Africa Institute of SA, Human Sciences Research Council, Council for Scientific & Industrial Research, SA National Space Agency Strategic and Annual Plans 2013

Science and Technology

17 April 2013
Chairperson: Dr N Ngcobo (ANC )
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Meeting Summary

The Committee heard four substantive submissions on their strategic plans and Annual Performance Plans from four entities reporting to the Department of Science and Technology. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) noted that the mandate was quite extensive and in some ways CSIR made a direct impact whereas in others it could potentially be of service, depending on the context. It was currently focusing on three major infrastructure projects and was, firstly, expanding access to communication technology through the development of a research roadmap, secondly was participating in the national rollout of cyber infrastructure, and thirdly was focusing on research and development in basic and higher education. CSIR generally did the research and published it, but left it up to others to implement roll-out, commercialisation and delivery. Although this was not quite within its mandate, it was assisting with connectivity of rural schools through CSIR information technology applications, but would not get involved in curriculum or content. One such application allowed learners to ask questions in maths through a site similar to MXit. In the sanitation sphere, it was project-managing the installation of eco-toilets in 91 rural schools, which helped to keep children at the schools to complete the set numbers of instruction hours. On the human resources capital development side, CSIR had assisted 300 doctoral students in the last year, and a number of achievements were named. Members questioned whether the Department of Transport had consulted with CSIR, asked for more information on its work in the information field, particularly by using satellite technology, and the status of research into fracking. A Member thought that not enough “hard targets” were isolated, and commented that many targets were not sufficiently measurable, queried the international collaborations and required timeframes to be specified for the projects.

The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) listed five goals, which were, briefly to provide world-class and efficient services and societal benefits, to conduct research and development of innovation technology and applications, to develop human capital to achieve advancement of science and transformation, to become globally competitive and have South Africa recognised as a global space citizen. Its projected annual income was R40 million and its role in supporting international projects was described. Members questioned the targets, asked about developments on the ARMC satellite development agreement signed in 2009, between Nigeria, Algeria, Kenya and South Africa, and enquired if it was involved at all in the events affecting South African troops in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Members also asked how it coordinated with the National Research foundation and other entities, particularly in regard to bursaries.

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) said the Council aimed to address the key priorities facing South Africa, through research, and generating new knowledge, and it would serve as a knowledge hub and research organisation that advanced social sciences and humanities for public use. It was currently engaged in about 178 research projects across various fields, which made positive contributions to the lives of South Africans. HSRC had, overall, achieved 113% of the targets for the previous year. Members asked if the targets had been properly set,  asked for more details on the international activities and the role on the African Continent, and heard that HSRC would focus on conducting comparative panel studies focusing on themes across the African continent. Members noted that 50% of the spending went on salaries, and asked how the targets were exceeded. They enquired if HSRC was doing work in the education field, particularly the impact of teacher unions on the teaching environment, and were hopeful that it would play a role in the Annual National Assessments.

The Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) concentrated on producing relevant research products aimed at informing sustainable political and socio-economic development in Africa. It had done a SWOT analysis and believed that its weaknesses were lack of effective visibility, insufficient IT and asset infrastructure, limited capacity to manage extensive stakeholders relations and high dependence on the Parliamentary grant, since this comprised 89% f its income. Threats included the possible loss of independence because of discussions about incorporating it into another body, but when Members tried to interrogate this further, the Chairperson noted that Parliament was still seized with the issue and it was premature to discuss it further. AISA noted that it needed to work on retaining staff and partner with other similar research and governmental organisations. Members asked about the possible overlap between AISA and the HSRC, and enquired if it had provided any information to the Defence Force on operations in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali or Zimbabwe. They enquired about the forthcoming publications and lectures.

