The Committee was briefed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) on its annual report for 2016/17.
The DST reported that it had made significant progress in aligning its work to national priorities through the outcome-oriented goals. Some of the achievements noted in this regard included approval by the Cabinet for the Department -- together with the National Treasury -- to introduce a research and development (R&D) budget coordination process. In collaboration with the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Department had provided support to researchers by awarding 4 520 research grants.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) [rogramme had celebrated its tenth anniversary of the human capital development (HCD) programme achievements which supported more than 730 university academics, post-doctoral researchers, post-graduate and undergraduate students and artisan trainees. In addition, 133 students from other African countries were supported, 91 of which were from SKA partner countries.
To support South Africa’s transition to a low carbon economy and support the biofuels industrial strategy for South Africa, the DST supported a biofuels technology demonstration programme at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU), which had led to the consequent production of coalgae, a mixture of coal dust and algae biomass.
Despite considerable progress, the Department had also experienced some challenges in meeting some important targets. For example, the target to award 4 539 researchers with research grants through NRF-managed programmes had not been reached. The reason provided for this was that the target could not be set with greater accuracy, as this depended on the pool of applicants which could not be predicted perfectly. There had been a failure to fill vacancies because of the implementation of the public service wage bill containment measures, which provided constraints.
Members of the Committee showed keen interest in some of the achievements and failures communicated by the Department. Most of the discussion surrounded the distribution of bursaries and work opportunities for graduates from within and outside of the country. Members emphasised that South Africans should be given first priority in terms of opportunities. Attention was also given to the extent to which the DST was conducting research and development in the area of environmental sustainability. For example, it was questioned on whether its innovations were environmentally friendly, whether it had done research in the area of water conservation as well as alternative ways of producing liquid fuel.
The Department admitted that it had some work to do in the area of research on some of the matters raised. They were happy with their contributions in both urban and rural areas. Improvement was needed in the area of target setting, and while they understood the current financial situation in the country, a budget cut would not be ideal. The Department offered to come back to report on specifics regarding the rural-urban divide, as well as research on aquaculture, nuclear energy and other development areas.
The Chairperson welcomed members of the Committee, visitors from the DST and extended the opportunity for all those in attendance to introduce themselves. She welcomed a new Member to the Committee, Dr H Mateme (ANC, Limpopo), and noted apologies from Mr A Singh (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) and Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo).
Department of Science and Technology (DST): Annual Report 2016/17
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General (DG): DST, apologised for the absence of the Minister, and said she had delegated the sharing of the year’s achievements with the Committee to him.
The Vision of the DST was to achieve increased well-being and prosperity through science and technology. The issue was to provide leadership, an enabling environment and resources for science, technology and innovation in support of South Africa’s development. In aligning its work to the national priorities, the DST contributed to the following outcomes:
Outcome 2: A long and healthy life for all South Africans.
Outcome 4: Decent employment through inclusive economic growth.
Outcome 5: A skilled and capable workforce to support an inclusive growth path.
Outcome 6: An efficient, competitive and responsive economic infrastructure network.
Outcome 7: Vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities, and food security for all.
Outcome 10: Environmental assets and natural resources that were well protected and continually enhanced.
For the 2016/17 financial year, the DST had achieved 89% of its targets, while 11% were not achieved as was set out in the Annual Performance Plan (APP). The Department was happy to have achieved its highest percentage against targets in the last five years.
Highlights of the strategic outcome-oriented goals were:
Goal 1: A responsive, coordinated and efficient National System of Innovation (NSI).
- The DST recognised that there was a need for a strong, coherent and effective NSI if South Africa’s economy was to advance along the trajectory set out in the National Development Plan (NDP).
- The Minister of the DST had commissioned the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) to review the 1996 White Paper on science and technology. The NACI had reported back to the Minister on the achievements and non-achievements from the last 20 years.
- The Minister had raised concern on whether the institutions within the NSI were enough and properly configured for what the Department would like to achieve in the next ten years. A report was then concluded by a panel appointed by the Minister on how the institutions in the NSI could be reconfigured and expanded if needs be.
- The DST initiated a process to ensure public resources were coordinated and deployed. Cabinet approved that the Department, together with the National Treasury, introduced a research and development (R&D) budget coordination process.
