The Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Derek Hanekom;
The Director-General of the Department, Dr Phil Mjwara, and his senior managers;
The CEO of The New Age Media, Mr Nazeem Howa;
The Group CEO of the SABC, Ms Lulama Makhubo;
The Group CEO of Telkom, Ms Nombulelo Moholi;
Representatives of the SKA Project Office;
Ladies and gentleman:
Good morning and thank you for the invitation.
Women in science
As Women’s Month ends, I would like to remind you of our Women in Science Awards, which took place last week, to give recognition to some of our excellent women scientists and researchers.
We have had some remarkable women winning awards, women like Tebello Nyokong who is a cancer researcher at Rhodes. She is currently engaged in ground-breaking research on a new cancer diagnosis and treatment methodology called photo-dynamic therapy that is intended as an alternative to chemotherapy. The new therapy is based on using the dye that is used to colour blue denim clothing, and which is inert and harmless by itself but can be activated by exposure to a red laser beam. The system, which has been approved in some countries, does not destroy hair or healthy cells or cause nausea.
In the recent past, South African women scientists have receive international recognition. Each year, L’Oreal, in partnership with UNESCO, recognises exceptional achievements of women scientists, through the selection of one Laureate award for each of five world regions. Since 2004, three remarkable South African women scientists have received the Africa and Arab States awards. ProfessorJill Farrant in 2012 for “the elucidation of mechanisms by which plants overcome drought conditions”; Professor Tabello Nyokong in 2009 for the work I have already described; and Professor Jennifer Thomson for the “development of transgenic plants resistant to viral infections, droughts and other risks”.
Yet we still need more women to become scientists. There is the age-old conflict between family and career that leads to the statistic that four in ten academics are women, and that they produce only two out of ten publications. Only one in five of our prestigious South African Research Chair professors is a woman. Women scientists still receive far fewer research grants from the National Research Foundation than their male counterparts.
As in many other parts of the developing and developed world, women’sscientific skills and abilities are still very much underutilised in our country. We have to do more to increase women’s access to scientific knowledge, especially if we are to tackle the development challenges that face the most vulnerable on society.
Ensuring greater access and success for women scientists will ensure women play a role in key emerging sectors of research, such as energy, health, the bio- economy and so on.
Talking about business opportunities in science and technology, energy is high on the agenda.
Hydrogen South Africa
There are several promising RDI in the energy sector.
Four years ago we launched the Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) programme. Thismarked the initiation of research and development activities by two centres of competence, HySA Catalysis and HySA Systems. In this connection, we have established, Clean Energy, a South African fuel cell company that will initially market and eventually assemble and manufacture fuel cells in sub-Saharan Africa in partnership with Anglo Platinum and Altergy Power Systems.
This company is still in its market development stage, but it has already sold 18 fuel-cell back-up power systems to Vodacom.
We have also made progress regarding the establishment of centres of competence which have secured partnerships with the private sector abroad. This will enable HySA to penetrate the global fuel market. An agreement is being negotiated with a Norwegian partner for the commercialisation of a hydrogenstorage material. The parties have also agreed to co-fund the pilot plant and upscale it into a fully-fledged manufacturing plant.
Moving now from energy to health …
Earlier this year we announced a joint venture, Ketlaphela, between our government, through Pelchem, and Lonza, a leading Swiss-based global player in pharmaceuticals. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the industries that benefits from advances in fluorochemicals.
This R1,6 billion project will result in the establishment of the first pharmaceutical plant to manufacture active pharmaceuticals ingredients for antiretroviral medicines in South Africa.
This fits well with the country’s plans to address HIV/Aids through the local and cost-effective production of ARVs. Ketlaphela will significantly reduce the country’s dependence on imported drugs and will provide a secure supply of priority drugs, as well as more stable pricing with less sensitivity to exchange rate fluctuations.
Last month, we launched the Multi-purpose Fluorination Pilot Plant at Necsa’s Pelchem in Pelindaba.
We believe that this plant will enhance the Fluorochemical Industrial Development Programme.
Through this initiative, South Africa has the potential not only to developmuch-needed human capital but also to reduce the country’s chemical trade deficit through exports, to attract foreign direct investment, and to increase high-tech research and development towards a stronger fluorochemicals industrial base.
We also have two research chairs in fluorochemicals, at the Universities ofPretoria and KwaZulu-Natal.
Research and Development Tax Incentive Programme
We have finalised amendments to the R&D Tax Incentive Programme and these will be effective from 1 October 2012. The tax incentive, an initiative of the Department, encourages innovation and advanced scientific or technological research and development in South Africa.
The new amendment to section 11D of the Income Tax Act will alleviate two key challenges. A preapproval process will alleviate uncertainty about whether a company’s research and development is eligible for the incentive, and a new provision will improve information-sharing between the DST and the South African Revenue Service by allowing the SARS Commissioner to disclose to the Minister of Science and Technology information in relation to R&D that may be required for the purpose of submitting a report to Parliament.
The alarming fact is that the contribution of local business to R&D conducted in higher education institutions and public research organisations has actually fallen over the last decade, from about 17% in 1997 to about 10% in 2007, we are concerned at this decline.
We would like to see significant growth in private sector R&D in South Africa and are investigating new incentives and strategies.
Moving on to astronomy ...
The government invests in astronomy as a priority science mission. South Africa is home to the Southern African Large Telescope, the single biggest opticaltelescope in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a partnership which includes the involvement of several European countries.
But perhaps most significantly in May, we and our partners in eight other African countries, won the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array or (SKA),which will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope.
We are already constructing the MeerKAT telescope, which will be integratedinto the first phase of SKA.
There is much excitement abroad regarding MeerKAT’s potential and several leading radio astronomers have already been afforded observation capacity to use this magnificent African instrument.
What excites me perhaps most is the potential of astronomy to be a valuablevehicle to encourage a greater interest in scientific careers among the youth. In our experience, astronomy is proving to be an unrivalled instrument for science education in terms of the excitement it generates among our youth.
It is, thus, no surprise that astronomy’s impact on development is enjoying increased policy attention, as recognised by the International Astronomy Union’s decision to establish a dedicated office Astronomy for Development Office, the global headquarters, which are located in Cape Town.
Astronomy not only benefits human capital development. The development of research infrastructures is also significantly boosted through targeted investments in a discipline such as astronomy. These investments also encourage the development of research infrastructures of use to the broader scientific community such as high-speed research networks and computing resources.
In this regard you may be aware of our plans to develop an African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network to contribute to global radio astronomy programmes. South Africa and several partner countries in Africa have identified several ground satellite segment communication dishes across thecontinent, which have now become redundant because of the construction of optical fibre networks.
These dishes can be converted without major expense to form part of a VLBI Network. Already there is ongoing work by a group of African scientists andengineers on the conversion of a 32m satellite communication antenna in Kuntunse, Ghana and the initiation of preparatory work in Mozambique. These are tangible steps taken by Africa to invest in research infrastructures, whichwill benefit global science.
As a result of our construction of the SALT and MeerKAT telescopes, South Africa also has flourishing astronomy-based design and engineering cooperation with the likes of IBM, Intel, Telespazio, Finmeccanica or Nokia Siemens Networks. Opportunities for South African-based high technology content enterprises have also been stimulated.
The areas I have highlighted are some of the major initiatives that the Department of Science and Technology has undertaken in its quest to build aknowledge-based economy.
I thank you.