Department of Science and Innovation 2021/22 Annual Performance Plan; with Minister and Deputy Minister

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

19 May 2021
Chairperson: Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

Annual Performance Plans

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) briefed the Select Committee on its 2021 annual performance plan (APP) and budget vote for the 2021/22 financial year. The meeting took place on a virtual platform.

The presentation by the Department described the strides they had made in their mandate to generate knowledge for the utilisation of economic and social development.  The DSI's 2020-2025 strategic plan aimed to achieve the following:

  • A transformed, inclusive and coherent national science and innovation governance environment;
  • Expand and transform human development capabilities and skills development;
  • Increase science, technology and innovation (STI) investment;
  • Expand and transform the research enterprise; and
  • Enable innovation support of a developmental state.

The DSI also highlighted its wide range of projects in support of innovation, including activities focused on the country's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Committee Members commended the work done by the Department, but were concerned about the budget cuts and how the underfunding affected its ability to achieve its mandate. They stressed the need for the Department to develop its own capacity to conduct research and produce a local COVID-19 vaccine. The DSI was asked about the funding of post-graduate research students, and whether technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges would benefit from this research. Members also wanted to know about the progress of the Decadal Plan and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

Meeting report

Opening remarks by Acting Chairperson

Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) explained that she would stand in for the Chairperson, Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo) because he had had a bereavement in his family.

She welcomed all Members of the Select Committee, Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, and Mr Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister. The Committee would be briefed by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) on their annual performance plan (APP) and budget for the 2021/22 financial year. The Committee looked forward to a good discussion, because the DSI and the Department of Health (DoH) together played a vital role in the health and safety of citizens and the rolling out of vaccines.

Minister’s overview

Dr Nzimande greeted the Committee, representatives of the Department, and the other officials. He requested that he and the Deputy Minister be released before the end of the meeting to attend a Cabinet meeting.

To bring context to the Department’s 2021/22 APP, he reminded the Committee that the DSI and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) were brought together under one ministry under the sixth administration. By so doing, the hope was that South Africans would receive much better coordinated and cost-effective services. In support of South Africa’s (SA's) economic recovery plan, the two departments had developed Skills development and Science and Innovation strategies which were presented to the Cabinet Lekgotla in January. This would enable the Department to positively respond to what was required to develop the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guided by the vision contained in the National Development Plan (NDP), the 2021/22 APP was the third APP for the implementation of the 2020-2025 strategic plan of the Department. When the Department's strategic plan was tabled in Parliament in 2019, Cabinet had just approved the 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, and work on the Decadal Plan was under way after the adoption of the White Paper. Dr Nzimande reminded the Committee that he had said he would review the strategic plan after the finalisation of the Decadal Plan. He thus informed the Committee that Cabinet had recently approved the Decadal Plan, and work was already in progress for setting up the two government structures provided in the White Paper -- the annual Science, Technology and Innovation plenary, which was a stakeholder body representing government and other stakeholders, convened by President Cyril Ramaphosa; and the inter-ministerial committee on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). The overall aim of these structures was to enhance the responsiveness of the National System of Innovations (NSI) to the country’s social and economic challenges, and to improve the coordination of STI matters across all government levels.

It was expected that the current strategic plan would be comprehensively reviewed during the current planning cycle, meaning that the 2021/22 APP that was being presented to the Committee would be the last one to be based entirely on the original 2020-2025 strategic plan. The NSI's responsiveness to the COVID-19 pandemic provided an important background to the Department’s APP, because it was informed by the lessons learnt from the previous financial year.

The global pandemic had made the role of STI very significant for SA. Despite a relatively small budget, the Department had invested in infrastructure to enable world class research in areas such as genomics, epidemiology, vaccine manufacturing and so forth. The Department had also invested in human resource (HR) development to ensure a plan of knowledge workers to advance the country’s scientific endeavours. The HR development strategy was biased towards affirming black people, women and supporting young people, so that the demographic of the scientific community improved and thus continued transformation.

The investments and talents of the NSI had seen the country produce premier science that was also contributing to the global body of knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Minister reported that local scientists had detected a new corona virus variant (501YV2), which had several mutations that increased the ability for the virus to infect humans and potentially enabled the virus to escape certain vaccines. To ensure the completion of the sequencing of 10 000 COVID-19 genomes in SA and Africa, the Department was investing a further R25 million towards this noble work. Such work was crucial in shaping the country’s ongoing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department had also invested R69.4 million in COVID-19 research and innovation which covered 21 projects. Notable among them was the first plant-based manufacturing of anti-bodies for COVID-19 study, which seeks to utilise various plant-based platforms to facilitate the rapid development of vaccine candidates that were putting antibodies and diagnostic reagents against what was called Sars COVID-2.