Meeting report

Strategic and Annual Performance Plans 2013 of entities reporting to Department of Science and Technology:
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, Chief Executive Officer, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, explained that the mandate of the CSIR was very comprehensive and for this reason he noted that in some areas the CSIR could definitely make a direct impact, as shown in darker shading, but in others, shaded in light colours, the CSIR did not have any role to play whatsoever. The grey areas were areas where the CSIR could potentially be of service, depending on the context of the situation.
He said certain areas had been designated as flagship projects where the CSIR sought to address specific challenges to achieve impact on a national scale, without detracting from its focus on other objectives. He highlighted CSIR’s participation in three strategic infrastructure projects. It was firstly expanding access to communication technology through the development of a roadmap for information and communications technology research, development and innovation. Secondly, it was participating in the national rollout of cyber infrastructure; which was essential to ensure the nation’s competitiveness in the field of information technology. Thirdly, he highlighted that it played role in basic and higher education, where it focused primarily on research and development. He noted that CSIR generally would pilot its research and development findings and then leave it to other parties to implement the roll-out, commercialisation and delivery.
The CSIR was also assisting to connect rural schools and bring them the benefits of communication technology. It was  instrumental in the development of innovative solutions for rural access to broadband through, for example, wireless mesh. He emphasised that the CSIR always worked in close partnerships with various national departments and other role players, and in this case it partnered with the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The CSIR adopted a philosophy of employing readily available and cost efficient technology to ensure the greatest possible feasibility and practicality. He noted that, in the arena of advancing communication technology in the rural schools, CSIR, despite the fact that it did not see its mandate as including rollout of IT research and development en masse, had nonetheless connected nearly 200 rural schools through CSIR IT applications. He said the CSIR endeavoured to support learning and teaching in the classroom ,but cautioned that it did not see that curriculum or content design fell within in its mandate.
The CSIR had developed an application that allowed learners to ask mathematical questions, using a site and format similar to MXit.

The Chairperson interjected to ask whether the partnerships indicated in the presentation were planned or currently active partnerships.
Dr Sibisi responded that they were all longstanding and currently active.

He went on to note that, in the sanitation sphere, the CSIR project managed the installation of eco toilets in rural schools. Dr Sisbisi explained that in rural areas, proper toilet facilities were often in such a poor state that learners, especially the girls, preferred to leave school at 11am to use the toilets at their respective homes, and then, because of the often vast distances, did not return to school. This greatly reduced the total learning hours. The installation of the toilets had thus made a positive and considerable impact on learners’ schooling experience. Currently, 91 schools had already benefited from this eco toilet installation project and this reduced the ratio of learners to sanitation blocks from 1 per 400 to 1 per 160 in each of the affected schools.

The Chairperson asked who actually built these toilets.  

Dr Sibisi said the CSIR designed the eco toilets but project-managed the rollout via another company.

Dr Sibisi reported that CSIR had assisted in the qualification of 300 doctorate students, compared to the target of 310 for 2012. He explained that students registered for their masters or doctorates through tertiary institutions but made use of the research facilities of the CSIR as part of a collaborative partnership.
He announced that Dr James Maina, a transport infrastructure engineering expert who was world-renowned for his developments in road design using mathematical modeling in the construction of roads and runways, was recently requested by the Qatari government to design its roads. Dr Maina was just one example of the world renowned scientists who collaborated with the CSIR. Other renowned scientists mentioned were Prof Suprakas Sinha Ray, who was rated amongst the world top fifty high impact chemists, Dr Belinda Reyers in the biodiversity field, Dr Makobetsa Khati in biosciences, Dr Angela Dudley and Darryl Naidoo for laser technology, and Dr Kenneth Oezemena for materials science.

Dr Ngcobo said he believed the Department of Transport wanted to consult the CSIR on road building.
Dr Sibisi said these discussions had already commenced.

Dr Sibisi added that there were many different yardsticks by which one could measure an institution such as the CSIR, including the number and quality of publications, books, chapters in books and patents. In the arena of Publication Equivalents, the CSIR used a barometer indicating the stage of development of these publications. This methodology was borrowed from military planning specialists and indicated the level of development from project inception to the point of final proven viability as a new technology, or, in this case, final publication. He listed some of the new developments currently reaping benefits, such as the mobile application that provided accurate, detailed and timeous information of fire outbreaks throughout South Africa. This application had made a significant positive contribution to the lives of rural communities and farmers. Another innovation developed by CSIR was the development of a special boot that would limit the injury caused by de-mining operations, to personnel’s lower extremities, which improved the safety of de-mining operations and hopefully expedited such operations on the Continent. Research was also underway into an indigenous plant found to consist of an enzyme that acted against hair loss. CSIR was hopeful that commercial and other entities would see the feasibility and commercial viability of these developments.
Ms J Kloppers- Lourens (DA) thanked the CSIR for the report and commented favourably on the linking of the presentation to the pages in the more substantive report, which she recommended should be done by all other entities.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for more information on the CSIR’s role in a field close to her heart; the arena of education. She said the CSIR should perhaps consider the use of telematic technology, and not simply limit itself to an online approach as described in the presentation. She also asked who participated in the curriculum and content design, and whether the CSIR gave any input at all into content design in education.  

