Tag: Naledi Pandor

The top 10 things you need to know about SA’s R&D survey

The National Survey of Research and Experimental Development is a delicious smorgasbord of numbers, a snapshot of South Africa’s National System of Innovation. For those who don’t have the time to read the report (or have an aversion to deciphering the numbers), here are the highlights:

1. In 2014-15, South Africa spent R29.345-billion on research and development (R&D). That’s up from the R25.661-billion in 2013-14. At constant Rand values, it was an increase of 8%.


2. Almost half of this R&D cash went to labour costs.


3. Unfortunately, we’ve once against missed our ambitious targets. Prior to 2008, the goal was to spend 1% of gross domestic product on R&D. Government is now eyeing 1.5%, which is a bit like asking for R1,000 when you can’t scrape together R100. In 2014-15, the country as a whole — which includes government, business, and non-governmental organisations — spend 0.77% of its treasure on R&D. That is up from 0.73% the previous year.


4. Government has — for the third year in a row — spent more on R&D than business. Government, in this instance, also includes universities. This a problem, though, as internationally business is usually the major driver of R&D: R&D leads to new products and services, making companies more competitive.


5. State-owned enterprises account for 15% of business spend on R&D.


6. The good news is that this business investment in R&D is starting to see some recovery: from R11.783-billion in 2013-14 to R13.291-billion in 2014-15. Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said at the launch: “Business R&D spending is showing signs of recovery. We wish it was robust, but it is showing signs of recovery.”


7. Mining and quarrying continued to take a beating, with business’ R&D spend in this field declining by 20%.


8. Most of the R&D undertaken in South Africa is applied research (48.8%) rather than basic research (24.3%).


9. The number of researchers in the system (by headcount) continues to increase: from 42,828 in 2012-13 through to 48,479 in 2014-15, which is quite a jump. Credit for this 5,561 rise is mainly due to doctoral candidates and postdocs.


10. A bonus on this year’s “key findings” is that they have started to include “Female researcher numbers” as a stand alone category to tracked. Women account for 44% of researchers, which puts us up among some of the world’s most gender-transformed countries. The latest OECD data puts France at 25.6% (2012), Germany at 26.8% (2012), and Russia at 37.4%.

SA’s Pandor wins major science diplomacy award

Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor was this weekend awarded one of science’s most prestigious global diplomacy prizes.

The award, presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to furthering science diplomacy.

Pandor, speaking after the awards ceremony in Boston in the United States on Saturday, said that the award recognised South Africa’s development as a country. “We regard this as the recognition of the entire people of our country and the efforts we began to make from 1994 when we started to build our very new and still young democracy,” she said.

Pandor has served as science minister since 2009, interrupted by a stint as home affairs minister from 2012 t0 2014.

“Under her leadership, South Africa has made numerous contributions to building science structures in organisations such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, to strengthening the science granting councils of other African countries, and to expanding the role of the Global Research Council,” said Tom Wang, AAAS’ chief international officer and director of the Center for Science Diplomacy.

Pandor was nominated by Jean Lebel, president of Canada’s International Development Research Center. In his letter of nomination, he wrote: “Under Minister Pandor’s leadership, South Africa has become a catalyst for developing scientific capabilities across the African continent.”

Last year, Germany awarded Pandor with one of their highest honours, the “Grand Cross of Merit with Star and Shoulder Ribbon of the Order of the Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany”. The deputy head of the Germany embassy in South Africa, Klaus Streicher, also submitted a letter of support for Pandor’s AAAS award. “Naledi Pandor is an outstanding woman committed to scientific advancement and co-operation, not only in her own country, but with a global perspective,” Streicher wrote.

Square Kilometre Array needed to train next generation of scientists — Pandor

Flagship initiatives such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project “have the potential to support our training and production of the next generation of scientists and technologists in Africa”, science and technology minister Naledi Pandor told the opening plenary of South Africa’s inaugural Science Forum.

“Scientists need iconic, challenging initiatives that will respond to their search for new knowledge and innovative technology.”

The SKA, which has a conservative price tag of EUR2-billion, will be the largest radio telescope on Earth, with thousands of antennae throughout Australia and Africa. The core of the telescope will be in South Africa’s Northern Cape. All celestial bodies emit radio waves, and by collecting these relatively weak signals, scientists will attempt to answer some of humanity’s most baffling questions: Is there other life in the universe, what happened right after the big bang and what is dark matter?

However, this initiative is not limited to South Africa. There are eight other African partner countries – namely Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia – which will have collections of SKA antennae in their countries.

As part of its efforts to ensure that African countries have the capacity to host a portion of this giant telescope, SKA South Africa initiated a human capital development programme. To date, more than 600 people from the continent have received bursaries to become technicians, engineers, or scientists.

SKA South Africa director Bernie Fanaroff has said that this project has reduced South Africa’s brain drain, with South African scientists and engineers returning home as well as foreign experts being attracted by the possibility of working on the telescope.

South Africa is also building its own telescope: the 64-dish MeerKAT, a precursor telescope being design, built and funded by South Africa, will form part of SKA Phase One.

The first five years of the MeerKAT’s observing time had already been allocated to scientists from all over the world, including South Africa, Prof Russ Taylor told an audience at the Science Forum.

But one of the major challenges of modern radio astronomy – a problem which will be exemplified in the SKA – is how to process all of the data coming from the antennae, he said. Taylor is one of the SKA research chairs, based at the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape.

“It is well-known to be one of the most challenging big data [projects],” Taylor said. “We’re talking ‘exaflops’ of data. That doesn’t exist yet.”

An exaflop involves a billion billion calculations per second.

“The SKA is a driver for developing the solution, so it’s a good area of research to get involved in to learn data science and the techiques we can use to analyse big data sets,” Taylor said earlier this year. [S: he told me this in October.]

However, at the moment, South Africa lacks data scientists, and there is a concerted push to training people in this area, so that the country is not left out of this field of SKA science.

In September this year, three universities – the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and North West University – launched the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy.

At the launch of this institute, Pandor said: “A significant focus and investment in big data in South Africa is not only overdue, but is probably crucial if South Africa is to play a significant role in the world economy in the coming decades.”

Taylor told the packed room at the CSIR’s International Convention Centre that the role of the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy was to “work on a solution for big data, but also to train people”.


  • NOTE: This is part of a series produced for Independent Newspapers’ post-Science Forum supplement.