnership with Prof. Kupe.

We are gathered here today for the 2018 South African Science Forum under the theme "Igniting conversations about science". We will be talking, debating and arguing about the role science should play in our society, as an instrument for growth and development, and to fight our challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Over the years, Science Forum has grown to become one of the most prestigious science events in the world and the largest science event in Africa. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this year's Forum that has brought together many of Africa's foremost scientists and thought leaders, and others from all over the world.

Let me in the first instance convey the good wishes of our President, His Excellency Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, to this Forum.  The President is unfortunately unable to attend, due to urgent matters of state, but has asked me to assure all participants of our government's strong commitment to making science, technology and innovation work for our society.  I will certainly report to the President on the debate and the outcomes of the Forum.

Secondly, I would like to express our appreciation to all our international partners.  We deeply value the support of the African Union Commission – a custodian of our continental and regional innovation programmes.  I would also like to acknowledge the African Academy of Sciences, with whom we have partnered this year as part of a long-term commitment.

I would like to acknowledge our historical partners – UNESCO, the International Council for Science and the European Commission.  I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to the Iranian Vice President, who honoured our invitation to be present this year.  The international dimension of the Science Forum is a crucial one as we seek to advance science diplomacy and build friendships and partnerships between nations.

The Science Forum South Africa is not an objective in its own right; rather, it is an instrument to contribute to the attainment of several of the strategic objectives of the Department of Science and Technology, and the goals set out in South Africa's new draft White Paper on science, technology and innovation. The goals of the Forum include –

  • stimulating a vibrant debate on the role of science, technology and innovation in society, creating a networking platform for key science, technology  and innovation actors, including government leaders, academics, scientists, industry, civil society, and students;
  • promoting international science, technology and innovation partnerships, specifically profiling South Africa as a preferred international partner for cooperation in science and innovation – over the years the Forum has been the birthplace for many concrete international partnerships and investments; and
  • providing the African continent with an influential platform for debate on the role of science in society, similar to those in other parts of the world, in  support of African cooperation and integration in science, technology and innovation – this role is specifically valued and acknowledged by the African Union and SADC.

The new White Paper identifies the importance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is why this year's Forum will have a focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  I would like to acknowledge Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg and one of Africa's leading experts in disruptive technologies, who will be delivering our keynote lecture.  Prof. Marwala – we deeply value your unwavering support for our Department and indeed science on our continent.  We very much look forward to your lecture setting the tone for the rest of the Forum.

We would also like the Forum to be a platform for engagements on using science, technology and innovation for the advancement of the AU Agenda 2063 and Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), which places science, technology and innovation at the epicentre of Africa's socio-economic development and growth.

This is perhaps the most critical task of our Forum – ensuring that discussions here are relevant and address the needs of our most fragile communities. Science for development has become a common rallying cry. The Forum should help us to ensure we formulate concrete action to deal with the six priority areas identified in the AU vision, which are the eradication of hunger and achieving food security; the prevention and control of disease; communication (physical and intellectual mobility); the protection of our space; living together and building society; and wealth creation.

Among other things, we will need to answer questions such as how, with a growing youth population in Africa, we are to ensure that the majority of the youth participate in science, technology and innovation? What concrete steps will we, as Africans, take to ensure that the participation of women in science is in proportion to their percentage of the population?

In conclusion, there is a last objective I would like to see advanced through the Forum, in the spirit of the legacy of our leaders Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, two icons whose centenaries we have been celebrating this year. This is the building of friendship, partnership and solidarity across the divides, the artificial divisions and differences that scar our society.  Let us work to put science diplomacy into practice building a better South Africa, in a better Africa and a better world, drawing on the legacy of all who fought and sacrificed for a free and democratic South Africa.

Despite the untold misery that people have suffered in the name of science, we believe that science can be a force for good.  In the words of our icon, Tata Madiba: "None of us will need to be persuaded of the utility of science to national growth and prosperity. But neither will we need to be reminded of its capacity to lend itself to destruction and repression. Whether knowledge is used for good or evil depends on the goals to which we aspire and the decisions we make, as government, as scientists and as ordinary citizens."

I wish all participants an enriching and stimulating Forum and look forward to engaging with you myself. This is an open forum and whether we are youthful entrepreneurs, accomplished scientists, bureaucrats or ministers, this is a debate for us all.

I thank you.