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Science Forum South Africa 2016 opens to a packed house

The second Science Forum South Africa opened this morning at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria to a packed audience. More than 1 600 people are attending the platform which has become a premier forum for scientific debate.

Delegates have come from across the world to participate in the open forum, which this year takes place under the theme “Igniting conversations about science”.

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor opened this morning’s proceedings, saying the forum, “seeks to build on our objective of providing a vibrant support base for the expansion of research and innovation on the African continent in partnership with the global science community.”

Minister Pandor said that the continent’s research community faced many challenges.

“African research lags behind in most science disciplines. We have too few scientists, inadequate publication and innovation achievements, and poorly resourced science institutions.”

But she said the situation was steadily improving.

“More and more African researchers are broadening their horizons and engaging in much-needed projects in food security, energy, transport and health (malaria and HIV). This has seen the number of papers from African researchers double in just over a decade, improving in quantity, quality, and international citation according to data from Scopus, the largest database of peer-reviewed literature.There is more and more funding for African research,” said the Minister.

Minister Pandor told the audience that South Africa had tried to put the best science and technology policies in place. “We have a separate department to prioritise research, she said. “We have made scienceand technology a national priority.”

The country’s science policies focus on promoting specific areas for research and development � including astronomy, energy and the bioeconomy � in which we are becoming world leaders. “We invest in vibrant, knowledge-based activities that are driven by the quality of the scientists we train, the quality of our research and development infrastructure, and the enablers we have put in place to turn scientific research into technology,” said Minister Pandor.

Minister Pandor said the country’s greatest challenge was the provision of exciting opportunities to our young people.

“It’s clear that high-tech innovations will help employment grow over the long term, as new technology spreads from one sector to adjacent sectors, and so throughout the economy. But it’s also clear that the emerging high-technology sectors by themselves don’t employ more people at the moment (innovation works through the “creative destruction” of jobs), but it’s what could happen in the future that we should focus upon.”

Minister Pandor paid tribute to the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro. “In South Africa we are indebted to him and the Cuban people. But it’s also worth recalling his science and technology legacy, a legacy that is not as well known as it should be.”

The Minister said that Cuba had nearly 90 000 physicians and the best doctor-patient ratio in the world.

“Cuba’s “Medical Internationalism” programme exported medical aid to 158 countries and continues to provide more medical personnel to the developing world than all of the G7 countries combined. Venezuela benefits the most, followed by African countries. For a country of 11 million � that is remarkable.”

“South Africa is not only indebted to Cuba, but we also have much to learn from Cuba,” said Minister Pandor.

Source: Department of Science and Technology


‘Hang on to every little glimmer of hope,’ says UN envoy for South Sudan

All people in South Sudan, regardless of their ethnic affiliation, must unite towards creating a national identify, the head of the United Nations mission there urged today, underscoring the potential of the resource-rich African country to prosper despite its ongoing challenges.

Creating a prosperous future is possible because South Sudan is such a rich country in terms of resources and fertile land, Ellen Margrethe LA�j told reporters at what is expected to be the final press briefing in her capacity as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Ms. LA�j will step down at the end of November after more than two years of leading UNMISS, which was set up in 2011 after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. It played a major role in trying to protect civilians when war broke out in 2013 between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those of then Vice-President Riek Machar.

We have not yet finished our job, we don’t have peace in South Sudan, we don’t have prosperity in South Sudan, she said at the press briefing held at the Mission’s compound in Juba, the nation’s capital.

But I think we all have to work for that. I am extremely moved by having learned so much about South Sudan, I am extremely impressed by the resilience of the South Sudanese people, she said.

On the other hand, I am extremely depressed that their hopes and aspirations at the time of independence have not yet been fulfilled, the conflict that erupted in December 2013 continues to make many South Sudanese homeless, internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries, she noted.

She urged all South Sudanese and especially the country’s leaders to put the well-being of their people, including the boys and girls, in the forefront of their actions.

When peace arrives, the South Sudanese could feed themselves, take care of their families, fulfil their dreams, and see the country that they fought so hard for grow and prosper, she said.

She believes that like South Africa, Ghana and other many countries that comprise various ethnic groups, South Sudan can achieve national unity.

Asked if South Sudan is on the verge of collapse or becoming ‘failed State,’ Ms. LA�j said she does not want to put labels on the country but acknowledged that there is fighting in various areas, and the economy is in a very bad shape. Something has to be done in order to turn that around and to start moving forward, and first and foremost the guns have to be silent, she said.

I have not given up on South Sudan, she stressed, explaining that she used to say to her colleagues: Yes, when we look at the news in the morning it might be depressing, if you go on a patrol or visit and monitor human rights it might be depressing, but hang on to every little glimmer of hope and argue for that hope to expand because we are here to improve the lives of the people of South Sudan.

Ellen Margrethe LA�j, the outgoing Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), urged the country’s leaders to put the well-being of their people at the forefront of their actions. Meanwhile, she called on the South Sudanese to build national identity regardless of ethnic affiliation.

Source: UN News Centre