MTN Science Centre briefing

Arts and Culture

16 November 1999
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

16 November 1999

Chairperson: Dr M Serote

On Tuesday, 16 November 1999, the ARTS, SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY Portfolio Committee met in Room 1127 under the chairperson Dr M W Serote.

A representative of MTN, explained that his company, one of the youngest and fastest growing in South Africa accepts social responsibility and is the principal sponsor of Science-Centre. They have also built up an art collection in Johannesburg and are subsidising a music educational programme in which 120 young musicians, introduced by Yehudi Menuhin, receive training.

Prof. Mike Bruton, head of Science-Centre, said that South Africa was far behind in the technological stakes. For instance, South Korea is five times ahead of us. They produce 15,000 scientists a year compared with our 3 or 4 thousand. It is intended that Cape Town Science-Centre will be the forerunner of many in South Africa. It will be run on business lines but will not be profit-making. The displays will be used for education and entertainment and it will cater for pre-primary children to those in tertiary education. It will be colourful, dynamic, fun and it will celebrate the human adventure.

Science-Centres will aim to alleviate the science crisis, bring disadvantaged people into key success positions, supplement the school curricula.

In addition to the MTN subsidy sources of income will include entrance fees, corporate functions, shops, creche. Location is very important and that is why Century City has been chosen. There will be a theatre where Maurice Podbrey's play, Copenhagen, will be the first production. It is planned to open next October. There is a network of science centres around the world and they have all been most supportive. The themes will be You and Society: You and the World: You and the Future. Maths will be emphasised and black inventors and scientists will be recognised and saluted.

Mr M.F. Cassim, IFP MP, who had helped to initiate this meeting, said that this venture deserves enormous support. He quoted India's example in producing the largest number of science graduates in the world. Many spheres of government are involved and he asked how they could assist.

Mr Gore, DP MP, congratulated Prof. Bruton on his presentation. Not enough females are involved in technology, an area which lends itself to women. What plans are there to provide for them and also for the disabled.

Prof. Bruton. The entire space is acessible to disabled.
The question of women in science is very important and is
being taken into accoaunt.

Mrs Tshivhase, ANC MP, asked whether provision will be made for rural children.

Prof. Bruton said that centres must be built in economically viable places but it lends itself to outreach into rural areas. We cannot connect all schools but we'll provide access.

Ms Tsheole, ANC MP. Will you use the natural abilities of indigenous people to illustrate science?

Prof. Bruton; It is very important to demistify science. Two of the oldest artifacts in maths stem from Africa. Maths developed in Africa, not only in beadwork and seeds but in string games; we'll make maths fun.

Prof. Mohamed, ANC MP, asked about access for the poor, not only the rural. Amission fees are high. What about transport? Symmetries in African art connect to maths. What about astronomy?

Prof. Bruton said that we don't want to duplicate the excellent work of the S.A. Planetarium. There will be a working model of SALT. Busses will be provided for schools; there is a very good train and taxi service to the site.

Ms. Gandhi, ANC MP, asked why Cape Town was chosen, not KZN. Are there any plans to manufacture cheap radios here?

Prof; Bruton: We did look at KZN and we hope to establish a centre there in the future but there are already two good science centres in Richards Bay and Durban. We want to make as many radios as possible here but costs of components are out of our control.

In reply to a question about why Africans opted for round huts, Prof. Bruton said that this has been studied and it was found that these huts, with thatched roofs are more efficient for temperature control, especially when painted white, and more hospitable.

Ms Van Wyk, NNP MP, congratulated Prof. Bruton and drew attention to the artistry in the shape of the huts.

Mr CAssim proposed that a two-day hearing be held of the committee in the future and other departments be invited to participate; also parastatels. He asked how the artisans for the centre will be selected and how will language be used in presentation. We want to be involved. How can we help.

Prof. Bruton: It is very imporatnt to bring in S.A. artisans. We are exploring a new company in the Western Cape to train artisans to put together designs from other countries.
After much consideration it was decided to label objects in English and to provide teaching material in other languages.
This commitee can support our approach to parastatels and o;ther companies. We are already talking to universities and colleges. CMC has given us a grant of R500,00 a year, renewable. Anglo American, Anglo Gold, de Beers are supporting us. We're now talking to Banks and other companies who have a vested interest in the promotion of science.

The Chair agreed that another meeting will be called for early next year. He thanked ITM for their support. We must lobby our colleagues in other departments. This question affects defence, trade and industry and many more. We need support from all ministries.

After a short interval Dr Serote welcomed Maurice Podbrey, Director of Mopo Trust, whom he'd invited to inform the Committee about Copenhagen, the play he intends to show in many centres of S.A.

Mr Podbrey said this play by Michael Frayn fits in very well with the objectives of the ScienCentre and will make a suitable opening production. It is centred on Niels Bohr and Heisenberg, the two outstanding physicists between whom there was almost a father/son relationship but who then found themselves in opposing camps. It poses important questions about the role of science; what is its moral responsibility; can the pursuit of knowledge ever be innocent.

Copenhagen is not only a challenging play about science and morality; it is also great entertainment which appeals to young and old, hence its remarkable success on the London stage.
Plans to present it in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town are well advanced, to be followed by other centres as well as colleges, universities, etc.

Judge Mohamed has agreed to become patron of the Trust.

Mr Podbrey drew on his long experience in the Canadian theatre to compare the conditions then obtaining in Montreal with now in South Africa. Both are multi-cultural and regionally orientated.

He felt that theatres here are fumbling themselves into self-destruction. Where will the leadership come from?
Where are the new writers?

The National Arts Council gives direct aid to artists, directors, etc. but this doesn't work in practice. Young talent exhausts itself and then falls by the wayside once the initial grant is used up. Fund raising today is a highly developed and sophisticated activity, beyond the ability of young artists. Two examples are Suip and Ways of Dying, both good plays which are no longer performing. The example of successful productions are those by David Kramer which are self supported. To foster and su
stain young talent is what the Mopo Fund aims to do.

The tax issue is very important. Corporate sectors all say 'no' to funding. We should follow the example of other countries which offer tax incentives to would-be donors.

Mr Cassim expressed his support for Mr Podbrey and asked how this Portfolio commitee could help in achieving his objectives.

Mr Podbrey said it would be useful to investigate how the grants to artists have been used.
Could the Committee pursue the question of tax rebates for art donations?
His National Arts Council grant of R50,000 is enough to get going. Could the Committee now point him in the direction of other possible donors.

Prof. Mohamed asked whether the support from the Universities is due to recognition of the role of the two giants of physics.

Mr Podbrey: Here is a play that lies at the core of 20th Century science and physics. No branch of our life has been unaffected by the issues raised.

Prof. Mohamed said the play made a great impression on him when he read it. It helps to break down the boundary between science and art and shows that scientists are ordinary people.

Mr Cassim proposed that the play should be staged in Parliament and this was accepted. It would be a good launching pad and provide excellent publicity.

Dr Serote thanked Mr Podbrey and said said he was glad that the tax issue has been raised. It should now be referred to the Finance Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.



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