17 April 2012
South Africa and Germany have launched a research co-operation initiative that aims to foster local skills development and innovation, while providing a platform for further joint ventures in science between the two countries.
Speaking at the launch of the German-South African Year of Science in Cape Town on Monday, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said that while South Africa had made a significant contribution to technological innovation worldwide, the country remained heavily dependent on imported technology.
For this reason, South Africa had been building science and engineering partnerships with a number of countries. In the case of Germany, this dated back to 1996, when the signing of a cooperation agreement led to the establishment of a joint research fund to support development projects in several sectors.
Pandor said the German-South African Year of Science, an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and Germany’s Ministry of Education and Research, would help both countries to attract more young people to the field.
More than 200 applications were handed in by the science community of both countries during a recent call for proposals under the German-South African programme.
41 initiatives to receive funding
Of these, 41 initiatives had been jointly agreed on and would receive funding.
These include a collaboration between Bauhaus-Universitat Weimar and North West University on sustainable resource-based sanitation, and a project between the University of Pretoria and the Fachhochschule Kiel to finance a woman’s science conference.
The Year would focus on several strategic areas, including climate change, human capital development, the bio-economy, megacities, astronomy, and health innovation.
“Social innovation or innovation for development is a key component of our collaboration,” Pandor said. “Projects such as the Communal Water House of the Ikwezi local community in the Eastern Cape, intended to support management of water resources, is one such example.”
Southern African centre for climate change
Pandor also thanked her Germany’s minister of education and research, Annette Schavan, for helping to set up the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management – a joint initiative between Germany, South Africa and several other African countries.
Schavan said the German-South African Year of Science aimed to pool both countries’ scientific capacity and strengthen existing research partnerships.
She pointed out that money alone was not the most important thing when it came to boosting innovation and research, but that strong vocational training of students by business was essential.
Companies had to be open to receiving new students for research-type positions, Schavan said, pointing out that the 600 German companies in South Africa were an ideal place for graduates to get good on-the-job training.
Square Kilometre Array
Speaking after her address, Pandor said she hoped that the decision as to who would host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project would be made on the next expected date.
The decision was delayed at the beginning of the month and a new date has been set for the middle of May.
South Africa, allied with eight other African countries, is competing against Australia (allied with New Zealand) to host the €1.5-billion SKA, an instrument 50-100 times more sensitive and 10 000 times faster than any radio imaging telescope yet built.
Pandor said if South Africa won the bid to host the SKA, it would turn the continent into a place of research, draw more youngster into science and innovation, and improve internet bandwidth for businesses.
“If we have someone winning the Nobel science prize, because using the SKA in Africa they discovered who’s out there, and they get the prize because of the SKA, that would just be the cherry on the top,” she said.