Committee’s Forthcoming visit to Iran & visit to SASOL: Report-Back. Professor P Tobias: presentation on his Life in Science.

Science and Technology

15 August 2006
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


15 August 2006

Mr E N N Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:

The Committee briefly discussed the forthcoming visit to Iran, which had not been initiated by the Committee but emanated from an invitation at a political level. A brief report-back was given on the recent visit to SASOL. The Committee believed that the potential Sasol-4 complex needed urgent investigation and agreed that a workshop be held to discuss the issues comprehensively. Emeritus Professor Phillip Tobias gave a presentation on his life in the science field, outlining the ways in which science had changed after the 1940s, race and racism in the apartheid years, his views on the ethical obligations of scientists, his findings at Sterkfontein caves and its inclusion in the World Heritage Sites, and his views on science in the future.

Adoption of Minutes of meeting of 13 August
The committee adopted the minutes of the meeting held on 13 August. It was agreed that a set style for the minutes should be followed, as the current format was difficult to read.

Report on visits
The Chairperson reported that the committee itself did not initiate most of the trips that the Committee wanted to undertake, such as the forthcoming trip to Iran. Instead, invitations were issued from the host nations at a political level.

Mr J Blanché (DA) stated that the Committee’s visit to SASOL made members realise that a SASOL 4 complex must be investigated, as it would aid the nation’s economy.

The Chairperson felt that there was a need to go further, that a workshop should be held, and that the Committee’s approach should be all-inclusive as a quality product needed to be delivered. He believed the Committee must schedule a meeting for a review on SASOL and debate a workshop.

Presentation by Professor Phillip Tobias
The Chairperson welcomed and introduced Emeritus Professor Phillip Tobias, and summarised the several doctorates and awards the professor had received worldwide.

Professor Tobias shared with the Committee his thoughts on science and society, based upon sixty years of being an active scientist. His briefing gave an overview of his life in science from the time that he was a student, studying science that was ethically neutral. That form of study had altered with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the world was abruptly alerted to both the impact of science on society, and the impact of society on science. Those bombings had destroyed the idea that scientists remained neutral. He recounted the calls to stop all science for ten years so that ethics could catch up to it. Like many other scientists, he believed that science had overall saved more lives than it had taken.

Prof Tobias believed that scientists have an obligation to recognise their responsibility to society, and not only to do research, but to inform and educate the public. He then spoke about his most famous find at the Sterkfontein caves.

He also touched on the question of race and racism during his presidency of NUSAS, when he had launched the first campaigns against apartheid. He discussed the concept of race which was based on genetics, reading the opening paragraphs of a book he wrote in 1961, which said that South Africa was in a unique position in that the entire constitution was then based upon race, and all resulting policies on differential treatment. This affected every aspect of every person’s life, and amounted to “a national neurosis of the obsessive variety.” At that time in South Africa, owing to apartheid government policies, academic freedom was not guaranteed, resulting in scientists leaving the country and South African universities struggling to uphold their standards. South Africa had left the United Nations in 1956, following UNESCO’s programme against racism and its wish to send missions to South Africa to investigate the racial situation. One of the first things that President Mandela ensured, when elected President, was that South Africa apply to rejoin the United Nations, and that application was approved unanimously.

Professor Tobias then discussed South Africa’s first applications to UNESCO for World Heritage status to be approved for the Sterkfontein caves. The continent of Africa was underrepresented in the list of World Heritage Sites list. It contained only 12% of the listed sites, despite covering 25% of the world’s habitable surface area.

Professor Tobias believed that the information age represented the most significant leap forward for humankind since the development of speech. Naturally, the computer age was not without problems. Large proportions of the world’s inhabitants still lived in a pre-computer era, which resulted from the significant gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. No scientist should ever do anything that would widen that gap.

Professor Tobias remained an optimist; believing that just as the problems of humankind were created by human brainpower, they could be solved by human brainpower. He concluded by saying that the ability to probe deep into the past might also allow us to probe a little way into the future.

The meeting was adjourned..


No related


No related documents


  • We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: