Address by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, MP, on the occation of the 2022 Virtual Department of Science and Innovation Budget Vote

17 May 2022

Honourable Chairperson;
Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Honourable Buti Manamela;
Members of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology, led by Honourable Chairperson, Ms Nompendulo Mkhatshwa;
Director-General of the Department, Dr Phil Mjwara;

The entire National System of Innovation;
Honourable Members

The central focus of this year’s budget vote of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) is that of accelerating the reversal of the legacies of poverty, inequality and unemployment, whilst addressing critical transitions required in the context of a rapidly changing world shaped by climate change, technological transition and new shifts in the global economy.

Against the background of this wider context, our budget vote is guided by the 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and the Decadal Plan which was approved for implementation by Cabinet in March 2021. The Decadal Plan foregrounds the major societal grand challenges facing our nation.

I must emphasise that our goal is to ensure a ‘just transition’ in both the traditional economic sectors as well as to lay the foundations for the emergence of new economic sectors. 

Honourable Members

The key focus areas of the DSI in 2022 will be to vigorously support the Government’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Programme (ERRP), building long-term national capacity to deal with COVID-19 and future pandemic threats, securing higher levels of public and private investment in South African RDI, supporting revitalisation of existing sectors/industries, the exploitation of new sources of economic growth, building of a capable state, and support for inclusive education and skills development. 

In line with our stated goal to support innovation in South Africa’s energy markets, we have launched the Hydrogen South Africa Roadmap to unlock the potential of new sources of clean energy to facilitate a just transition from a carbon-intensive to a carbon neutral economy.

At the same time, we continue to modernise existing sectors such as mining through support for research and development (R&D), both to ensure a safer working environment for miners and to increase the lifespan of mining in the country. In addition, we are also playing a vital role in beneficiation of the mineral’s economy.

Through the South African Mining Extraction Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) strategy we have invested R226 005 600 towards the modernisation of the African mining industry.

In partnership with Anglo American Platinum, Bambili Energy and ENGIE in October, 2021, we initiated a feasibility study on the Hydrogen Valley and identified nine (9) catalytic projects across the mobility, industrial and building sectors in the first phase of the hydrogen economy programme. 

In terms of platinum contribution, the study has projected a contribution of up to $70 million to the platinum industry in South Africa by 2030.

Through the implementation of the South African Hydrogen Valley corridor, which covers the Johannesburg Hub, the Mogalakwena/Limpopo and the Durban/Richards Bay areas, we have the potential to create 14 000 to 30 000 direct and indirect jobs per year by 2030, and by 2050, potentially contribute $3,9-$8,8 billion to the South African GDP.

I must indicate that the launch of the world’s biggest hydrogen truck by Anglo American Platinum at the Mogalakwena Mine in Limpopo on 6th May 2022, is an indication of the potential that South Africa has to become a significant global player in the Hydrogen Economy.

In line with our commitment to supporting existing industries to meet South Africa’s climate mitigation targets, we will further develop technologies to reduce emissions from coal-fired boilers in the cement, energy, steel, and paper and pulp industries through the CoalCO2-X project. 

To date, we have invested R50 million towards this project, which has allowed local small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) to put in place partnerships to demonstrate the potential of flue gas conversion technology at the PPC cement plant.

We continue to identify grassroots innovators – especially women and youth-led enterprises - in South Africa and assist them to enhance their innovations and skills through a range of interventions, including funding and business development support towards pre-commercialisation. 

We have also made significant strides through the Technology Acquisition and Deployment Fund (TADF) in facilitating the market entry of South African local innovations that can improve the delivery of basic services by government and municipalities.  This is key to strengthening local and district-level governance.

To support municipalities in driving an innovation-led Local Economic Development (LED) agenda, we have initiated the Innovation Champions for LED Programme which will be rolled out to all 44 districts in the country in support of the District Development Model (DDM) to ensure that innovation is rooted at the grassroots level.

.We have supported and funded over 200 young emerging innovators through our Living Labs Programme in township and rural communities in KwaZulu Natal, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and the Free State.

Our Technology Stations Programme (TSP) continues to be a key, cross-sectoral, broad-based technology support programme for companies, especially SMMEs and potential entrepreneurs, increasing the spatial footprint of innovation.

