SA ‘becoming a knowledge economy’

31 July 2012

The focus of 2012 National Science Week is on South Africa’s move towards a “knowledge economy”, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said at the launch of the week at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus on Monday.

Also at the launch was the German Ambassador to South Africa, Dr Horst Freitag; Swiss Ambassador to South Africa, Christian Meuwly; the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor Ihron Rensburg; and about 6 000 learners from schools in Gauteng.

Running from 30 July to 4 August under the theme “The Role of Science & Technology in Economic Development”, National Science Week confirms the department’s contribution to the gradual transformation of South Africa’s resource-based economy to a knowledge economy, Pandor said.

“It’s no doubt that science and technology have changed the world tremendously and countries that excel in the sector become powerful players in the economy of the world,” she said.

“The onus is therefore on every country to establish how it wants to positions itself. Recent developments, such as the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), as well as the collaboration with the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) generated a worldwide interest in science and the possibilities it offers for humanity.”

She believed South Africa and its other eight African partner countries, who will host the majority of the SKA dishes, will soon get to a place where they can provide answers about the early history of the universe, dark matter and gravity.

Science as an enabler of economic development

Rensburg said science and technology were the differentiators between countries that were able to tackle poverty effectively by growing and developing the economy, and those that were not.

“The extent to which developing economies emerge as economic powerhouses depends on their ability to grasp and apply insights from science and technology and use them creatively. Innovation is the primary driver of technological growth and living standards,” he said.

Rensburg said the university was proud to partner with the Department of Science and Technology in this regard.

“In biomedical engineering, we have developed advanced image processing techniques to better diagnose tuberculosis.”

He said UJ engineers had also developed advanced artificial intelligence techniques that used microarray data for diagnosis of leukaemia, as well as a rapid prototyping infrastructure used in the design and manufacture of an operational aircraft engine for Adept Technology.

“Our Laser Research Centre is leading efforts to investigate the field of phototherapy with specific emphasis on Low Intensity Laser Irradiation as applied to diabetic wound healing, Photodynamic Therapy used as a therapeutic modality for cancer and the augmentation of stem cells as applied to regenerative medicine,” he said.

National Science Week 2012 celebrations will be conducted in collaboration with higher education institutions and science councils countrywide.

For those wishing to participate in the activities, information is available on the department’s Facebook page or they can follow @ScienceWeekSA on Twitter using the hashtag #NSW2012.