Swedish Parliamentary Committee on Education: meeting

Science and Technology

03 November 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


3 November 2004

: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:

The Committee and a visiting Swedish Parliamentarian delegation exchanged ideas on science and technology issues. There was discussion on how Sweden had helped the South African liberation forces during the struggle against Apartheid and during the first ten years of democracy. There was also an interchange on how Sweden could help SA in the science and technology field in the future.

The Chairperson stated the mission of the Committee which included performing a monitoring and oversight role by engaging with Departments and stakeholders. The vision was to ensure that sustainable improvements took place in the quality of life of all South Africans, and making Science and Technology the engine of socio-economic growth in society. The purpose of the Committee was to conduct oversight of government and statutory bodies to ensure that non-governmental bodies and the public in general participated in the Committee's work. The Committee mainly oversaw the affairs of the Department of Science and Technology but it also was responsible for entities that worked with the Department. Some of these entities were the Human Sciences Research Council, the Africa Institute of South Africa, the National Research Foundation and the South Africa Agency for Science and Technology Advancement.

The strategic objectives of the Committee included helping the nation on innovation and ensuring that economic growth and development, aimed at reducing poverty and enhancing the quality of life, took precedence. It also included ensuring effective management of mature and emerging sectors in order to strike a balance between innovation and the country's socio-economic needs. The Committee also strived to create and implement Science and Technology projects. Some of the tasks of the Committee included processing legislation and creating fact-finding missions.

Mr U Nilsson (FP), the second deputy Chairperson of the Swedish Parliament, was concerned that given the many challenges since 1994 and the limited resources available in South Africa, investment in Science and Technology had and would pose a problem for the economy. He however asserted that there seemed to be attempts to increase investment. Given that there would be researchers that produced immediate results and others that produced long-term results, he wanted to know how easy it was to find a balance between the two.

The Chairperson stated that the South African economy had been analysed to have a dual component, namely, the developed and underdeveloped economies. The latter consisted of the majority of the people that were oppressed under Apartheid and lived in poverty. As such, huge technological projects were reserved for what had been defined as the first economy. Projects that dealt with poverty reduction and addressed other pertinent issues relating to the masses of the population were immediately required in South Africa.

Ms M Panke (S), Member of the Swedish Parliament and a Social Democrat, addressed the issue of the SA brain-drain and asked whether the government feared losing more skilled researchers.

The Chairperson stated that most of the people of South Africa were committed to the new era of democracy. There were only a small number of people, Black and White, who preferred to leave the country and utilised their knowledge elsewhere. Since the end of the Apartheid era, there had been those who had left the country because they were not comfortable with the new system of government. These were especially the White population. On the other hand, there were those who had lived abroad during Apartheid but who chose to return when it ended.

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) added that after the democratic election of 1994 there was a huge exodus of people. Also, the economy that was inherited from the Apartheid regime was not a good economy. The country was in great debt and the state of the economy looked bleak. There was also the issue of those who did not have confidence in the ANC as a new government.

The new government had been able to build a strong economy and paid off most of the country's debt with the World Bank. Education was the major issue that attracted a huge chunk of the budget since debts were reduced considerably. The present South African economy was in good shape.

There was also a debate in Parliament about trained Doctors who left the country immediately after their training to seek jobs elsewhere. The government view on that was that these people could not be prevented if they wanted to leave the country.

Ms F Mohamed (ANC) added that post-Apartheid South Africa faced many challenges as far as development in science and technology was concerned. Eighty percent of the population was disadvantaged and disenfranchised. There had been separate Black, Indian and White education during Apartheid. Given this situation, there was a huge human capital pool that needed to be trained. Networking with Sweden for training purposes would help.

Scientific research development was another important area that needed help. Apartheid had created Black teachers who had limited or no training. As such, there was the need to train teachers and also to train the trainers of trainers.

Mr J Blanche (DA) stated that the Swedish delegation was being made to think that Apartheid was still the root cause of South Africa's development problems. He asserted that South Africa was far more developed infrastructurally than many other countries in Africa. He also stated that crime was the major problem that drove people out of the country. The government was working hard to combat the crime problem but the limited budget was an obstacle. He concluded that Sweden could help South Africa by bringing investment into the country. The country needed major industrial development to combat its problems. The country also needed the transfer of technology and Swedish technology could help.

The Chairperson stated that Mr Blanche's input vividly described to the Swedish delegation how democracy was at work in the country. He stated further that Mr Blanche belonged to the opposition party and no matter how small a party was, its views were considered in South African affairs. Mr Blanche belonged to both the first and second economy. The level of infrastructure development meant nothing to the masses of the people that lived in the rural areas. Neither was the issue of investment going to solve the problems of rural folks.

He told the Swedish Parliamentary delegation that the ANC represented the majority of the people who had been oppressed and were still victims of the legacy of Apartheid. It was up to the delegation to decide whether to believe the opposition or not.

Ms I Lundberg (S), a Social Democrat, wanted to know how South Africa was working together with other African countries on the issue of scientific research.

The Chairperson responded by citing the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) as an engine that was used to interact with other African states. He added that the Department of Science and Technology had a programme in that respect.

Mr O Sandahl (KD) was concerned about emerging sciences and asked how South Africa was making use of other knowledge that informed the sciences in the reconstruction and building process.

The Chairperson stated that there was a recent recognition of indigenous knowledge. The Department of Science and Technology had set up a separate unit to deal with indigenous knowledge. Traditionally, people survived without science and technology and there was always an indigenous interpretation to the technologies around humans. Many technologies were stolen from indigenous science. The task of the government therefore was to make science user friendly.

Ms F Mohamed congratulated the Swedish delegation for the high percentage of women in their Parliament. She wanted to know if the field of Science and Technology also had a high percentage of women. She asked further about the role of multilateral organisations in the Swedish government.

She also asked about the challenge of recruiting youth into science and technology and stated that it was a problem in South Africa.

Mr J Bjorkman (S), Chairperson of the Swedish delegation and a Social Democrat, responded that though the Swedish Parliament was made up of 45% women and the same held for the science and technology field, this was not the same when it came to university professors. Only 11% of university professors were women and the Swedish government was doing more to get more women involved.

Ms A Narti (FP) from the Swedish Parliamentary delegation stated that one of Sweden's goals in terms of multilateral efforts was to decrease agricultural subsidies in the European Union and the United States. The aim was to open the market for other parts of the world. It was not so much a question of science, but one of economics rather.

Mr A Darvik (FP) from the Swedish delegation stated that the issue of recruitment was also a problem in Sweden. He added that most of the youth were moving into the humanitarian field and it was difficult to bring them into science, but efforts were being made.

Mr B Mnyandu (DA) wanted to know how Sweden had translated its mother-tongue language into scientific language for its youth and at the same time maintained English.

Mr U Nilsson responded that the language of science was English.

Ms M Panke stated that instruction for students at the lower level was given in the mother-tongue language. However, she noted that this could be a problem for South Africa where there were so many indigenous languages.

The meeting was adjourned.


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