Dr Sibisi said the use of satellite was a commercial question, but within the tertiary education environment it would be possible to provide for lectures from the most sought-after lecturers to be made available to universities via online technology broadcasting to various universities simultaneously. He said that unfortunately employing a similar approach in all schools would require an excessive amount of bandwidth, and would not be feasible. He reiterated that the CSIR could assist in technological solutions that assisted and facilitated education, but the CSIR was wary of getting involved in curriculum design, as this fell within the ambit of the Department of Basic Education.

Ms J Kloppers- Lourens asked about the status of research into fracking, and whether the CSIR was aware of the fears of the Karoo community.
Dr Sibisi said these matters should be researched in depth by the CSIR, and not simply limited to a consideration of whether or not fracking was a feasible science in South Africa. The entire impact feasibility and sustainability of fracking as a whole warranted further research.

Mr P Smith (IFP) said the presentation seemed to consist largely of giving background information, and he would have preferred to see much more ‘hard targets’ being named. He asked whether the targets set were sufficiently ambitious and what processes were followed in the determination of targets, how targets were attained, and how target setting processes could be improved. He said the targets set by many departments could not be measured.
Dr Sibisi said the management of CSIR naturally wanted to see the organisation thrive, and as such set as stringent targets as possible. The CSIR’s targets had to be approved during a number of very challenging processes, by the Director General and Minister of DST.
Mr Smith said there seemed to be no ‘hard facts’ in the presentation regarding international collaboration and asked to what extent the CSIR collaborated with international partners, the National Research Foundation (NRF) and other similar state entities. Mr Smith also asked why the CSIR had not reported on infrastructure developments, new facilities or knowledge transfer.
Mr Smith asked why the CSIR was involved in building eco toilets when there were private companies that the Department could simply engage to provide this service.
Dr Sibisi said the CSIR could not simply act as scientists who were aloof to the more grassroots requests made of them, even if they were tempted to remain more focused on their scientific niche.

The Chairperson said he would have liked to see the timeframes indicted on all projects mentioned in the presentation, clearly listing when these projects were initiated and when they were completed or planned for completion.
The Chairperson asked why the CSSIR settled for a broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) rating of BBEEE 2 instead of BBEEE 1.
Dr Sibisi noted the shortage of time to answer all questions comprehensively. He said the CSIR was in the process of compiling a booklet detailing its involvement in basic education, which would be made available within a few weeks. Perhaps thereafter, a more detailed discussing between the CSIR and the Committee could be arranged.  
South African National Space Agency (SANSA) briefing
Dr Sandile Malinga, Chief Executive Officer, South African National Space Agency, listed the five primary goals of SANSA, which were:
- to provide world class and efficient services and societal benefits (societal capital)
- to conduct cutting edge research, development innovation technology and applications (intellectual capital)
- to develop human capital to achieve transformation and science advancement (human capital)
- to become a globally competitive national space agency
- to make South Africa into a recognised global space citizen.

He noted that SANSA’s  external income amounted to R40 Million for this year and a total of R127 million for the MTEF. Its current share of services in the global space industry consisted of 20% of global satellite launches, support and IOT. SANSA also boasted an impressive role in supporting international projects and programmes (see attached presentation for full details).

Mr Smith asked whether SANSA used the terms “targets” and “key performance indicators” (KPI) interchangeably as both terms were mentioned in the presentation. 
Dr Malinga said that in the SANSA strategic plan the Key Performance Indicators were interrogated in the factual and detailed manner that Mr Smith would have preferred, but unfortunately, due to the brevity required in a presentation format, it was not possible to reflect the more concrete statistics in the presentation.
Ms Kloppers–Lourens said the ARMC satellite development agreement was signed in 2009, between Nigeria, Algeria, Kenya and South Africa. She asked what had been achieved since the signature of this agreement.

