SA Minister presents White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation

The Department of Science and Technology convened its first summit on the new draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation on 9 November 2018. Hosted by the Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, the summit is the culmination of a process of public comment on the draft policy document.

Cabinet approved the publication of the draft White Paper for public comment in September, and the Department has received inputs from a variety of stakeholders. Today’s event saw the participation of business, labour, academia and other stakeholders.

There is overall consensus that science, technology and innovation are at heart of development, and that investment in this sphere is critical to ensuring long-term growth.

The new policy will replace the 1996 White Paper on Science and Technology, which was adopted over two decades ago. The new draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation is aimed at preparing the country for the future and involving various sectors of society.

Since the implementation of the 1996 document, there have been major global shifts. The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has seen the rapid development of new technologies and the growth of new industries. The new draft White Paper addresses these new developments and also builds on existing programmes.

The Director-General of Science and Technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, said that when South Africa developed the 1996 White Paper, the National Development Plan (NDP) had not been in place. While good progress has been made in the implementation of the first document’s proposals, the potential of STI in advancing the objectives of the NDP had not yet been fully realised.

The NDP recognises that, for South Africa to achieve its goals for 2030, science, technology and innovation must be at the centre of the developmental agenda.

The European Commission’s Director-General of Energy, Dr Dominique Ristori, said the most competitive countries in the world today are the ones that have invested in STI. He said investment in research and innovation was a defining feature of leading economies and companies.

Dr Ristori said the world currently was facing enormous challenges and that science, technology and innovation were needed to tackle them. He said that an environment conducive to research was essential, and the scientific endeavour should involve all sectors of society.

In her address, Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said the new White Paper was aimed at helping South Africa to benefit from global developments such as rapid technological advancement and geopolitical and demographic shifts, as well as responding to the threats associated with some of these global trends.

“Of all the technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, artificial intelligence is poised to have the most disruptive impact on the place of humans in economic production,” said the Minister, challenging her audience on the approach South Africa should take to maximise the benefits of this technology for the people.

The Minister said some research predicted that the technological advancement of the Fourth Industrial Revolution would lead to improved productivity, but that this might reduce employment.  However, there was also the possibility that the introduction of new technologies would not eliminate jobs, but rather redefine them.

The new White Paper focuses on the following:

  • Raising the profile of STI in South Africa by instilling an innovation culture and integrating STI into cross-cutting government planning at the highest levels.
  • Strengthening partnerships between business, government, academia and civil society, creating a more enabling environment for STI.
  • Focusing on innovation for social benefit and fundamental economic transformation.
  • Expanding and transforming the human resource base of the national system of innovation.
  • Increasing investment, both public and private, in STI.

Today’s summit was divided into four breakaway sessions focusing on the following topics:

  • Investing in and financing STI.
  • The research enterprise, human resources and transformation.
  • Enabling innovation and commercialisation.
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

All inputs from the public comment process will be considered in the finalisation of the draft policy document, which will be submitted to Cabinet.