Goal 2: Increased Knowledge Generation.
- The DST, in collaboration with the National Research Foundation (NRF), continued to provide support to researchers by awarding 4 520 research grants.
- The Centre for Higher Performance Computing (CHPC) “Lengau” supercomputer was upgraded to 1 petaflop.
- 62 pedestals were installed and 58 dishes lifted at the MeerKAT site. The Department was on track with its target to achieve a 64-dish array in the Northern Cape by March 2018.
- As part of the partnership with other countries which had won the bid to host the Square-Kilometre Array (SKA), the Department had been looking to refurbish old telecom institutions and convert them into radio telescope dishes, and the main project was to convert the dish in Ghana.
Goal 3: Human Capital Development.
- The DST had awarded 4 528 research grants, 35% of which went to black researchers and 38% to women.
- The Data Science for Impact and Decision Enablement had had a student intake of 51.
- The DST made substantial investments through instruments aimed at boosting human capital development (HCD) in priority areas. It provided 3 452 PhD students, as well as 10 268 honours and master’s students, with funding.
- The SKA SA programme celebrated its 10th anniversary of HCD programme achievements, which supported more than 730 university academics, postdoctoral researchers, postgraduate and undergraduate students and artisan trainees. In addition, 133 students from other African countries were supported, 91 of which were from SKA partner countries.
- The Department was happy with the DST-NRF internship programme, which placed 1 178 graduates in DST-funded work preparation programmes in Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation (SETI) institutions.
Goal 4: Using Knowledge for Economic Development
- The DST had supported the development of photonics-based prototypes through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and there had been a promising pipeline with applications in healthcare, defence, security and communications having been developed.
- The DST and the CSIR had launched the Bio-manufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC) as a hub for innovation in the bio-manufacturing sector, mainly supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) involved in bio-manufacturing.
- A 100% South African heliostat technology was being developed for the fast-growing concentrated solar power industry. The heliolab was set up by Stellenbosch as a university spin-out to commercialise Helio100 technology. To date, the heliolab had been unable to source funding for demonstrations with commercial partners. The Department was also concerned with China’s interest in this technology, and hoped that the Committee could help raise funds to ensure that there was enough money to commercialise and keep it in South Africa.
- To support South Africa’s transition to a low carbon economy and support the biofuels industrial strategy for South Africa, the DST supported a biofuels technology demonstration programme at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) which had led to Coalgae, a mixture of coal dust and algae biomass.
- A significant milestone was reached in December 2016 with the manufacturing of the first real component -- a throttle handle for the locally developed Advanced High-Performance Reconaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC).
- The previous day, the Minister had launched a wheat-breeding platform which had been developed in partnership with GrainSA and co-funded by the Winter Cereal Trust. The initiative would support the local cultivation of wheat, which currently was mostly imported.
- The DST had funded the soybean improvement programme, which focused on the development of appropriate technologies for the increased palatability of soybean as an alternative food source. Direct outputs of this programme were said to include the development and the training of entry-level soya entrepreneurs by supporting economic growth for emerging farmers.
Goal 5: Knowledge Utilisation for Inclusive Development
- The DST was supporting a programme called the Strategic Health Innovation Partnership (SHIP) at the Medical Research Council (MRC), which facilitated the research and the development of medicines.
- Building on work from previous financial years, the programme had led to the development of an additional anti-malaria candidate with the potential for treating and preventing malaria.
- Another initiative was the Multi-African States Foot-and Mouth Disease Rapid Response programme, which focused on livestock disease management by developing diagnostics and technologies to support and inform policies that assisted in managing notifiable diseases such as foot-and mouth disease.
- The Department continued to lead the demonstration of targeted decision support through innovative technology solutions which improved basic service delivery in distressed rural municipalities.
- It had invested in the expansion of the mobile laboratory (mLab) initiative in Gauteng and the Western Cape, to include Limpopo, the Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Programme Performance Overview:
The DST was made up of 5 programmes: Administration, Technology Innovation, Research Development and Support, Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships and International Cooperation Resources. The following was an illustration of the Department’s performance in terms of targets achieved in each programme by the end of March, 2017:
- Programme 1: 87% of the targets were achieved and 13% were not achieved.
