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REMARKS BY THE MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY,

MS MMAMOLOKO KUBAYI-NGUBANE, AT THE STI WHITE PAPER SUMMIT,


9 NOVEMBER 2018

Programme Director, Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO of the Council for Scientific and Industrial
Research;
Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria;
Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg;
Mr Raul de Luzenberger, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to South Africa;
Dr Dominique Ristori, Director-General of Energy for the European Commission;
Chairpersons and members of the boards of science entities;
Dr Phil Mjwara and the DST team;
CEOs of all DST entities present;
Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, Deputy Chairperson of the Public Investment Corporation Board;
Deputy Vice Chancellors;
Presenters and facilitators;
Business leaders present;
Representatives of labour and unions;
Civil society representatives;
Members of research community;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen:

I would like to welcome all of you to this important summit on the White Paper on Science,
Technology and Innovation. Thank you for taking the time to come and join us today,
and a special thank you to Prof. de la Rey and the University of Pretoria for partnering
with us in hosting this historic summit.

The National Development Plan (NDP) correctly recognises that, for our country to
achieve the 2030 goals, we must place science, technology and innovation at the centre
of our developmental agenda.

Recently, the World Bank reiterated this view when it advised that South Africa needs to
place more emphasis on science and innovation to achieve a sustainable growth
trajectory.

Although its primary responsibility is to promote science, the Department of Science and
Technology cannot, on its own, achieve this important task. The involvement of all
stakeholders – business, labour, academia and government – is vital if South Africa is to
place science at the centre of its development. In fact, no government has ever achieved
the necessary scientific and technological advances without the cooperation of other
sectors.

Our society has come to appreciate technological discoveries that emanate from the
sciences without necessarily accepting the principles that underpin such discoveries. For
us to use science as a force for development, this needs to change. Society as a whole
needs to embrace scientific research as an important element of creating a better world
characterised by low unemployment, reduced poverty and inequality.

As Carl Sagan cautioned in his essay "Why we need to understand science": "We live
in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone
knows anything about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster.
It's dangerous and stupid for us to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone
depletion, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain. Jobs and wages depend on science
and technology." He was speaking about the United States, but his words could apply
equally to South Africa: "If [we] can't manufacture, at high quality and low price, products
people want to buy, then industries will drift out of [our country] and transfer a little
prosperity to another part of the world."

Since the adoption of the first White Paper on Science and Technology in 1996, we have
made significant progress in growing the national system of innovation. As we deliberate
on how far we have come since then, we also need to ask questions about whether the
national system of innovation responds adequately to the future we want to build.

For instance, the institutional landscape has been expanded. The questions that arise
in this regard include whether all of the institutions are still relevant; whether they are
optimally configured or whether we need to reconfigure them, and whether we need to
create new institutions to respond to growing needs and changing global dynamics.

With regard to research and human capacity development, some welcome progress has
been registered. This includes a strong increase in publications, significant growth in the
participation of black people and women in the research and development workforce,
and a rise in doctoral graduation rates. However, black women and men still make up
less than 5% and 20% of academics. This represents a significant challenge for making
the research system more inclusive, diverse and resilient. Evidently, there is a lot of work
that needs to be done to change this situation.

Accordingly, one of the question to which this summit must respond is what must be done
practically to ensure that our national system of innovation becomes more inclusive at all
levels?

The inclusivity we require is not only limited to human capacity. It straddles the entirety
of the field of human knowledge and the inclusion of alternative knowledge systems.

The dominant culture in the field of science makes the basic assumption that every
question has a true answer that can be attained only through a particular method, and
that anything discovered outside this method is false and backward. We have always
known, or at least ought to have known this to be false, but we lacked the wherewithal to
challenge the idea. We must continue to explore knowledge systems from outside
mainstream science, including indigenous African knowledge systems which, like all
systems, hold truth.
What systems will we need to put in place to ensure that the indigenous knowledge
pursuit, codification and development is modernised so that our contribution to human
knowledge and progress is increased?

We have noted, with concern, that the number of patents we've been registering as a
country has been relatively low. If we intend to convert science, technology and
innovation into a primary mover of economic development, we have to spend more on
research towards producing intellectual property.

Although current gross expenditure on research and development as a percentage of


gross domestic product was at 0,82% in 2017 – in a challenging economic environment
– we have yet to reach our 1,5% target. It is positive that, since 1996, business has been
the largest performer of R&D in our country, placing South Africa ahead of some other
emerging economies such as Chile and Turkey, but we need significant increases in
investment over the next decade.

With the increase in funding resources, we expect that there will be an increase in the
intellectual property we produce. Our challenge will be to commercialise this intellectual
property. Since the establishment of the office of technology transfer in institutions of
higher learning, the number of start-up companies in South Africa has increased.

Despite these encouraging growth trends, an analysis of the average rate of conversion
of intellectual property disclosures to commercialisation or use by these institutions is
about 7%. International benchmarking shows that the conversion rate of disclosures to
licences in a mature system ranges between 15% and 30%. In terms of this benchmark,
the South African public innovation system appears to still be developing.

The question is, what mechanisms should we put in place to bridge the gap between
invention and commercialisation?

The new White Paper is aimed at helping South Africa to benefit from global
developments such as rapid technological advancement and geopolitical and
demographic shifts, as well as responding to the threats associated with some of these
global trends.

Of all the technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, artificial
intelligence is poised to have the most disruptive impact on the place of humans in
economic production. Two leading countries in artificial intelligence, the People's
Republic of China and the United States of America, have developed strategies for AI,
and many others have done the same. How do we approach this important technology
so that we are able to maximise its benefits for our people? What should we learn from
countries that have developed strategies around this technology?

Ladies and gentlemen, some research shows that, while the Fourth Industrial Revolution
will see technological advancement that will lead to increased productivity, it will also
come with greatly reduced human labour absorption in the work environment. These
new technologies will provide capabilities in manufacturing for emerging economies like
our own which will spawn new industries. This means that the introduction of
technologies for the time being may not eliminate jobs but redefine them, changing the
tasks and the skills needed to perform them.

James Bessen, an economist at Boston University, argues that the history of economics
shows that automation can and often does increase jobs, citing the example of the
introduction of ATMs which led to fewer tellers but more bank branches. Such
speculation is an indication that there is uncertainty on the exact impact of the Fourth
Industrial Revolution.

Gathered here today, we have an opportunity to ensure that South Africa becomes one
of the global centres of science, technology and innovation. As our icon President
Nelson Mandela said, "We owe it to … the people … that they see in us, not merely good
leaders waxing lyrical about development, but as front commanders in the blast furnaces
of labour, productive investments and visible change."

I look forward to hearing the outcomes of the deliberations in the breakaway sessions.

I thank you.