Science can fix SA ills

Pretoria – Science was perceived to be less significant than water scarcity, food security and disease burdens, yet all of these could be addressed through science.

This was according to Minister for Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, in her opening address to the Science Forum South Africa at the CSIR Convention Centre in Pretoria on Tuesday. The minister used her remarks to lobby for governments to support science initiatives.

The summit got under way on Tuesday and concludes on Wednesday, with at least 1 500 participants representing 45 countries.

The inaugural summit is themed, Igniting conversations about science, and will be characterised by discussions and debates in more than 36 sessions.

Science was still at the margins of government attention, she said. “It is seen as less significant than water scarcity, food security and disease burdens. Yet, all of these can be addressed through science.”

Efforts were being made, she said, to enhance the status of science and increase investment in research development and innovation.

Pandor called on participants to lobby for government support to invest in science and technology.

There was a need for increased focus to develop a robust national system of innovation, she said.

Communities need to be encouraged to value the potential for development intrinsic to science, technology and innovation, she stated.

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, African Union (AU) Commission, who gave a keynote address, said the summit objectives ought to be reconciled with the African Union Agenda 2063.

The AU agendas were aimed at developing an Africa that was prosperous, peaceful, integrated and able to play a dynamic role in improving the quality of lives.

She reiterated the need to channel more investment into science projects to eradicate poverty and uplift economies across the continent. The most precious resources to invest in should be the people.

Dlamini Zuma said Africa had a young population and that put it on a good stead to attract more investment. She appealed to governments to invest in health, science and educational skills. “To make sure that our economy is knowledge-based we will need to have science and maths teachers,” she said.

Science should also play a critical role in improving Africa’s agricultural productivity, she said.

This, she said, was informed by the fact that Africa spent at least $80 billion on food every year to import foodstuffs.

She highlighted the importance of investing in young people, saying they could be great assets if “we can invest in them but they can also be a liability if we don’t”.

Dlamini Zuma discouraged the tendency by African countries to depend more on assistance from the outside world. She said there was a need for manufacturing because “we don’t want to be the recipients of the equipment that comes from somewhere else and be installed in the continent”.

She stressed the role of women in taking part in the science initiatives, emphasising that they must be an integral part of science projects.

Founder of Science and Technology in Society Forum, Koji Omi, said Japan had vast of experience in science to share with Africa through co-operation.

That forum, he said, was used by scientists, academia, businesspeople, engineers and science policy experts to exchange ideas on how they could use science to advance the socio-economic agenda.

Africa was facing many challenges like improving its infrastructure, and science was key in solving those problems, he said.

Omi also announced that Japan would host its science forum next October, and invited the African science community to attend.