Dr Malinga said that in the previous year, Cabinet decided that SANSA should explore the possibility of incorporating Sanspace, but after investigation it was decided that Denel would be a more suitable candidate for this incorporation. In the interim, Sanspace’s core capabilities would be located within SANSA, but eventually would be permanently transferred to Denel. He said this was still an ongoing development. He expected the whole matter would be concluded within a month. There was a lull in the ARMC satellite development discussion, but that SANSA recently had a meeting with Algeria and another meeting was scheduled within two weeks.
Ms Kloppers–Lourens asked whether SANSA was involved at all in the events affecting South African troops in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Dr Malinga said this was a ‘difficult question’ but that SANSA supported the Defence Force, and satellite imagery was often used to determine South African troop terrestrial locations. He emphasised that SANSA simply responded to, and did not interrogate, requests that it received from the Defence Force. He reiterated that SANSA acted simply in a supportive capacity.
The Chairperson was particularly interested in the human capital development, and asked how effectively SANSA coordinated with the NRF and other entities regarding student development bursaries.

Dr Malinga said most students were funded by the NRF, but SANSA did ‘top up’ the bursaries of certain students to make them more competitive. The two entities recently held a meeting to discuss coordination in their student services. Only a small proportion of students received support from both SANSA and NRF simultaneously.
Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Dr Olive Shisana, Chief Executive Officer, Human Sciences Research Council, outlined the strategic intent as addressing the key priorities facing South Africa, through research, and generating new knowledge that helped it to understand the changing human and social environments for the residents of  South Africa. The HSRC endeavoured to serve as a knowledge hub and research organisation that advanced social sciences and humanities for public use.

She noted that the HSRC was currently engaged in approximately 178 research projects across various fields such as skills development, quality of education, youth families and social cohesion, poverty, economic growth and job creation, along with other important developmental fields. Most of the 178 projects made direct positive contributions to the lives of South Africans.
Overall performance indicators for 2012/2013 showed that the HSRC achieved an overall 113% of its targets. This was broken down as achievement of 70% of knowledge enhancement, 106% in its contribution to development and social progress in Africa, through researching, analysing and publishing data, skills development at 128% of target, preservation of data and knowledge through digitisation and preservation of datasets at 104% of targets, internal transformation to reflect the national race and gender demographics at 80%, and enhancing financial sustainability at 104%

Mr Smith asked what exactly the HSRC international activities, as stated in the presentation, were.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked what role the HSRC played on the African continent.
Dr Glenda Kruss, Research Director, HSRC, said the HSRC continuously hosted numerous international organisations and similarly represented South Africa at many international forums. She gave examples of the fact that HSRC fairly recently participated at a forum at UNESCO. Additionally, the HSRC shared close working relationships with the Chinese Academy for Social Science, and other universities in Europe and the United States of America. She added the HSRC was generally inundated with requests for collaboration, but had to be selective in its collaborations.
She added that the Council planned to focus more on conducting comparative panel studies focusing on themes across the African continent. This new approach was a departure of both AISA and HSRC current and past practice.
Dr Shisana said the South African government had appointed the HSRC as the national think tank for the BRICS nations. Representatives from these member nations had recently convened in Durban and established a think tank to facilitate cooperation between scholars of the respective member states. She added that this meeting also discussed establishing institutionalised parliamentary links between the five nations, as well furthering science and technology cooperation.  

Mr Smith said that the presentation noted that 50% of the HSRC spending was earmarked for salaries, and queried whether this included fieldworkers. By his estimation, if field worker remuneration was added to the budgeted 50% salaries, the HSRC total HR expenditure would amount to roughly 90% of total budget.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked whether the HSRC had set its targets too low, noting that most of the targets in the presentation were met, or even exceeded.
Dr  Kruss said the HSRC thoroughly engaged with the requirement of setting “SMART” targets and ensured that it intelligently integrated them in its planning processes, linking them intricately also to staff performance evaluations, which was not easy. The staff seemed to have successfully aligned their plans and activities with the designated targets, as established in the performance evaluation criteria for each employee. She added that the HSRC was pleased with the quantitative results attained during the period under review, but would continue to focus on enhancing the quality of its output. The HSRC would progressively apply increasingly stringent and more qualitatively challenging targets.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked what the HSRC contribution was to the field of education in South Africa, and whether there were any studies conducted on the impact of teacher unions on the teaching environment in South Africa. She said that, historically, the HSRC had always been involved in the Annual National Assessments of South African learners, and hoped that it was currently in advanced discussions with the Department of Education. She hoped that HSRC would be declared the service provider of choice, and even implement the National Assessments, in the near future.

