DST best performing department

July 10th, 2019, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande

Judging from the 2017/18 financial year clean audit and maintaining an 89% performance against predetermined objectives, the Department of Science and Technologu (DST) is by far the best performing department in government. Appreciation should go the Director General, Dr Phil Mjwara and his staff for their continued dedication to grow our science and technology base.

But as a country, South Africa has a long way to go to achieve the objective of 1,5% of GDP spend on science and technology research. It currently stands at 0,82%, a marginal increase from 7,7% a few years ago. The question arises whether government and the private sector realise that increase in spend on science and technology research will result in faster growth of the country’s industry, which is faced with ever increasing technology challenges.

At the Department of Science and Innovation’s 2019 budget vote presentation on 9 July 2019, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande said that with the budget for 2019/20 increasing to R8,150-billion from the R7,790-billion last year, government have identified initiatives to develop new research and development of industries that could help improve South Africa’s value addition in what the country produces and exports.

He said: “DST will be funding a number of initiatives that are expected to contribute towards the value addition goal. A good example is the Mandela Mining Precinct, a project established to facilitate the coordination of mining research, development and innovation activities and collaboration among stakeholders. We will be guided by adoption of the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation and are developing a new decadal plan on science, technology innovation for South Africa. This plan will set out more specific areas on which we will be focusing our efforts to use of science, technology and innovation to deliver equitable social and economic advancement for the South Africans. This plan will be significant as we grapple with the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). To this end, we will continue to intensify our focus and investment in building capacity in our country in order to respond to and drive the 4IR.”

“Over the years, DST has sharpened its focus on ways in which its portfolio of work and the broader National Science Initiative (NSI) can contribute to the reduction in inequality, poverty and unemployment. As such, the implementation of the policy imperatives of the National Development Plan (vision 2030) will continue to take precedence. We will also continue to play our role in driving and advocating for increases in gross investment in research and development as a percentage of GDP with the aim of achieving the national development target of 1,5%. This will continue to be accompanied by the implementation of tax incentives in investment in research and development.”

Developments from the DST

The DST is planning substantial expansion in the agriculture and agro-processing sector by supporting key value chains and products, developing new markets and reducing reliance on agricultural imports. The target for the next five years is value chain development for grains (wheat, maize, soybean, sorghum and canola), fruit and vegetables, and the forestry interventions of the Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP).

During the past year, the department launched and celebrated the completion of the 64-dish MeerKAT, the world’s largest radio telescope and a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The mega infrastructure project continues to generate new findings that are adding to the global body of radio astronomy knowledge. The 2019/20 financial year will see the continuation of this work, as scientists around the world have demonstrated prodigious enthusiasm to use the MeerKAT facility to generate knowledge.

On the industrial front, the Minister referred to the rejuvenation of the titanium industry. This is being done through the manufacturing of titanium powder, developing the next-generation additive manufacturing machine, Aeroswift, as well as the Fluorochemicals Expansion Initiative and the fuel cell development initiative.

With an investment of over R100-million, Aeroswift is currently the largest and fastest hot-bed additive manufacturing platform in the world, and has progressed to the point where components have been manufactured for a South African high-performance light reconnaissance aircraft. Discussions are under way to build a dedicated facility housing two industrial Aeroswift printers that will be able to manufacture a new range of components for export to global aerospace leaders.

The role of intellectual property

Since 2010, when the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act (IPR Act) came into effect, there have been significant increases in applications for IP rights, rights granted, licences issued to third parties to ensure that intellectual property finds application, and the number of start-ups coming out of our institutions. The role of government, and in this case of National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO), is to be an enabler, supporting the establishment of offices of technology transfer (OTTs) at all higher education institutions and science councils.

“There is a unique role for postgraduates who have the requisite scientific background but are lacking in on-the-job experience in IP management and technology transfer. Amongst others, it is this digital compact, with economic justice, social benefit and innovation at its heart, that crystallises our commitment as a department to realise the new social compact to which the President referred to in the  State of the Nation Address”, Minister Nzimande said.

“Given what we know today about the potential beneficial impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must embrace this historic confluence of human insights and engagement, artificial intelligence and technology, to rise to the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. For the coming decade, this programme of transformation will be focused on growing the South Africa we want.”

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