SA, Czech Republic work towards sci-tech co-operation

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 07 Mar 2024
The South African and Czech Republic delegation consult on science, technology and innovation collaboration.
The South African and Czech Republic delegation consult on science, technology and innovation collaboration.

South Africa continues to look to its international counterparts for collaborative prospects on science, technology and innovation (STI), now doing so with the Czech Republic.

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) says SA and the Czech Republic are in the process of signing a government-to-government agreement on science and technology.

The agreement, according to the DSI, is being reviewed, with the parties expected to explore opportunities to sign it in the second part of 2024.

The STI co-operation was marked on the occasion of the Czech Republic’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Jiří Kozák’s visit to SA this week.

Kozák was in the country to hold bilateral political consultations with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). During this time, he visited the CSIR to explore potential areas of collaboration with SA.

The DSI says the visit laid the foundation for future discussions in STI between the countries, adding that SA and the Czech Republic have a long history of political cooperation under the South Africa-Czech Republic Bilateral Political Consultations headed by DIRCO.

“The science, technology and innovation agreement will be building on the foundation laid by this declaration by the foreign ministries. Furthermore, South Africa and the Czech Republic share many similarities in terms of their research capabilities, and it is believed there is much for the countries to learn from each other.

“The Czech Republic already has a footprint of research activities undertaken alongside South African universities and research institutions. In light of this, the countries recognised the need to establish formal relations through a government-to-government agreement.

“During deputy minister Jiří Kozák's visit, the parties identified several strategic areas where they could cooperate, such as food security, green hydrogen, academies of science, hydrogen, nanotechnology, cyber security, aerospace, innovation and technology transfer, and partnering under the Square Kilometre Array project.

“Both countries have recognised the need to prioritise knowledge and technology transfer along with basic and applied research to support and improve their respective economies.”

SA has through the DSI identified science, technology and innovation as key to transforming its socio-economic conditions and new business prospects.

In addition, the country has set itself a target of 1.5% of gross domestic product expenditure on research and development.

Amid the collaborative endeavours, the foreign minister’s visit was also an opportunity to unpack science diplomacy.

Kozák revealed the Czech government established a Department on Science Diplomacy, as international collaboration in research and innovation is an important task in furthering the country's unique qualities.

Through joint initiatives, exchange programmes and diplomatic engagements, both nations could leverage scientific cooperation as a vehicle for fostering diplomatic ties and addressing global challenges, he noted.

Daan du Toit, deputy director-general for international cooperation and resources at the DSI, comments: “The partnership between South Africa and the Czech Republic transcends traditional diplomatic channels, embracing a forward-looking approach that harnesses the transformative power of science and technology for the betterment of society.”

As part of the STI agreement, SA will host a delegation of Czech start-ups and innovators in November, to explore possibilities for collaboration with South African start-ups.

The agreement will provide a legal framework for the implementation of these activities, according to the DSI.

“South Africa and the Czech Republic have an active economic co-operation managed under the agreement of the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of the Czech Republic on Economic Cooperation signed in 2006.

“As part of the provisions of the signed agreement, the countries host the Joint Economic Commission (JEC) alternatively to review the work of the co-operation managed in SA by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition. The year marks SA’s turn to host the next instalment of the JEC in November.”