Dr Shisana noted that a new research fellow had recently been appointed at the office of the HSRC, and he was researching the impact of teacher trade unions on the national teaching environment.
Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) briefing
Prof Phindele Lukhele-Olorunju, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Africa Institute of South Africa, noted that AISA’s mission was to produce relevant research products aimed at informing sustainable political and socio-economic development in Africa. AISA was currently ranked the fifth think tank in Sub Sahara Africa in the 2012 global 'Go To Think Tanks' rankings of the leading public policy research organisations. AISA’s SWOT analysis indicated that it major weaknesses were its lack of effective visibility, insufficient IT and asset infrastructure, limited capacity to manage extensive stakeholders relations and high dependence on the Parliamentary grant. She explained that AISA's main source of income derived from a grant allocation through the Department of Science and Technology, which currently comprised of 89% of total projected revenue for 2013/14 and 2014/15 financial years.  AISA had also highlighted, as threats, the possible loss of independence, threats of incorporation, and challenges of retaining high calibre staff.  Under its proposed solutions to its challenges AISA listed amongst other options that it should identify and partner with other similar research and governmental organisations.  

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked what kind of overlap existed between AISA and the HSRC.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens wanted to know if AISA was involved in providing information to the Defence Force on operations in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali or Zimbabwe.

Prof Lukhele-Olorunju said AISA was not consulted on the decisions surrounding the Central African Republic but, like any other scholarly entity, AISA was free to give and was often solicited to present its insight on African affairs. In this vein, AISA had engaged with these issues, especially when invited by the media. She added that radio stations such as SAFM and others reached many households, especially in the rural areas where citizens did not have access to other sources of credible information.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for a copy of the HSRC flagship publication “The State of Africa 2012/2013: The Triumph And Prosperity Of Education In Africa”. She asked if the Committee would receive invitations to the Archie Mafeje Memorial Lecture, the Scramble for Africa Conference, and the Africa Expo due to held later in May.

Prof Lukhele-Olorunju said the book consisted of contributions by experts from each of the five regions of Africa, and AISA was duly proud of this literary contribution. Unfortunately, the book was still at the publishers and was only scheduled for release on 10 May 2013. However, she promised that AISA would endeavour to obtain an advance copy for Ms Kloppers Lourens. She also said that Members were most welcome to attend all of these scheduled events.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked whether AISA was in financial trouble, as this was alluded to in the presentation with points raised of cost cutting measures, and AISA members leaving to join the HSRC.
The Chairperson interrupted to state that, from a procedural point of view, it was incorrect to discuss the incorporation of AISA into the HSRC with members of AISA, as this matter was currently before Parliament, with the latter being seized with the matter.   It lay within the decision making authority of Parliament to decide on this question, and not AISA.
An AISA representative said she would then withdraw any comments that may have referred to incorporation, and added that AISA was constantly considering any potential cost cutting initiatives. She noted that any staff members that left AISA to join the HSRC did so long before there was any discussion on the potential incorporation into the HSRC.
The Chairperson reiterated that the question of incorporation be set aside, until Parliament had completed its decision making processes. If there was a decision to address any issues in Parliament this would be done through the proper legislative procedures, such as possible public hearings. Some of the issues raised in the meeting were not even raised with the State Law Advisers as these situations were still very fluid. This meeting could not predict the outcome of yet undecided decision-making processes on possible incorporation. Many of the questions raised in the meeting were still under debate and should not be discussed further. As Chairperson, he perhaps had more knowledge of the finer intricacies and said that he would help the rest of the Committee by indicating that there were issues yet to be decided.

The meeting was adjourned.


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