The seventeen (17) technology stations at thirteen (13) universities of technology and comprehensive universities across the country have provided technological support, including small batch production and developing prototypes, to approximately 2 000 SMMEs.

We have made significant progress in the agricultural agro-processing value chain development through implementation of our Agricultural Bio-economy Innovation Partnership Programme (ABIPP).

We have intensified our agricultural research efforts and introduced new smart and climate-sensitive agriculture technologies in a bid to ensure food security and the modernization of the South African agricultural sector.

We are also increasing our support for R&D activities in veterinary research in a bid to tackling persistent animal disease threats such as foot and mouth disease, whilst through DHET we are working on increased training of veterinary practitioners at different levels.

Honourable Members

We have made tremendous progress in developing South Africa’s domestic vaccine manufacturing capability whilst at the same time strengthening our epidemiological surveillance and strategic decision-making capability on the strength of the COVID-19 National Policy Data Observatory (NPDO) hosted by the DSI.

On the manufacturing side, we are at an advanced stage of establishing Africa’s first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, with strong public and private sector participation, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) together with its COVAX partners. This groundbreaking initiative has been hailed by the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, as a pioneering trend-setting innovation for the rest of the world.

As part of building South Africa's capabilities for vaccine manufacturing, Biovac (a public-private-partnership between the South African government and the Biovac Consortium) entered into a strategic partnership with Pfizer/BioNTech to produce approximately 100 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine annually.

I must say that we see this platform as laying the ground for developing the use of mRNA technologies to develop novel vaccines and therapies for other types of afflictions, including cancer, cardiovascular and auto-immune diseases.

In order to respond to the local and continental demand for COVID-19 testing and to reduce our dependence on imports, we established a fund which led to the development of two novel COVID-19 diagnostic tests, one by the Medical Diagnostech and the other by the CapeBio. Both of these diagnostic tools have been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

Honourable Members

The recent devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal and other parts of our country reminded us of not only the threats posed by rapid climate change, but also highlighted the vital role of STI in its mitigation and the adaptation of our communities to the new realities.

During these unfortunate floods, we managed to leverage the existing infrastructure and investment made in the national system of innovation by providing critical input using remote sensing technologies, in particular satellites to provide imaging for accurately targeting water flow patterns, its effects on transport infrastructure systems, and data for better spatial planning.

The input made by both the CSIR and SANSA has been exceptional, working together with other government departments, providing decision support tools, and working closely with the Water Research Commission.

The work spans from road and bridge infrastructure assessments to the Coastal vulnerability Tool and Index – which is an Interactive Decision Support Tool and Integrated Geospatial Flooding index for coastal cities and town development, and is linked into the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA). Work includes input on access to health facilities to water quality monitoring and infrastructure.

Available for immediate use also, is a decentralized (mobile) water & wastewater treatment system that is used as an emergency/temporary treatment system directly from source.

Honourable members, this is science, technology and innovation at its very best: at the service of society.

For this reason, we will continue to invest significantly in research and development (R&D) that builds the adaptive capacity and resilience of some economic sectors to climate change impacts.  This includes heightening our R&D activities in urban and rural spatial planning for future human settlements, although much more public funding is still required.

One of our major preoccupations is to develop a roadmap for science, technology and innovation (STI) for a circular economy given the pressure of finite natural resources and sensitivity to global warming risks.

Through the Innovation for Service Delivery Programme (ISDP), funded in partnership with the European Union and National Treasury, we have demonstrated pilot technologies and innovations to improve the delivery of basic services by our municipalities.

In partnership with the South African Local Government Association, we have expanded the number of municipalities participating in the Municipal Innovation Maturity Index (MIMI).  This tool, which is now digitized, provides critical information on the innovation capabilities and readiness of local government to adopt innovation and technology.

Honourable Members

Through the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), South Africa has been designated to host one of its 24/7 Regional Space Weather Centres in Hermanus in the Western Cape by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO). We will officially launch the centre in October this year.

The launch of this capability will provide South Africa with the opportunity to showcase the value of Science, Technology, and Innovation and, to attract the region and international partnerships to utilize the newly constructed Space Weather Centre.