To ensure that the NSI was transformed, inclusive, responsive, and coherent, historically disadvantaged universities and individuals would receive targeted development funding support to ensure that they too contribute to the research and knowledge enterprise. This included the implementation of the new postgraduate funding policy that provides full support for financially disadvantaged students, students with disability, and students with exceptional academic achievements. The Minister proudly indicated that female representation in the NSI scientific workforce had increased to 46%, which was remarkable for gender equity in the STI space. The Department would also support the development of critical high-end skills in selected technology areas such as the bioeconomy, space science, technology energy, intellectual property management, etc. Support would also be directed towards technical development and the artisan skills that would contribute to the deployment of newly developed innovations.

The DSI was a national department, and therefore did not have a provincial/ local footprint in terms of structures, and this may at times create a challenge for national STI interventions. However, through the Regional Innovations Support (RIS) programme, the Department was contributing to the development of innovation ecosystems in various regions of the country. In this regard, the Department was engaged in a concerted effort to increase their spatial footprint of innovation support to enable localised and regional socio-economic development. The Department would be studying provincial growth and development, and local economic development strategies to enable better alignment with its innovation support interventions, particularly the district development model (DDM).

The Minister urged the Committee to also focus its oversight on the role of STI in both the public and private spheres in DDM programmes. This was where the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) could significantly enhance its own role in the Department’s NSI. In this regard, the Department would be piloting technologies that facilitate service delivery to ensure appropriate technology deployment for waste and water management, housing and sanitation, and energy provision etc. The Department would also prioritise and develop capacity to use 5G and other wireless technologies optimally, to enable the state and citizens to take advantage of digital economy opportunities.

These were amongst many other initiatives contained in the 2021/22 APP that the Department would present today.

In conclusion, the Minister thanked the Committee for the support, guidance, and critical feedback that the Department continued to receive through their oversight role, and said he hoped for a successful Committee engagement.

The Acting Chairperson opened the floor for questions directed to the ministry.


Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) said that there had been some serious budget cuts for research, especially for intellectual property (IP) management. Considering the approaching COVID-19 third wave, would one be seeing a complete vaccine roll out and perhaps see most of population vaccinated by winter through SA's own vaccine development and research?

Minister’s response

Minister Nzimande said the President had asked him to develop the capacity to develop vaccines, not only for COVID-19, but for other diseases and potential pandemics, as the Department had distinguished scientists and the scientific infrastructure to enable this. There was therefore an inter-ministerial committee on vaccines, led by Deputy President David Mabuza, and one of the work streams was precisely the local development of vaccines. There were several dimensions to the development of local vaccines, which would be explained in detail in the presentation.

The Department had started the process of identifying their capacity -- what capacity they had for local manufacturing in SA. There was an entity called Biovac, which was a company 47.5% owned by the government. Biovac had the capacity to complete the last stage in vaccine production called “filling and finishing.” The Department aimed to develop a higher capacity for vaccine production which they were exploring using Biovac and going beyond, like entering partnerships with America, France, Germany, Cuba, and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and SA) countries. These partnerships would, however, require additional resources and investment into research and development.

The budget cuts had had a negative impact, but the Department’s strategy was now to use partnerships to access resources. SA had a large capacity and was already producing South African-developed vaccines, and acted as the storage facility and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. He would call on the various scientists who were Involved in the vaccine production, to begin talks to take off on this very important work.

DSI on 2021/2022 Annual Performance Plan

Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General (DG), DSI, and his team presented the APP and budget for 2021/22.

The DSI had the vision to increase the well-being and prosperity of every citizen through science, technology, and innovation. Its mandate was to generate knowledge for the utilisation of economic and social development. There were five programmes in the Department’s White Paper on national research and development strategy and ten-year innovation plan. These were administration; international cooperation and resources; socio-economic innovation partnerships; research development and support; and technology innovation.

The DSI's 2020-2025 strategic plan aimed to achieve the following:

  • A transformed, inclusive and coherent national science and innovation governance environment;
  • Expand and transform human development capabilities and skills development;
  • Increase STI investment;
  • Expand and transform the research enterprise; and
  • Enable innovation support of a developmental state.

