Science Forum South Africa 2017 wraps up on a high note

The Department of Science and Technology's Science Forum South Africa 2017 ended on a high note in Pretoria, on 8 December, with the announcement of new research chairs and a commitment to enhancing science and technology understanding among parliamentarians.

By Tracy Burrows, ITWeb contributor.
Johannesburg, 08 Jan 2018

The third annual Department of Science and Technology (DST) Science Forum South Africa (SFSA), which attracted over 2000 researchers, academics, and scientists from across Africa and abroad, focused on promoting pan-African cooperation in science and technology, putting science at the service of society, and showcasing South African science and technology to the world.

The two-day SFSA, Africa's largest "open science" event, was opened by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. The Deputy President noted in his address that the next Industrial Revolution had to be inclusive: "It is up to us to ensure that Africans are not treated only as consumers of technology, but also as developers and managers of innovation. In this, our youth are our most valuable resource. If, as a continent, we contribute to setting the global science agenda, then the solutions that technology produces will be able to advance our specific developmental interests."

"The countries of this continent should embrace the opportunity of the knowledge economy to ensure they do not remain dependent on commodity exports," he said. "This requires the concerted development of human scientific capital. The theme of the 2017 Science Forum speaks to the importance of igniting conversations about science. It is a call to action to make science work for the benefit of society.In a world challenged by dwindling resources and rising inequality between individuals and among nations, the scientific enterprise cannot be indifferent to the needs of humanity."

The Deputy President said that challenges ranging from pandemics and food insecurity to poverty and climate change required a concerted response from the global science community.

He said: "No country or research group can work or succeed alone. Resources need to be pooled and expertise shared. Sustainable global development needs intensified dialogue among all nations and committed engagement to work together."

In closing the event on Sunday, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor announced the establishment of new five research chairs at universities around Africa, in commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Oliver Tambo. The new Oliver Tambo Research Programme will, in its first phase, fund five research chairs in line with the SA Research Chairs Initiative, which supports close to 200 eminent researchers' chairs at universities around the country to enhance the training of the next generation of scientists and technologists in Africa.

Outlining additional actions the DST would take to bolster efforts to support Africa's development agenda, the Minister said: "There was a strong call at the Forum for governments to invest in science and innovation in Africa and to develop robust national systems of innovation. Deputy President Ramaphosa tasked us to design innovation systems that encourage young people to turn ideas into products and services. In response to this call, my Department will seek to strategically leverage South Africa's current Chairship of the Southern African Development Community to support the development of national and regional innovation systems in this regard. As political support and appreciation of science is critical, as a first step in partnering with UNESCO, we will facilitating a science and technology policy orientation course for parliamentarians, early in 2018 - hopefully seeing a significant rise in the number of parliamentarians participating in next year's Forum."

Minister Pandor added: "International collaboration is imperative for the advancement of not only African but global science. There were, thus, many concerted calls throughout the Forum, for a more prominent African participation in global science collaborations. South Africa is determined to respond to this call."
The SFSA closing ceremony also saw Science Diplomacy Awards conferred on several scientists on the continent. They were:

Prof Phuti Ngoepe of the University of Limpopo, who received the Human Capital Development Award for his efforts to leverage international cooperation to support the career development of young scientists in Africa.

Prof Arun Kulshreshtha, the outgoing Director-General of the Non-Aligned Movement Centre for Science and Technology, who received the International Peace Understanding and Solidarity Award, for successfully ensuring the centre succeeds despite limited resources.

Former CEO of the SA Human Science Research, Dr Olive Shisana, who received the Science Diplomacy Award for putting science at service for fostering international friendship, for her contribution throughout her career to advance South Africa's position in the global science arena including in advancing the women and science agenda.

Mr Robert-Jan Smits the European Commission's Director-General for Research, Innovation and Science, who received the Excellence in Global Science Award for his contributions over more than a decade to the strategic South Africa-EU science partnership.

Dr Heide Hackmann of ICSU, who received the award for harnessing scientific advice for multilateral decision-making. Dr Hackmann has demonstrated exceptional leadership to facilitate the merger of the ICSU and the International Social Science Council.