The National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) is the largest multi-stakeholder forum for science, engineering, technology (SET) and innovation organisations in South Africa. It is a non-profit company that promotes SET and innovation and engages with related government policy issues. It was launched in 1995.

From the NSTI to NSTF: The National Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI) was the pre-cursor of the NSTF. It participated in South Africa’s landmark CODESA Convention (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) in 1991. As a result of findings and recommendations of the NSTI, government together with other key stakeholders founded the NSTF in 1995 to oversee implementation of the recommendations.

Aims of the NSTF: The then-Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Mr Ben Ngubane, recognised the body as a science, engineering and technology (SET) forum for consultation and addressing SET issues within the broad SET community. The NSTF was established to oversee the restructuring of South Africa’s national science system and to ensure an integrated approach to science and technology.

First plenary meeting and government mandate: On 28 March 1995, the first plenary meeting of the NSTF was opened by then-Minister Ben Ngubane. The mandate given to the NSTF was to act as the sounding board, communication channel and constructive watchdog of SET in South Africa. Integral to this mandate was the establishment of best practice norms, and to integrate and share the positive advancements being made in SET fields.

Ongoing support from the Department of Science and Technology and all stakeholders: The NSTF has continued to enjoy support from the Ministry and Department of Science and Technology. There has also been continuous support from stakeholders at all levels, from the smallest of businesses to the largest science councils and universities.

Historical milestones

Date Milestone
1991 A new South Africa in the making: The pre-cursor of the NSTF, the National Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI), participated in South Africa’s landmark Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), a major event marking the end of the apartheid era and planning towards a democratic national system of innovation
1995 NSTF is born: As a result of the findings and recommendations of the NSTI, government with key stakeholders founded the NSTF to oversee the establishment of the national science system. It contributed and provided input into the White Paper on Science and Technology and other policy and planning processes within government. Initiated the discussion that led to the declaration of South Africa’s first Year of Science and Technology (1998).
1998 The Year of Science and Technology and year of the NSTF Awards’ founding: 1998 is declared the Year of Science and Technology by the South African government and NSTF establishes the prestigious annual NSTF Awards to honour role models and reward excellent achievements in science, engineering and technology (SET). Participated and added considerable value to initiatives and processes relating to the establishment of the National Research Foundation.
2002 An important policy role: played an active role in the evaluation, review and implementation processes of the National Human Resource Development Strategy, the National Development Research Strategy and the National Research and Technology Foresight Exercise..
2002 Ethics discourse: Initiated debate and discussions on Ethics in SET in South Africa that produced a discussion document and a charter that aimed to establish a National Consultative Council on SET Ethics in South Africa.
2002 DST: Participated in the lobbying for the establishment of a separate government department that would focus entirely on SET in SA. The structure and plans for the new Department of Science and Technology (DST) were presented to the NSTF and its members for comment.
2003 Growth and innovation: Commissioned a joint study between the NSTF and NACI (National Advisory Council on Innovation): Growth and Innovation Report on the interaction between economic growth, science, technology and human capital.
2003 NEPAD: Substantially contributed to the development of the science and technology division of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to ensure that SET plays its rightful role on the African continent
2003 proSET: Created a new membership group, known as SETAG (Science, Engineering, Technology and Associated Group), consisting of professional bodies and learned societies. Some of the membership of the Associated Scientific and Technological Societies of South Africa (AS&TS Trust) joined the NSTF under SETAG which was renamed proSET (Professional in Science, Engineering and Technology) in 2009. This sector accounts for about 40 percent of NSTF member organisations.
2004 STEM education: Aspired to change the face of education in South Africa by initiating discussions and leading national consultations that resulted in the formulation and implementation of the National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education.
2005 The Awards Communications sub-committee is established (currently known as the NSTF Awards Committee).
2006 DST policies: Discussion of and stakeholder feedback on the National System of Innovation (NSI) and the DST’s Ten Year Innovation Plan. DST presented their plans for the Technology Innovation Agency, Human Capital Development, the Youth into Science Strategy and the Hydrogen Economy.
2007 NSTF registers as a “Section 21” company under the Companies Act. Legislation was subsequently amended and all Section 21 companies were since referred to as ‘non-profit companies’
2007 DST projects: NSTF managed the National Youth Service on behalf of DST for 5 years, benefitting 330 young unemployed graduates with diplomas and degrees. The Programme provides science graduates with additional skills to enable them to find suitable employment, (currently run by SAASTA/NRF).
2007 Bursary programme: NSTF managed the DST’s ‘Incentive’ Bursary Scheme for eight years to the benefit of more than 70 students
These two programmes were formally evaluated and the reports are available on request.
2007/2008 Science Councils and Statutory Bodies sector gets a Sub-committee of their representatives in NSTF.
2008 NSTF Awards – 10th anniversary
2008 Brilliants Programme initiated to recognise top matric performers in physical science and mathematics (previously called the Education Recognition Programme).
2011 BHP Billiton becomes co-branding sponsor of the NSTF Awards
2015 The new NSTF Awards’ trophy, manufactured from titanium and using additive manufacturing (3D printing) was launched to celebrate the NSTF’s second decade, and the UN’s International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies.
2016 South32 becomes co-branding sponsor of the NSTF Awards
2016 Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation sponsorship for their flagship 50th Anniversary programme, is awarded to NSTF, as one of 12 beneficiaries, for all NSTF youth outreach programmes.
2018 Organised DST consultations and the launch of DST’s new Science, Technology and Innovation White Paper
2018 NSTF Awards – 20th anniversary
2020 NSTF is 25 years old.