SA’s first science scrumdown

Science Forum South Africa provides a platform for all stakeholders, writes Naledi Pandor.

I will convene in Pretoria, the first “Science Forum South Africa”.

The event is designed as a “public science” event open to all interested stakeholders to provide a platform for discussion and debate on the role of science in South Africa and African society, as well as globally.

The programme is bringing together more than 1 500 participants for discussion and debate in four plenary sessions, 32 (parallel) short seminars and 18 individual lectures – labelled “Science talks”.

With the current international negotiations on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris enjoying huge public attention, the Science Forum will include a plenary debate on the science, technology and innovation response to climate change.

Chaired by the chairwoman of South Africa’s National Advisory Council on Innovation, Professor Cheryl de la Rey, and introduced by renowned South African systems ecologist and contributor to the International Panel on Climate Change, Professor Bob Scholes, the debate will include contributions from experts from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. These will include Dr Tanya Abrahamse, of the SA National Biodiversity Institute, and member of the scientific advisory board of the UN secretary-general.

The second plenary debate will focus on how to best harness science, technology and innovation for South Africa’s National Development Plan, drawing on international experience. The debate will be moderated by the chief executive of South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency, Mr Barlow Manilal, and introduced by the Department of Science and Technology’s Director-General, Dr Phil Mjwara.

Panellists will include national and international experts such as Dr Ben Ngubane, democratic South Africa’s first minister of science and technology; Professor Tebello Nyokong, a member of the UN high-level panel on the Technology Bank and Science, Technology and Innovation Support Mechanism, proposed to support the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals; as well as Professor Anil Gupta of India – an internationally celebrated expert on “grass-roots innovation”.

The closing plenary discussion will see the awarding of the “SFSA Science Diplomacy Awards”, which will recognise excellence and achievements in international scientific co-operation.

A report highlighting the main messages emanating from the forum will be compiled and presented by young officials of the Department of Science and Technology, on which international science policy thought leaders will comment, before I and Professor Romain Murenzi, executive director of the World Academy of Sciences, close proceedings.

Of special note is the “Science talks” programme, a series of 18 lectures of 30 minutes each delivered by eminent thought leaders. These lectures will run concurrently with a networking reception and as with the short seminar programme, forum participants will be able to move freely between lectures and the networking reception according to their areas of interest. The aim is to create a dynamic and lively discussion environment enabling a vibrant exchange of ideas, fostering partnerships and co-operation.

The first cycle will notably include a lecture by the director-general of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology on “Modern biotechnology and the African challenge”. International partnerships will be on offer in a presentation of “Skoltech – a new English-speaking university in Russia: strategy and international networking”.

The scientific response to societal challenges specifically with regard to energy will be presented in a lecture on “A renewable-based South African energy system”.

The Science Forum has been actively supported by the Non-Aligned Movement Centre of Science and Technology and the first cycle of the science talks will include a lecture by the centre’s director-general on “Science, technology and innovation policy-making in developing countries – initiatives in emerging economies”.

The last two lectures in the first cycle will focus on large-scale research infrastructures, with firstly a Russian perspective on “Mega science projects” and secondly the “Square Kilometre Array: Big Telescope, Big Science, Big Data”.

The second cycle continues with a focus on the SKA project with a lecture on “The SKA in the Public Sphere in South Africa”. Public health will again be in the spotlight with a lecture discussing “What are the guidelines for the development and the effective use of point-of-care diagnostic tools when managing diseases in poor resource clinics in South Africa?” The health sciences will also be the focus of the third lecture in the second cycle examining “Biomedical research infrastructures for Africa”.

The Science Forum takes place shortly after the second anniversary of the death of democratic South Africa’s first president, Nelson Mandela. A lecture in the science talks will focus on “Understanding the keys to longevity and the lessons of longevity learned from the long life of the late President Nelson Mandela”.

Large-scale research infrastructures will be in focus in the second cycle with a presentation of the “African Light Source”. International co-operation in astronomy will be reviewed in a talk focused upon the African European Radio Astronomy Platform.

The third and concluding cycle of the science talks also comprises a programme which should stimulate the Science Forum debate. A lecture will discuss “Hi-tech health for low-income countries: Possibility and pipe dream”. Industrial technology will get a hearing in a talk devoted to “Efficiency and advanced manufacturing”, while the African agenda for science will remain in the spotlight during the talk on “Operationalising the science agenda for Africa: where is the human capital?”

The cycle will include a focus on science’s response to day-to-day questions with a lecture on “Skin colour and hair: myths and mysteries”, while science’s role in boosting economic growth through green technology will be the focus of the talk on “Unlocking the economic potential of the waste hierarchy through science, technology and innovation”.

The climate change and agriculture interface will be the focus of the cycle’s final talk: “The role of Soil and Biochar-fertilisers’ interactions in improving soil fertility and climate change”.

More than 50 South African and international organisations will participate in the Science Forum exhibition to showcase their work in order to foster partnerships.

The exhibition will include several national country exhibits. As part of the forum’s science communication focus, public outreach activities with a focus on science education for the youth will be conducted in several metropolitan areas concurrently with the Science Forum. In order to support the international science and society debate, during lunch on the second day the forum programme will include an opportunity for presentations by the organisers of other international events

Further information, including the full programme, is at

* Pandor is the minister of science and technology.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

Cape Times