The National Development Plan (NDP) was a long-term vision for the country, which provides a broad strategic framework to guide government choices and actions, and places STI at the core of creating sustainable socio-economic development and addressing societal challenges. There was a three-phased approach in the contribution of STI to economic growth from the period 2012-2030. The medium-term strategic framework (MTSF) for the period 2019-2024 addresses the triple challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty, as well as achieving the NDP targets. The Department contributed to the MTSF in five priorities:

Priority one: A capable and developmental state;

Priority two: Increase the contribution of the digital economy to the gross domestic product (GDP) through the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR);

Priority 3: Education, skills and health;

Priority 4: Consolidating the social wage through reliable and quality basic services; and

Priority 5: Spatial integration, human settlements, and local government.

The 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation vision was “enabling sustainable inclusive SA development in a changing world.” The White Paper policy was aimed at growing the contribution of STI to South Africa’s national priorities. The 2020 Decadal Plan would serve as the implementation plan for the 2019 STI White Paper.

The DSI had six institutional outcomes and planned initiatives:

Outcome 1: A transformed, inclusive, responsive and coherent NSI;

Outcome 2: Human capabilities and skills for the economy and for development;

Outcome 3: Increased knowledge generation and innovation output;

Outcome 4: Knowledge utilisation for economic development, by revitalising existing industries and stimulating industrial development;

Outcome 5: Knowledge utilisation for inclusive development; and

Outcome 6: Innovation in support of a capable and developmental state.

The DSI had coordinated a package of responses across the NSI to address South Africa’s readiness for the impact of COVID-19. The response had been centred on four pillars -- analytics and modelling; research and innovation; manufacturing; and international cooperation initiatives in support of the global response to the pandemic.

The following had been done for innovation in support of COVID-19. For research and innovation, the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (CPGR) had provided 20 018 tests to support the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS); the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) biosciences laboratory had conducted 16 986 SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests for eight different entities to date; and universities' testing support had involved the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP). For high-tech manufacturing, the STI supported and enabled the industrialisation of the National Ventilator Project (NVP) for COVID-19 in SA, and potential exports to the Southern African Development Community (SADC). For the NVP, 20 000 ventilators were expected to be delivered by the end of September.

There were seven priority STI contributions to the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) .These were:

  • Ensuring energy security;
  • Industrialization / growing the productive economy
  • Mass public employment;
  • Infrastructure (NDP 2030 priorities);
  • Macro-economic interventions and enablers for economic growth;
  • Green economy; and
  • Agriculture and food security.

Mr Robert Shaku, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DSI, presented the financial information. For the MTEF allocations per programme, international cooperation and resources had the lowest budget allocation, whilst research development and support had the highest budget allocation of 55% for the 2021/22 financial year. The MTEF allocations per economic classification showed that payments for capital assets had the lowest allocation, whilst transfers and subsidies had the highest budget allocation of 94% for the 2021/22 financial year. The MTEF budget allocation to public entities comprised of Parliamentary grants, with the total budget allocation of R2.9 billion, and CSIR taking R978 million (33.3%) of the budget allocation.

Dr Mjwara presented a list of the DSI's 2021/22 infrastructure projects, which included the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR), and the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS). Its STI interventions footprint included the construction of the SKA project in Northern Cape; the school -based science engagement initiative in all provinces; the National Recordal System (NRS) initiatives in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape and Western Cape; the Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) project in North West, theWestern Cape and Gauteng; IP Wise™ awareness sessions in all provinces; a biorefinery in Kwazulu-Natal; the Precision Agriculture Information System (PAIS) project in Limpopo, and in negotiations with the Eastern Cape; Agricultural Bio-innovation Partnership Programme (ABIPP) projects in all provinces; an Indigenous Knowledge-Based Bio-Innovation Programme project in all provinces except the Northern Cape; and strategic health initiative partnership project sin all provinces.

The DSI had embarked on mapping all initiatives as part of the DDM journey, and this work was in progress. It had four DDM Impact areas -- life changing opportunities; economic competitiveness and recovery; access to basic services and infrastructure; and societal problems, challenges and decision support.

(See presentation for further details.)


Ms Christians welcomed the presentation and acknowledged the important work that the Department continued to do. She commended the research efforts put in by the CSIR and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic had raised the profile of research and knowledge management within the Department. Her concern, however, was that the Department had been historically underfunded. The research work the Department did was very important, but due to underfunding, it failed to effectively implement the mandate of taking that research and developing it further. For instance, SA had found the new corona virus variant, but could not take this research further, and thus could not positively contribute towards creating a suitable vaccine in the country. Even though it had been indicated that it was work in progress, she emphasised that SA must take important research further and develop its own capacity to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines.

