Keynote address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the opening session of the World Science Forum 2022
Co-Chairs of the World Science Forum 2022 Steering Committee,
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation,
Prof Tamás Freund, President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences,
Ministers of partner countries of the World Science Forum,
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps,
Leadership of the World Science Forum partner organisations,
Delegates to the 2022 World Science Forum,
It is a great privilege to address you at the start of this historic event, the first World Science Forum to be hosted in Africa.
I extend the warmest of South African welcomes to all delegates – to our international guests who have travelled to Cape Town and to all those who are following proceedings online.
Today more than ever, science is called upon to assist humanity in responding to the key challenges of our time, including disease, climate change and food insecurity.
We therefore need to ensure that this Forum will not only be a platform for vibrant discussion, but will also lead to concrete actions harnessing science as an instrument for social justice.
The theme for the Forum – Science for Social Justice – should guide our deliberations.
This theme expresses our conviction that inequality within and between countries is neither just nor sustainable.
This event will inspire concerted global action for science to challenge and address inequality, injustice, poverty, environmental destruction and marginalisation.
By hosting this Forum, South Africa is demonstrating its strong commitment to international cooperation in science.
Science progresses when nations work together.
As this is the first World Science Forum to take place in Africa, we hope that it will contribute to advancing the African agenda for science, affirming the crucial contributions Africa has to make in enriching global science.
We have all the ingredients required for success.
Firstly, we have the rich, diverse and complementary expertise of Forum participants.
Secondly, we have access to significant collective resources, including cooperation instruments, which can be mobilised for investment in science for social justice.
Thirdly, we have our collective will and determination to ensure science makes a difference by informing policy that will creating a more just and equal world.
I look forward to following the progress of the Forum over the coming days and to the Declaration you will adopt on Friday.
I hope that it will set out a focused and concerted action plan for partnership to put science at the service of society.
In this regard, I want to challenge the Forum to critically consider the following five key questions set for the Forum’s debates and to respond with firm proposals.
Firstly, what role should science play in protecting and enhancing human dignity and in fighting poverty, unemployment and inequality?
For example, the inequality in access to vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic was a gross violation of human rights and contributed to further loss of life.
The global scientific community demonstrated the value of cooperation in responding with unprecedented urgency to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
Yet, the benefits of that extraordinary scientific work did not benefit all of humanity equally.
This experience has informed South Africa’s development of a national vaccine manufacturing programme, which includes a partnership with the World Health Organisation through hosting the mRNA technology transfer hub here in Cape Town.
This is part of a broader effort by African countries to produce the vaccines and other pharmaceuticals that the continent’s people need.
My second question is, what role should science play to enable a just climate transition, minimising the social and economic impact, and securing the livelihoods of those most vulnerable to climate change?
Innovation and green technologies must be at the forefront of our response to this challenge and must enable developing economies to exploit new growth opportunities.
This is part of the motivation for South Africa’s significant investment in developing a hydrogen economy, which will be presented at this Forum.
I am delighted that the African Academy of Sciences has embraced the energy innovation challenge.
My third question is, how can we ensure the contribution of African science is recognised as a global resource that is part of the global responses to global challenges?
It is fitting that the World Science Forum coincides with a special ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of the global Square Kilometer Array radio telescope hosted in South Africa.
The SKA is just one example of African-led science excellence on the global stage.
We should also recall how the importance of investment in African science as a global resource was demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many African scientists played a leading role in the fight against the virus.
The work in genomic surveillance, for example, contributed significantly to the international understanding of the mutation of the virus.
My fourth question is, what role can science play in reinforcing multilateralism and global solidarity, which is under threat in the face of rising geopolitical tension?
If science is a universal language that does not tolerate discrimination, then we need much more science in diplomacy.
Knowledge is a global good that we must employ to bring nations closer together.
My fifth and final question, is how do we transform the nature of the scientific enterprise, making science more reflective of the society we want?
We must ensure greater transparency and sharing in the scientific enterprise.
We need to make Open Science a reality and maintain an uncompromising position on research integrity and ethics.
The use of science for social justice requires committed international cooperation.
This World Science Forum could, therefore, not come at a more appropriate time.
I want to thank the World Science Forum partners for entrusting South Africa with this responsibility.
I congratulate Minister Nzimande and Professor Freund on the Steering Committee’s success in compiling a relevant and thought-provoking programme.
My appreciation goes to all who contributed to the Forum’s organisation.
I want to assure President Katalin Novák, as the esteemed Patron of the World Science Forum, of our support and commitment to continue working with the WSF partnership to ensure the proud legacy of this World Science Forum will endure beyond Cape Town.
I would like to conclude with the words of former President Nelson Mandela, who said:
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
What matters is not the fact that we have participated in the World Science Forum here in Cape Town, but rather what we will do as a consequence to improve the lives of others, making our world a more just one.
I am confident that this World Science Forum will contribute to the difference that humanity seeks and needs.
I thank you.