Significantly, we have also launched three locally-produced nanosatellites as part of South Africa’s new Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite (MDASat) constellation. The satellites will detect, identify and monitor vessels in near real-time in support of the South African maritime domain awareness strategy. We have invested over R30 million in the development of this high-tech capability.

Honourable Members

The South African and Australian governments are co-signatories to co-host the SKA Observatory array telescopes and associated infrastructures to the value of €2 billion over the period 2021-2030.

Through the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Observatory we will be producing a whole new generation of science and scientists, many of whom are now being trained in South Africa.

Our South African companies and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory will benefit immensely from the rolling out of this infrastructure which includes the building of the SKA Exploratorium in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape.  The initiative is expected to boost science awareness and outreach, stimulate science tourism in the region and create employment. In particular, we will also focus on ensuring the production of more-black and women scientists and specialists on this front.

The MeerKAT telescope, built by South Africans, does great scientific work and will continue to do so until it is fully integrated into the SKA in the next five to seven years.

Honourable Chairperson

Allow me to share with you our plans and upcoming programmes for the next two years of this administration.

Through the Decadal Plan, we have identified the digital economy as one area in which we are going to channel our resources.  I have also instructed the National Skills Fund to prioritise training in digital skills, especially for our youth.

We have identified six foundational digital domains on which South Africa should focus its resources for the next 10 years. These domains include artificial intelligence, robotics and cybernetics; augmented, virtual and mixed reality; modelling and simulation; blockchain and cybersecurity; the Internet of Things, cloud-to-edge computing and networking and quantum computing.

All these developments will be implemented as part of the Foundational Digital Capabilities Research (FDCR) programme.

We are currently developing a business case for the establishment of a national solar research facility that will support the development, commercialisation and deployment of solar-based technologies for application in both the solar power and fuel sectors in order to facilitate the movement of technologies from laboratory to market.  More details will be shared on this work going forward.

As part of ensuring greater whole-of-government and whole-of-society innovation, we have already begun with a new institutional architecture to build better coordination, cohesion and direction in how STI resources are used.

Firstly, we have already begun with the work of the standing ministerial-level STI committee, involving key ministries, and chaired by myself. Secondly, the President of the Republic will host an annual STI Plenary which will include business, government, academia and civil society. This will place the STI issues at the centre of the national developmental agenda.

We are also leading the open science policy development process to develop a clear vision and rules of the game, with the support of the DSI-convened Open Science Advisory Board and three experts.

To encourage the private sector to invest in research and development, Government has extended the current tax research incentives dispensation until the 31st December 2023.  This will allow for certainty and planning around incentives.

Beyond this, we are firmly committed to leveraging both public and private resources to increase gross domestic investment in research and development as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product with the aim of achieving the National Development Plan’s target of 1,5%. 

As I conclude, South Africa will be first country in Africa to host the World Science Forum (WSF), which is a biennial international conference series on global science policy, which brings together leading scientists, researchers, private sector players, civil society and global media to discuss the challenges facing science and societies in the 21st century.

I invite you all to this hybrid event which will be held from the 5th to 9th December 2022 in Cape Town.

Honourable Members

The DSI's total budget is R9,1 billion for 2022/23 up from R8,9 billion in 2020/21. The majority of the Department's budget is spent on transfers to entities, with the National Research Foundation receiving the single largest share.

Honourable chairperson, I would like to restate that the DSI is steadfast in its commitment to the full utilization of science, technology and innovation to support the sustainable and inclusive development of South Africa’s society and economy, with particular emphasis on the marginalised and poor.

The true purpose of science, technology and innovation lies in the quest of securing an enduring and equal human freedom for all our people in a vibrant democracy - free of hunger, alienation, prejudice and ignorance. It is a science truly at the service of society.

In conclusion, I extend my gratitude to the Honourable President, Deputy President, Cabinet Colleagues, Deputy Minister Manamela, the Chairperson and members of the Portfolio Committee for their support and guidance.

Gratitude also goes to my wife, my staff in the Ministry and to the Director General, Dr Phil Mjwara and the entire Executive Management Committee and staff of the Department, Boards, Executives and staff at all our entities and institutions, and everybody who contributed towards the achievement of our policy mandate.

Thank you