What was the Department’s plan to assist the 392 high-end level skills research students? What kind of research would these students do? There were 57 PhD level students -- were there any higher learning institutions which had been earmarked, and if so, which ones? How would the programmes be rolled out for students to be informed about these opportunities? Would technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges benefit from this research?

Ms Christians appreciated that people in the Northern Cape would be presented with job opportunities through the SKA project in the Karoo. How far from completion was this project? With which higher learning institutions was the SKA project in collaboration?

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked about the progress on the draft Decadal Plan. She wanted to know why, in programme three, there was a budget increase for the allocation of venues and facilities.

DSI’s Response

Prof Yonah Seleti, Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG): Research and Development Support, DSI, said that the research grants were a co-business of the National Research Foundation (NRF). The Department supported a lot of students at the post-graduate level, with approximately 2 000 students at the PhD level and a substantial number of students at the honours and master’s level. The scholarships were offered and advertised as free-standing scholarships for which students should make applications. There were also a variety of instruments available for research students, such as Centres of Excellence and Research Chairs which had students attached to their programmes.

In response to Ms Christians, he said that the DSI had started engaging in discussions with the DHET on how to align the value chain from the TVET colleges into the PhD programmes. Very advanced work had gone into this, being led by DDG Imraan Patel. The Department was working on integrating TVET colleges into the value chain for the whole system to benefit from their areas of specialisation.

Prof Seleti was happy to report that the first part of the SKA project, the MeerKAT, which was a South African project with antennas, had just been completed. The MeerKAT work was being taken as a foundation to begin with the first phase of the SKA project. The administration arrangement and structure was in place, and the first phase would begin to be implemented with the participation of all the partners. He added that with the antennas already in place, new partners had come and were contributing to expanding the already existing numbers by 20, providing a broad base on which the SKA global project would be built.

Mr Daan du Toit, DDG: International Cooperation and Resources, DSI, said that the Department was extremely cautious when it came to the investment of public resources in budget items such as venues and facilities. He explained that it had been reflected as an increase for the 2021/22 financial year because most of the funds were cut from the previous financial year's budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, towards the end of the year, the Department had been able to organise events which were crucial, such as the Science Forum to promote international partnerships and foreign investment etc. The Department had thus budgeted to organise such events, which mostly required face to face interactions with international partners. It therefore reflected as an increase because in the previous financial year, that budget allocation had been cut -- it was not an overall increase compared to the previous financial year's spending patterns.

Dr Mjwara referred to slide 27 of the presentation, and told Ms Christians that the NRF would support free-standing bursaries in any areas that students might be interested in. However, some of the identified areas of priority were key areas that the Department felt the country needed to develop in, and each of these programmes also allocated a third of their funding to the institutions doing research in these areas to support students. The Department ensured that all the different universities develop the students’ capabilities in these high-end skills.

He added that there were several universities, like Sol Plaatje University, Witwatersrand University (Wits) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) doing research as part of astronomy-related work in the SKA project. The process to build the global SKA was delayed by the pandemic, and the next phase of building the 133 dishes -- phase one of the SKA -- would start early next year.

He told Ms Ndongeni that the document for the Decadal Plan had been signed off in the Cabinet meeting the Minister had referred to, and had involved consultations with the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation. The consultations were happening now with each DDG from the relevant departments, and should conclude by the end of July/early August, with Cabinet then endorsing this as a government-supported plan by ministries led by the DHET and DSI. The Department would then start the process of amending the strategic plan between August and October for the elements of the Decadal Plan to be reflected in the next financial year’s APP.

He told Ms Christians that through the Decadal Plan, the Department hoped to get more support for co-financing from other departments, like the Department of Trade and the Department of Mineral Resources, for some initiatives that would make it possible for activities to be transferred into the marketplace.

The Department suggested that the Committee invite them back to share the processes concluded in September, if the consultation was completed in July/ August. Dr Mjwara agreed that co-financing of activities and more funding was crucial. The DSI had been working with Treasury to amend the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and the Procurement Act to accommodate the procurement by government on locally-developed innovations. All of this would become clearer when these consultations and agreements had been concluded around July/August.

Closing Remarks

The Acting Chairperson thanked the Department for their presentation, and said the Committee had learnt a lot about what was happening in the DSI and its future plans. The Committee appreciated their hard work towards the core functioning of the country, and would always support their efforts.

The meeting was adjourned.


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