- Programme 2: 91% of the targets were achieved and 9% were not achieved.
- Programme 3: 100% of the targets were achieved.
- Programme 4: 82% of the targets were achieved and 18% were not achieved.
- Programme 5: 87% of the targets were achieved and 13% were not achieved.
Dr Mjwara provided details of the annual programme’s performance achievements. These were:
Programme 1: Administration
- The purpose of this programme was to conduct the overall management and administration of the department.
- A minimum of 90% alignment of DST planning documents for 2017/18 (APP aligned to the Strategic Plan) was submitted to Parliament.
- The DST public entities’ 2017/18 strategic and annual performance plans were approved by the Minister, and shareholder compacts were signed by the Minister and the chairpersons of the boards.
- The DST’s 2015/16 annual performance report was approved by the Executive Committee (Exco) and signed by the DG.
Programme 2: Technology Innovation
- The purpose of Programme 2 was to enable research and development in strategic and emerging focus areas, and to promote the realisation of commercial products, processes and services from R&D outputs through the implementation of enabling policy instruments.
- 199 knowledge products were generated.
- 27 regulatory recommendations were made by government for decision support.
- Five technology development and innovation policy directives were developed and adopted.
- Programme 3: International Cooperation Resources
- The purpose of Programme 3 was to strategically develop, promote and manage international relationships, opportunities and science and technology agreements that strengthened the NSI and enabled an exchange of knowledge, capacity and resources between South Africa and its regional and international partners.
- R400 million in international funds, which was directly invested in research, innovation and STI HCD programmes, as well as research infrastructure investments in South Africa, was accounted for as part of cooperation initiatives implemented by DST.
- 150 South African students were participating in international training programmes offering a post-graduate qualification as part of cooperation initiatives facilitated by the DST.
- 30 research, innovation and STI HCD cooperation projects were co-founded and supported by the DST and at least one other African government.
Programme 4: Research Development and Support
- The purpose of Programme 4 was to provide an enabling environment for research and knowledge production that promoted the strategic development of basic sciences and priority science areas through science promotion, human capital development and the provision of research infrastructure and relevant research support, in pursuit of South Africa’s transition to a knowledge economy.
- 840 graduates and students were placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in SETI institutions.
- 70 research infrastructure grants were awarded as per award letters.
- A report on existing climate change research initiatives and networks was submitted to the DDG.
Programme 5: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships
- The purpose of Programme 5 was to enhance the growth and development priorities of government through targeted S&T-based innovation interventions and the development of strategic partnerships with other government departments, industry, research institutions and communities.
- Four knowledge products (two case studies) were completed and published on the DST website.
- 55 honours, masters and doctoral students were funded or co-funded in designated niche areas that support the green economy and sustainable development.
- 200 interns were fully funded, or co-funded, in R&D related to design, manufacturing and product development.
Dr Mjwara said the targets which were unachieved or under-achieved were the result of process delays, ineffectiveness of implementers, and target formulation deficiencies.
- There was a failure to fill vacancies, where the Department had 90 days to fill vacancies after the date of advertisement. The reason provided for this non-achievement was the constraints arising from the implementation of the public service wage bill containment measures. Therefore, the variance classification under which this reason fell was “process delays.”
- The target to award 10 996 pipeline post-graduate students with bursaries through NRF and DST-managed programmes, as reflected in the NRF and DST project reports, by 31 March 2017 was missed. The reasons provided for this were that the target could not be set with greater accuracy, as this depended on the pool of applicants which could not be predicted perfectly; and the over-allocation of PhD bursaries by just over 300 may have also affected the available funding to honours and master’s students. These reasons fell under the “ineffectiveness of implementers” variance classification.
Partially achieved targets:
- The target to award 4 539 researchers with research grants through NRF-managed programmes by 31 March 2017 was missed. The reason was that the target could not be set with greater accuracy as this depended on the pool of applicants which could not be predicted perfectly. This reason fells under the “ineffectiveness of implementers” variance classification.
- The fieldwork for the 2016 Business Innovation Survey (2013-15 data), which was supposed to have commenced by March 2017, had not begun. The reason for this was that the commencement had been postponed until the finalisation of survey methodology and sampling documents. This reason fells under the “process delays” variance classification.
