South Africa ‘turning the corner’ on R&D spending

10 April 2014

South Africa’s investment in research and development (R&D) grew to R22.2-billion in 2011/12, an increase of R2-billion over the previous year that maintained the country’s R&D spending at 0.76% of gross domestic product (GDP), according to the Department of Science and Technology’s latest national R&D survey.

Announcing the results of the survey on Tuesday, Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said this indicated a bottoming-out of the declining R&D spend of the last few years, from a high of 0.95% of GDP in 2006. “We anticipate that we are turning the corner and starting to increase the level of investment in R&D once again in South Africa,” Hanekom said in a statement.

South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) calls for greater investment in research and development, which has prompted the government to target an R&D spending figure of 1.5% of GDP by 2019.

Science and Technology Director-General Phil Mjwara said that such an ambitious target represented a clear recognition of the role that R&D could play in addressing the country’s development challenges.

“R&D is pivotal for the development of new and improved products, the creation of new industries, improved competitiveness of existing industries and enhancement of infrastructure and improved service delivery,” Mjwara said.

According to the R&D survey, the government has become the country’s biggest funder of R&D, directly investing R9.5-billion (43.1% of the total) in R&D in 2011/12, compared to business funding of R8.6-billion (39%).

The survey also found that the number of people working in research and development in South Africa grew to 59 487 in 2011/12, an increase of 7% or 3 956 people over 2010.

Mjwara noted that the government had established R&D tax incentives, direct government grants for R&D, R&D partnerships such as co-managed Sector Innovation Funds, and support for technology localisation – and said a similar level of increased R&D investment by the private sector was needed.

SAinfo reporter