Minister Pandor’s speech at the 19th NSTF-South32 Awards

Department of Science and Technology

Wednesday, 29 June 2017

19:00 Emperors Palace Convention Centre, Kempton Park

It is wonderful to be at the 19th NSTF awards celebrating excellence in Science. I wish to congratulate all nominees and award winners on the role they play in enhancing the performance of our National System of Innovation.

The UN declared this year’s science theme the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This is in recognition of the importance of fostering a greater awareness of the rich heritage in many countries, and linking this to science and its various disciplines. The theme also allows us to consider initiatives that will bring about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures and races and gender.

Travel and tourism create jobs, drive exports, and generate wealth across the world.

Our focus this year should be on the potential of tourism to advance the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our researchers should play a leading role in generating the evidence base for changes in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more sustainable tourism sector.

The DST focuses on several research areas that relate to sustainability – such as water, waste, energy and the bio economy – humanities and socials sciences. We aim to catalyse vibrant, knowledge-based activities in South Africa that are driven by the quality of the scientists we train, the quality of our research infrastructure, and the enablers we have put in place to turn scientific research into technology.

Some research sectors are more easily available to science tourism than others – the study of the sky and the search for our origins. Science tourism is not the same as sustainable tourism but the former provides resources to research the latter.

Science tourism can be described as visiting and exploring scientific landmarks, museums, research facilities (and laboratories), observatories, nature reserves, science centres and institutions of higher learning. But, this is a very narrow perspective of the sustainability focus of the UN theme. More is demanded from our scientists. Virtual visits to protected sites, research initiatives that integrate integrity in the research agenda, visit programmes that emphasise diversity and learning across cultures.

It has also been termed “knowledge oriented tourism”, as the tourist makes a contribution to academic scholarship/research, as well as learning more about scientific issues and principles, and a potential support base for future work.

The DST is collaborating with the Department of Tourism, the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, and the Kareeberg Municipality in establishing a Science Visitor Centre in Carnarvon to take advantage of the expected surge in science tourism as a result of the development of the MeerKAT and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) projects.

The communities of Vanwyksvlei, Vosburg, Williston and Carnarvon, which are on the periphery of the SKA, will benefit from this project through programmes such as enterprise development, career development, and education outreach.

The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) has boosted tourism significantly in Sutherland and transformed it from an agricultural town to a science tourism destination. Before SALT, there were approximately 250 tourists annually, now there are over 12,000. This has spurred economic development in the remote village, with the establishment of many new guesthouses and related businesses. The downside of this has been the challenge of ensuring the poorest and most marginalised are also beneficiaries.

Similarly, the South African Space Agency (SANSA) has visitors’ centres at their Space Science and Space Operations site, in Hermanus and Hartebeesthoek, respectively.

At both sites, the programme offered to the public and school groups emphasises the role and benefits of space science and technology to our everyday life, and highlights the significance of the site locations with regard to the important science that is taking place there.

The DST is also a partner to the Department of Tourism on the National Heritage and Cultural Tourism Strategy whose mission is to unlock the economic potential of heritage (including palaeo-sciences) resources through sustainable tourism development.

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage sites form part of the Gauteng provincial government’s premier tourist destinations, this includes the development of the associated tourist facilities (Wits Origins Centre, the Sterkfontein Interpretation Centre and the Maropeng Centre). These have made a significant impact on Gauteng’s economy.

I am proud to say that science in South Africa is leading the way in building understanding of our role in the history of life and in the future of the universe.

An organisation called PAST promotes palaeosciences research, and education and public outreach programmes – for example The Walking Tall Educational Theatre Project, which has reached 1.2 million people across Africa.

The ‘All from One’ campaign and exhibition is another PAST (Palaeontological Scientific Trust) project. It’s important because first of all it’s aim is to combat discrimination – in all of its forms – as a basis for oppressing others. Racial discrimination remains the most insidious type, and perhaps the biggest barrier to working together to build a sustainable future.

The ‘All from One’ exhibition is about acknowledging humankind’s place in the universe – as one species among millions. It’s about tolerance and respect for one another so that we can unite and collaborate in conserving Earth’s resources and biodiversity.

South Africa is one of the most bio rich and diverse countries in the world. Sustainable Development provides an opportunity to us to use science, technology and innovation to preserve diversity and its benefits.

In closing, tonight is about celebration. I heartily congratulate all the awardees, and thank South32 for their support.

Each year I’m impressed by how awards motivate our research community.

I believe, on the basis of the evidence here this evening, that South Africa has scientists who are among the best in the world. We have shown the world that we have confronted the legacy of apartheid and are working at building an inclusive democracy and society. We have shown the world that we have the capacity to compete with the best in emerging scientific fields and new technologies. We have shown the world that we can build global infrastructure for global science.

The awardees are our example – young people here this evening should draw on their work to build future careers in science and technology.

It’s possible to do more – it’s in your hands to do better.