For the purposes of the presentation, the annual programme’s performance achievements were sampled, but the detailed information was provided in the annual report.
Mr E Mlambo (ANC, Gauteng) asked the DG to clarify how the student intake by the Data Science for Impact and Decision Enablement programme was spread out in terms of racial demographics, and where the students came from. Secondly, from the 133 students that were supported, 91 were said to be from Square Kilometre Array (SKA) partner countries. He asked where the rest were from and where they had been placed. Thirdly, he asked how the 1 178 graduates which were placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in SETI institutions had been handpicked and also which provinces and universities they came from. Fourthly, he asked about the involvement of Denel as a government entity in the milestones that were mentioned regarding the development of aircraft equipment.
Mr O Sefako (ANC; Northern Cape) welcomed the presentation and asked whether any mechanism had been developed to identify and prevent foot-and-mouth diseases from spreading throughout the country, as they were especially crippling in the goat industry. Was there was any indication as to how much of the Coalgae coal could be produced in the industry as an alternative source of fuel?
Ms N Mokgosi (ANC, Northern Cape) asked who the other 65% of the research grants had been allocated to, seeing as 35% had gone to black researchers; and where the other 62% had gone to, seeing as 38% had gone to women. How much money had already been spent on the establishment of the heliolab in Stellenbosch, and how much funding would still be needed, since the project had been unable to get rolled out due to issues with funding?
Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) asked whether there were any statistics available which defined some of the foreign students taken in by the Data Science for Impact and Decision Enablement programme as “black students,” or whether all the foreign students were simply classified as “other” students. He asked what the Department’s criteria were in terms of supporting foreign students and whether these students would actually fall back to South Africa’s economy and if so, what the terms would be for their work in the country, as it was important that the country got value for its money. He said there was a need for cheaper data in South Africa, as the country was almost the most expensive in the world in terms of data costs. What was the Department’s role in soliciting research to be used by the government and other role-players in that sector? Was any research being done on nuclear energy at this stage -- was it needed, and how did other government departments respond to these types of research? Research in aquaculture was very much needed in South Africa to get role-players in the economy to take advantage of that research, as this sector that had huge potential for job creation and subsequent economic development. Had the Department done any research in this regard? He referred to the Department’s achievement of R689 million in international funds that were directly invested in research, innovation and STI HCD programmes, while a target of only R400 million had been set. He said that such achievements looked good at face value, but he was concerned that the Department was setting targets that were realistic. He asked how the Department set its targets and whether it was not setting them too low to achieve a higher outcome, because if they were being set right then actual achievements would not be this far off. He said that for the past three to four years the DST had not received any real increase in its budget, and that the increases were more a reflection of inflation. He asked how this had impacted on the work being done by the Department and how much more they would need, as this had not been elaborated on in the presentation.
Dr H Mateme (ANC, Limpompo) said that lots of innovations were under way in the Department’s institutions, and asked whether these intellectual property discoveries were patented. While she appreciated the geographic spread according to provinces, she wished to get some sense of the urban-rural divide and how well the Department was doing in this regard, as opportunities tended to be accessed only in the urban areas, while the country was largely rural.
Ms Z Ncitha (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked which area the Department was focusing on in terms of the exploration for shale gas, as she knew that the Eastern Cape had been one of the interest areas to be identified for exploration.
The Chairperson asked whether the coalgae development was environmentally friendly as there were targets that needed to be achieved in terms of gas-reduction. She referred to the DST’s material findings as set out in the Auditor-General’s report to Parliament, and asked for clarity on the meaning of section 17 which said, “The reported achievements for various indicators were misstated, the evidence provided indicated that not all products reported should have been included in the reported number, as it did not meet the measurability requirements”. The Committee knew that the Department operated in a difficult environment, where it needed to spend a lot of money on consultants. She asked what the targeted amount had been that the Department had set to spend on consultants, and whether it had been in line with that target. Referring to the issues raised by Mr Julius, she said that the CSIR had done research on nuclear energy, and had approached her to do a presentation. Also, although the aquaculture industry was a very expensive exercise, the focus of government was to protect endangered species in the ocean, so attention needed to be given to exploring alternatives for looking after endangered species. She asked the Department to report on the fresh water situation, and how the challenge of water scarcity could be dealt with on its return.
