Department Corporate Strategy: briefing by Minister

Science and Technology

08 June 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


8 June 2004

Ms M Njobe (ANC)

Documents handed out
Department of Science and Technology Annual Report (on DST website)
Department of Science and Technology Corporate Strategy: Executive Summary
SA National Survey of Research and Development (2001/02) booklet

Department of Science and Technology website


The Minister presented the Corporate Strategy highlighting poverty reduction programmes that utilise renewable natural resources. Research and Development was very low compared to middle countries. Science as a school subject needed to be made popular, government had built the largest telescope in Sutherland for research. The Minister highlighted the need to popularise Indigenous Knowledge Systems. In the discussion that followed, members noted that the Department's role was not visible like other departments.

Minister Mosibudi Mangena presented the Corporate Strategy document. Since the Department was now separate from the Department of Arts and Culture, it was deemed important that they focus on playing a meaningful role by modernising and ensuring that the economy is competitive.

Poverty alleviation was done by improving the utilisation of natural resources and promoting innovation. It was Improving funding of Research and Development from 0,2%-1 % to be on equal footing with other developing countries There was a need for major investment in human capital by increasing the skills of woman and people from previously disadvantaged communities. Popularising maths and science amongst school children could be done only when young people saw the opportunity for fulfilling and renumerative careers. They would work with tertiary institutions and the National Research Foundation through the National Plan for Higher Education to train as many people as possible.

The Department was involved in provincial programmes supporting poverty reduction. The focus was on utilisation of renewable resources as a means of production, income generation and job creation. Poor communities have benefited as a result of technologies used in paper making, hemp production, bee keeping, leather products, and wool processing.

The Department had focused on registering patents of Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

The Deputy Minister, Derek Hanekom, said that like all other government departments, DST had to focus on poverty eradication. The biggest telescope in the world had been built and the immediate communities around Sutherland had benefited from tourism and other jobs. A sustainable environment was also part of the department's objectives by working with petrochemical companies in developing cleaner fuel emissions. The aim was to reduce air pollution which impacted heavily on the health of the nation

Mr D Oliphant (ANC) enquired what was the department doing to improve the lives and living conditions of people in the townships How did the people of Sutherland benefit from the construction and maintenance of the giant telescope

Prof Ismail Mohamed (ANC) asked why there was less spending on Research and Development than other middle-income companies. Why could the Government not put pressure on multi-national companies to transfer technology into the country. He pointed out that South Africa produced raw materials which were processed overseas and sold to South Africans at high prices The Department needed to interact with the Education Department to ensure more teachers were recruited into the field. Indigenous knowledge Systems laws had to be passed immediately

Mr Phandelani Nefholovodwe (AZAPO) asked what role the Department played in researching indigenous foodstuffs and beverages Those were more suitable for our climatic conditions and much more healthier. He made an example of Marula fruit which had been used by generations of inhabitants of Limpopo for a variety of uses. Such foodstuffs could be patented for the benefit of poor people.

Ms C September (ANC) urged the Department to safeguard intellectual property rights and bring return artworks that were held in foreign capitals. She asked why technology was not utilised for production purposes in marginalised communities. What practical steps were taken in developing human capital?

Mr T Godi (PAC) asked what international developments there were on Indigenous Knowledge Systems. What was the Department's role in cooperating with other countries of the South?

Ms H Mpaka enquired about the cooperation between the Departments of Education and Science and Technology. What was done to empower educators?

The Minister replied that his Ministry was not a delivery ministry such as Public Works or Transport. It provided technological know-how to help other departments do better. The Department forwarded suggestions to other departments. For example, solar energy panels were proved to play a part in reducing emissions but the department of housing had to make the final decision The people of Sutherland had access to the telescope some even worked as tour guides. The former Premier of the Northern Cape had made sure that communities of the Sutherland especially school children had access to the giant telescope.

The Minister replied that there was no need to put pressure on the big companies to increase Research and Development funding. Companies had realised that investing on research and development was the only way to remain competitive. The Department was persuading smaller companies to increase R&D spending.

The problem with Indigenous Knowledge Systems is that in indigenous societies, ideas belonged to the community and not the individual. Most scientists were trained in a Western paradigm therefore they did not appreciate Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

The basic problem with increasing the numbers of science students was the unavailability of resources such as laboratories. It was difficult to study science without practicalising experiments which in turn meant a high failure rate. Many schools do not even have electricity, water, and sanitation. Students were attracted to careers in the financial sector or information technology because better salaries were offered than those for researchers.

Multi-national companies like De Beers had operations in many countries such as Brazil, Russia and Namibia. They made their own decisions concerning where to transfer their technologies. The Department of Trade and Industry continued to persuade them to transfer technology and skills.

The Deputy Minister agreed that not enough was done in marketing indigenous foodstuffs and beverages when compared with the attention given to junk food. The Department of Health was making headway in that area. The Department had a significant role to play in canning and preserving such foodstuffs. Science Councils such as the CSIR and Ithemba Laboratories would be of great help with this. Many people ate bread as a staple food even though South Africa could not produce enough wheat forcing the government to rely on imports.

The Agricultural Research Council was collaborating with the Department in the field if Bio-Technology which sought to improve food yield per square kilometre.

The Department was working closely with SADC countries and other African Union members on information sharing through NEPAD. Other countries of the South especially India had very good relations with the Department

Meeting adjourned


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