The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) outlined the philosophy underlying the Decadal Plan and the importance of adapting to rapid technological change. The presentation outlined the progress made as well as the next steps of the Decadal Plan.
Committee Members asked for the timeline of the plan and to express their concerns about the future of technology and how it will impact the job market in South Africa.
The Chairperson noted apologies from the Minister and Deputy Minister He said that the Decadal Plan was approved by the Cabinet in 2019 for implementation during the years 2022-2031. He suggests that the meeting proceed even in the absence of the Minister and Deputy Minister as it outlines and discusses a plan.
Decadal Plan: briefing by Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)
Dr Phil Mjwara, DSI Director-General, covered the philosophy underlying the Decadal Plan and the importance of adapting to rapid technological change. The four systemic enablers of the Decadal Plan are the science and innovation inter-ministerial committee (IMC), the innovation compact, a new strategic management model and science, technology, and innovation (STI) public budget coordination. The presentation outlined the progress made so far and the next steps of the Decadal Plan which need to be implemented.
The focus is to implement the White Paper which signalled a shift of focus from building National System of Innovation (NSI) to deriving maximum impact from the NSI to help address SA’s challenges.
Dr Mjwara spoke about the importance of adapting to rapid technological change. He listed the STI priorities and Societal Grand Challenges (SGCs):
• Climate change and sustainability
• Education, skills and the future of work
• ICTs and Smart Systems
• High-technology industrialisation
• Nutrition security
• Water security
• Health innovation
• Sustainable energy
The new sources of growth include the circular (green) economy and digital economy. The ICT-based applications include modernisation of these sectors: mining, manufacturing and agriculture. One of the objectives is to kick start a South African hydrogen economy through the creation of a Hydrogen Valley.
Dr Mjwara noted that they have invested in vaccine development which is work they hope to accomplish over the next ten years. He moved on to discussing the National Policy Data Observatory which played a significant role in informing policy decisions during the Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, in measuring people’s attitudes to the disease and monitoring the vaccine manufacturing programme.
Decadal Plan progress highlights included: Cabinet approved the plan, National Treasury agreed to the principle of STI budget coordination and the DSI has started integrating the implementation of the Decadal Plan priorities into the Annual Performance Plan (APP).
Issues emerging from the consultations include coordination, budget, skills development, job creation, and labour-related issues.
The next steps in the implementation of the Decadal Plan included: consolidating feedback from consultations with partners from NEDLAC, update the STI budget coordination, confirm state of readiness for the SGCs and proposed institutionalisation and receive an update on the Innovation and Skills Compact.
The Chairperson thanked DSI and the presenter, Dr Mjwara, for giving the presentation.
Mr I Ntsube (ANC, Free State) said that the presentation had a lot of information to consume at once. He noted the importance of familiarising oneself with what is happening around them. The fourth industrial revolution will impact humans the most as it means that many will have their jobs replaced by robots due to technological advancement. He therefore wanted to know how to balance the two, especially considering that almost 80% of the population is unemployed. He asked how far South Africa is in producing its own COVID-19 vaccine. He recalled when the country had a drought three years before and the farmers lost a lot of livestock and noted that all the plans are on paper, and we have yet to see them take action and be implemented.
There were no further questions.
Dr Mjwara noted the District Development Model. He contested what Mr Ntsube said about all the ideas being on paper and no action being taken. Some action has indeed been taken. There is the Grassroots Innovation Programme which is a bottom-up programme. It will take three years to develop a vaccine here in South Africa. He mentioned the drought-resistant crops and the Provincial Innovation Systems where they work with provinces to encourage them to drive innovation at provincial level. For example, in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN), the DSI works with the Moses Kotane Institute where they have developed an innovation strategy for the province of KZN, and the DSI will have a follow-up meeting with Itala Bank to discuss some ideas. The cost for the vaccine actually comes from the ingredients and the DSI wants to focus on the clinical trials where the vaccines are tested. The idea of “seeding the clouds” was discontinued by the South African Weather Services in Mpumalanga because of acid rain. Instead of the rain helping the crops with growth, the acid is destroying it. There is a focus on drought-resistant crops to assist with water scarcity. The Department of Environment would be able to further elaborate on this and provide more detail.
Dr Imraan Patel, DSI Deputy Director-General: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, commented on the future of education and work. Universities and some of their social partners have been conducting research on this and right now, DSI is identifying what currently exists in the universities and working with them to craft a medium term agenda. The President was involved with the project ‘I know’ which was formed years ago. He mentioned their work with the trade unions to identify workplaces that are at risk of digitisation, and those that were able to use technology effectively to improve the workplace. It is not easy to just say ‘robots will replace people’. He is not exclusively a techno-optimist or a techno-pessimist and it is important to find a middle ground to make informed decisions.
Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, DSI Deputy Director-General: Technology Innovation, highlighted the work that they do on provincial and local governmental level. Initiatives are taken only when there is an investment from both sides. These initiatives are about creating opportunities for innovation based employment or entrepreneurship. These initiatives are currently at the stage of piloting. This year they are looking at expanding those initiatives and targeting young entrepreneurs who are graduates but are currently unemployed. These initiatives are used to anchor the work on the District Development Model.
Dr Rebecca Maserumule, DSI Chief Director for Hydrogen and Energy, replied that currently only 1% of human vaccines are manufactured in Africa. The African Union has a target of producing 60% of vaccines for Africa by 2040, but we are quite behind on this target as it stands. South Africa has very strong capabilities for clinical skills and a lot of international organisations have been reaching out to South Africa to partner because of the vibrancy of our clinical trials. In the agricultural portfolio, there is a lot of work on ensuring that co-ops actually get access to new technologies. DSI does not serve large groups of people but those few who have been left out of programmes. Lastly, she confirmed that majority of the subsistence farmers are of African descent.
The Chairperson thanked DSI for the elaborate answers and information on cutting edge technology. Parliament looks forward to hearing from them soon.
The Committee adopted the minutes of 10 and 24 August 2022.
The new content advisor, Mr Solomon Mthombeni, was introduced to the Committee. The new researcher is expected to join the Committee by 1 October 2022.
Mr Ntsube pointed out that today is the last day of the Assistant Teacher Programme and suggested that the Department of Education can be invited to speak about the programme.
The Chairperson replied that when a programme closes, an evaluation needs to be conducted. He agreed with the suggestion.
He thanked Members for their input and hard work in the absence of a content advisor and adjourned the meeting.
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