Mr Mlambo asked the DG to explain and elaborate further on the supercomputer that he had mentioned in the presentation. He wished to know what the DG meant when he said it had been upgraded to “1 petaflop.”
The DG said the Department had won the bid to host the SKA and in total, nine countries had been involved, including South Africa. The Department had felt it needed to work with these partner countries and create a dedicated programme for giving back to and thanking them, as they had supported South Africa for the bid. Therefore, the number that the Department was providing was part of an intense programme in which the partner countries were encouraged to send students to South Africa to partake in the astronomy programme so that they could go back to their countries and host astronomy activities, and not just host the dishes when SKA was built.
Denel was not yet involved in the development of aircraft equipment because the DTI was still conducting research and technology development. The Department would invite Denel to get involved when it reached conceptualisation. Generally, the Department had a broader involvement with state-owned enterprises which would be elaborated on later.
On behalf of the Minister and Deputy Minister, the DG invited the Committee to go and view the supercomputer which was in Rosebank, Cape Town, so they could see first hand both the hardware and the connection thereof to the fibre-network and all the universities.
The Department did not have any specific mechanism to deal with the foot and mouth disease which had been mentioned by Mr Sefako. It would check with the Department of Agriculture, as this was more their mandate.
He was not sure whether they would be able to quantify what diesel would come out of the Coalgae project as it was still at research level.
He clarified that it was not necessarily the case that DST did not have funds for the completion of the heliolab, but rather that when going through the various stages of research that it had experienced issues with funding. The Department had been dealing with this issue by depending on the Technology and Innovation Agency for funding up to the second phase of research, and then looking to the Industrial Development Corporation and other funding agencies to get through other stages. Therefore, although the Department was in need of a source with bigger muscle in terms of funding, it was important to note that this was not only about the money, but also the willingness of South Africans to try these technologies.
Partially answering the question on the urban-rural divide in terms of the Department’s performance, the he said the Department was happy to identify local sites where technology development could be deployed, and this had been tried as part of the Helio100 commercialisation plan.
Addressing the question asked by Mr Julius on the role of the Department in addressing the issues surrounding cheaper data, aquaculture and nuclear energy research, he said that in certain instances, the DST was proactive in areas which required research to inform policy, and then required the entities and agencies that it interacted with to engage with such research. An example was the shale gas exploration knowledge, where the Department had asked the Academy of Sciences in Africa to do the research and propose to the government how it could progress with the exploration and exploitation of shale gas. In other instances, the Department expected entities to work on their own when conducting research that could inform policy. An example of this was the Centre of Excellence and a community of institutions, which were funded by the DST to conduct research on food security and provide information on how it could be approached.
The Department did not have any information on the issue of data, but would follow up on this. It also did not have a funded programme on nuclear energy research and would request the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, through the Chairperson, to come and present what it did in this research area. It would also check with the NRF whether there were any projects which it funded in this research area.
Regarding realistic target setting, he explained that the process was very cyclical and that the DST often used history as well as resources that had been deployed in the past to get a sense of what could be achieved realistically on technology development. Setting targets on student numbers was often relatively easy because the Department knew how much it would cost to finance honours, master’s and PhD degrees. However, setting targets on technology development was found to be very difficult, as technical difficulties could arise. The Department always tried to have a portfolio that balanced the risk of investments made so that it could produce reasonable targets. An example of this was that the Department had been funding through the CSIR a programme that developed aerospace grade powder, using an alternative method of production. The Department had been hoping over two years ago that it would be developing at least several hundreds of kilograms of aerospace grade powder, but unfortunately due to technical problems, only a few kilograms were currently being produced. This showed that the Department needed to choose a balanced portfolio where the risks were high or low on the basis of certainty.
On international cooperation, he said that this was a variable investment because in certain instances the Department would go to the European Union (EU), which would agree to provide some available funding, and if the researchers were more successful than anticipated then they would also get more funding than anticipated. The Department had also asked its colleagues in International Cooperation and Resources (ICR) to relook at target formulation and the amount of resources flowing to avoid discrepancies.
The DG said he was delighted that a question had been raised regarding the Department’s budget. He agreed that the budget had remained steady for the past couple of years, and said that they did indeed need an increase. More importantly, the Department was hoping to raise as an issue the approach to increasing the investment as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) from its current level of 0.7%. Its view was that sometimes there was no mechanism for getting departments to earmark a certain portion of their budget for research purposes, where this was really the quick way of increasing the budget. The second proposal that the Department wished to work on was that of provincial funding instruments, which had been witnessed in other parts of the world, including Brazil. The DG said that in these countries, a certain portion of the provincial allocation was earmarked for innovations relevant to particular departments. In South Africa, when the DST had launched the wheat-breeding programme, the Western Cape provincial government had made a commitment that it would introduce the programme in the budget earmarked for small-holder institutions. Looking at the technology and sophistication of the project, he said that one would expect that small-holder institutions would be completely excluded from the programme, but explained that they had to be included because the DST did not have the budget to roll out this kind of project. He asked the Committee to assist the Department in identifying the appropriate budget to be earmarked at the provincial level. The Department was nonetheless aware that the financial situation was tough currently and was happy to at least not get a cut in its budget.
On the issue of patents and the protection of innovations, the DST had a framework for protecting innovations. Institutional mechanisms such as the Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008 for publicly-received funds were being used to for the protection of innovations. The National Intellectual Property Management office monitored the institutions that received public finances and supported technology transfer within the institutions.
The DG was not sure whether the DST would be able to give a sense of the urban-rural divide, but he would ask his colleagues to elaborate if they had any information. The DST had a programme under General Budget Support which highlighted some of the Department’s initiatives in rural settings. The Department tended to identify what could be done in rural areas with the hope that someone would see the value and assist.
Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director General (DDG): Research Development and Support, DST, said he would deal with the questions regarding the demographics and distribution of students.
With regard to the distribution of foreign students taking part in the SKA and astronomy programmes, the DG had already pointed out that the 91 students were from SKA African partner countries such as Zambia, Ghana and Mauritius, amongst others. These students had been drawn into the programmes in anticipation of the eventual rollout of the SKA project across the African continent. Therefore, this was a long-term investment being made by South Africa in developing capacity in these countries and establishing partnerships with them to sustain the project.
On the framework for distributing bursaries by the DST, he said that this was handled through the National Research Foundation (NRF), which was the Department’s agency for the allocation of research grants and bursaries. The Minister had issued to the NRF a set of ministerial guidelines on the racial and gender demographics, as well as on the distribution of nationalities. She had stipulated that at least 80% of the bursaries needed to go to black South African students, 55% to women students and not more than 15% to foreign students (5% to Southern African Development Community students, 5% to the rest of Africa, and 5% to the rest of the world). These limitations had been set precisely to promote some of the concerns raised by the Committee Members that South Africans must get the opportunities presented by these bursaries.
On the distribution of the interns, he said that these students were chosen in response to a national advertisement which invited students to apply for internships and to invitations sent to all of the Department’s entities to nominate interns that would benefit from the DST’s internship funds. Therefore, these students were drawn from all the universities across the country.
On the demographics related to the research grants which were questioned by Ms Mokgosi, he said the balance of the research grants obviously went to white researchers and to men.
Regarding how foreigners were classified, he said foreign students were not racially classified unless they chose to classify themselves.
At this point,Ms Mokgosi raised on a point of order, saying that she did not appreciate the response on the demographics related to research grants. She did not appreciate the statement by Dr Auf der Heyde that “the balance obviously went to white researchers and males,” because if it were that obvious then she would not have asked. She asked Dr Auf der Heyde to check his words when he spoke.
Dr Auf der Heyde apologised for his statement, saying that he was not yet finished with Ms Mokgosi’s important question and that perhaps at the end of his answer Ms Mokgosi would see that they shared the same concerns that the Minister and Ms Mogkosi had raised. What he had been trying to say was that with regard to students and researchers, the DST and its entities adhered to the prescript of the Department of Labour, which was that the demographics framework applied to South African citizens. Therrefore, when the Department spoke about allocating funds to black South African students, they were referring to black African, Coloured and Indian researchers. Unfortunately, only 35% of the grants awarded by the NRF had gone to black African, Coloured and Indian South Africans. The balance, he presumed, had gone to white researchers and possibly foreign researchers who did not fall into the racial categories under South Africa’s constitution. Where 38% went to female researchers, the balance had gone to male researchers. This was a source of great concern, because although the statistics had been improving in the allocation of the research grants within the NRF, they had not been improving at the rate that the DST would have preferred. He then pointed out importantly that these were average statistics from the NRF, and that there were certain categories of researchers where the demographics were much better than the shown averages. Within the NRF, grants were allocated to three groups of researchers: next-generation researchers, emerging researchers and established researchers. The difference between the “obviously” was then related to the extent to which the recipients had been able to profile themselves as researchers. Typically, the established researchers were said to be overwhelmingly still white and male, and this was seen as a serious legacy problem as it took about 20 years for somebody to reach this category. However, in the emerging and next-generation researchers, the demographics were far better, and through the NRF, the Department had established and funded a number of research funding programmes specifically focused on accelerating the development and support for black and women researchers. The Department could present to the Committee on these programmes that they had established through the NRF to advance transformation of the researcher cohort.
Ending off on the section, he provided some statistics on the student programmes which had not been included in the presentation in the hope of leaving the Committee with a strong impression that the Department was seriously concerned about the statistics stipulated and trying to drive transformation within the constraints of their budget. He said that of all the honours bursaries awarded by the NRF, 87% went to black South Africans, whereas only 76% of black South Africans constituted the honours cohort. This showed that the NRF and DST were specifically focusing on promoting black South Africans at the honours level. Similarly, 74% of the master’s bursaries awarded by the NRF went to black South African students, whereas only 66% of all master’s students were black South Africans. This showed that the DST and NRF were driving the promotion of black South Africans at the master’s level. The same was true at the doctoral level, where 67% of the bursaries were awarded to black South African students, whereas only 63% of the PhD cohort were black South Africans.
Addressing the question about the upgrading of the supercomputer, he said that he was not a real technical expert in this area, but the way he understood it was that in the same way computer memory had been upgraded from 2 megabytes to 4 megabytes and eventually to gigabytes, and had consequently improved in speed, the petaflop computer had improved in the same way from a level below, known as the gigaflop computer. The Lengau computer was the first petaflop speed computer on the African continent and had been rated among the top 50 supercomputers in the world.
Responding to the question on cyber infrastructure and the cost of connectivity, Dr Auf der Heyde referred to the DST-funded South African National Research Network which connects all universities, public research institutions and recently some schools, with a particular dedication to research and education activities. Not only was the speed on that network much higher than that on commercial networks, but also the cost of utilising this network was only a fraction of what commercial networks cost. Therefore, this showed that the Department was contributing to reducing the cost of access to data in the research environment.
Ms Nonhlanhla Mkhize, Director: Strategy and Planning, DST, responded to the question on the selection process of students in the data science programme, and said that the selection process was open to all universities in South Africa and that 80% of the students were black South Africans. In terms of participation, there were students from the University of South Africa (UNISA), the University of Limpopo, and other universities in the country. The area of data science was one which the Department regarded as very important to support, as it was key for industrial revolution.
The Department had been investing in research and development in the aquaculture industry from the perspective of integrating aquaculture technology into local economic development projects. The Department was supporting the Oceans Economy’s Operation Phakisa and other work, including the improvement of yields, finding appropriate species and focusing on indigenous species in line with the comment made by the Chairperson to prioritise biodiversity conservation and the responsible use of resources. The Department had also taken its interest further by going beyond coastal provinces to look at Limpopo as a possible cluster in terms of aquaculture.
On the urban-rural divide, she said that even though the Department could not declare specifically the divide at that point, she could confirm that the work they did responded to both rural and urban needs. Although the work done in the human settlements sector was located in urban areas, the implications could be felt in rural areas as well. The programmes of the Department were structured in terms of economic development, where they had projects such as the Moringa Project aligned to development strategies. They also had institutions that supported innovation at the provincial level. Over and above this, they had projects that responded to rural and urban areas in terms of decision-support tools. Examples provided in this regard included a project which looked at how to better respond to service delivery challenges in terms of reporting and responding, and one which looked at alternative technologies which contributed towards ensuring access to clean water in response to the challenge of water scarcity. The Department would provide the specifics on the urban-rural divide at a later stage.
Ms Rebecca Maserumule, Chief Director: Hydrogen and Energy, DST, addressed the question regarding coalgae, and said that since 1992, the country had generated about two billion tons of coal discards and that this was a huge problem when looked at from the perspective of environmental sustainability. In 2016, South Africa had generated about 16 million tons of coal discards and when compared to existing programmes and projects, that 16 million tons could generate about 4 000 megawatts, or 4.8 gigawatts, of energy. The South African situation was not necessarily a problem, but an opportunity to continue to use the resources available.
Looking at the energy mix for electricity generation in South Africa, she said over 80% was coal-powered by power plants, and that although the country had signed on to the Paris Agreement, it could not just bring in all renewable sources and ignore its existing power plants. However, she noted that other countries that had coal-fired power plants used biomass for coal firing, which reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, South Africa had the opportunity to do the same with Coalgae and consequently reduce greenhouse emissions.
Looking at the fuel sector, she argued that if coalgae were to be used for biofuels, it would assist in terms of the Industrial strategy and in reducing waste. She did not know the specifics in terms of conversion from coalgae to liquid fuel.
Looking at the shale gas programme, she said that the programme was set up across the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape, and that the NMU was a key institution in the work being done across government.
Looking at the Helio100 project, she pointed out that this was part of a broader renewal energy programme which had been in place across the country since 2009. Over the last eight years, about R20-30 million had been spent on the programme by DST and the Technology Innovation Agency. The Helio-commercialisation team had dealt with China. The Chinese were interested in the technology but wanted to manufacture in China which was a huge problem, as the team believed that support for economic development and innovation meant that manufacturing should remain in the country to provide jobs for South Africans.
Dr Mateme referred to a point made by the DG that innovative achievements were appreciated more outside of the country than within, and asked how South Africa’s lack of appreciation manifested itself.
Ms Ncitha followed-up on the issue of shale gas, and asked whether the issue of possible damage to water had been taken into consideration when exploring for shale gas. She believed this to be a crucial matter, as underground water was also important for consumption by humans.
Dr Mjwara replied that there were a range of technologies, including Helio100 as well as hydrogen and fuel cells, being developed currently. Members serving on the board for the latter innovation had informed the Department that this innovation was equivalent to what they had in Germany. However, when the Department had asked that these technologies be developed in the country, they had instances where the government chose to have manufacturing and subsidising done outside of South Africa in countries such as Japan. The DST had brought the issue to Cabinet and asked it to develop a strategy for local technology innovations.
On shale gas, he said the Academy which had been commissioned had merely suggested a methodology for studies to be done at an exploratory level in order to do controlled fracturing with instruments that were going to measure and get data on the extent of potentially polluting water and on whether methane would be released from the ground.
Mr J Parkies (ANC, Free State) asked whether the methodology mentioned by the DG had ever been tested anywhere before South Africa, as he believed that any good idea was not good until it was tested.
The DG replied that the Department knew what happened in the event of fracturing but that it should be remembered that conditions varied across different countries. Therefore, the answer to the effect of fracking in any country would never be known until one actually went through with the process in that specific country. Because geological structures differed even within South Africa, there would be a need for controlled experiments to be done in different sites, even within the Eastern Cape where shale gas reserves had been identified.
Ms Pretty Makukule, Chief Financial Officer (CFO): DST, replied to the question on consultancy, and said that the DST had implemented a consultancy reduction strategy as proposed by the National Treasury. They had a set of criteria where they could assess the nature of work to be done by a consultant and compare it with the in-house capacity available, to ensure that they did not outsource work that could be done in-house. There had been a notable increase in the spending on consultancy relative to the 2015/16 financial year, and this was mainly due to new projects undertaken by the Department and funded by the goods and services budget, such as the work done by the consultants appointed by the National Treasury to provide transactional advice to the Department on the possible expansion strategy of its infrastructure. The spending constituted 5% of the goods and services budget, which they believed was well managed.
The Chairperson thanked the DG for his commitment and responses, and the Deputy Minister for coming to the meeting. She said the Committee appreciated their presence and commended the Department for always trying to do well, although their budget did not always accommodate their outcomes.
The meeting was adjourned.