International Research Forum in Cape Town

Address by the Director General of the Northern Cape Province, Advocate Justice Bekebeke, on the occasion of the International Research Forum, hosted by the Department of Science and Technology, on 30 August 2012 in Cape Town

Programme Director
Members of the Diplomatic Community

Representatives of International Organizations promoting Science and Development
Heads and Senior Managers of Research Organisations
Heads of Higher Education Institutions
Members of the Academic Community
Researchers and Scholars
Government Officials
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen


On July 20, 1969, at 10:56pm Eastern Daylight Time, American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, made a brief statement on the Moon at the base of the Eagle landing module.

This statement, or speech, is one of the shortest speeches in recorded history and one of the most iconic of all time.

Armstrong’s words on that momentous evening are as follows; and I quote:

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

On Mother Earth, approximately a billion people were listening to Armstrong as he spoke from the Moon. It was clearly evident to the entire universe that the Moon Landing was a resounding success.

Ladies and Gentlemen, unbeknown to the world, President Richard Nixon had a back-up speech in case things went wrong and its contents were not disclosed until after Nixon’s death in 1994. Excerpts from this back up speech read as follows; and I quote:

“These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding;

... they will be mourned by the people of the World; they will be mourned by Mother Earth that dared to send two of her sons into the unknown;

... in their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as

one....;

... others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will

not be denied.....”

Both thankfully and fortunately, the speech was never used. The Moon Landing was undoubtedly one of the seismic events in the history of mankind that was brought about by a generation of scientists who planned and executed the Landing with perfect precision. They accelerated the “space race” and raised the benchmark even higher for mankind’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge.

Programme Director, I relate this factual account of the Moon Landing as I think the elements of resilience, sound research, precision planning and patriotism all shine through: elements of human endeavour that deserve to be emulated .

Ladies and Gentlemen, I hail from the largest province of the Republic of South Africa, the Northern Cape, which in contrast has the smallest population. Roughly over a million people reside in a land mass covering almost 30% of South Africa’s land surface.

Like the remainder of the country, but more so the Northern Cape, we still face the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality. To address the structural crisis of the apartheid economy, broad measures are required to ensure more competitive, more productive and equitable practices in our economy; improving infrastructure and expanding our skills base; reducing unnecessary regulatory uncertainty and supporting the legitimate aims and aspirations of our people.

The Northern Cape is exceptionally rich in minerals, and the economic benefits of these resources are not being maximised for the advancement of our people at large.

In essence, our objective is to guide the Province in terms of coordinating various role players and to promote sustainable economic growth, to facilitate development, enable focused LED implementation, unlock latent economic development potential, encourage foreign and private sector investment and create economic development and job opportunities for the poor in our drive to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of the people of the Northern Cape.

One of the most important challenges for the Northern Cape is to address is its historically very inequitable economic structure, where relatively few people own most of the economic assets and benefits. The average level of inequality across the Northern Cape is not declining, and in many instances, it is increasing.

The province lies to the south of the Orange River, which provides the basis for a healthy agricultural industry. The landscape is characterised by vast plains with outcroppings of rock piles and the cold Atlantic Ocean on the western boundary.

Kimberley, the seat of Provincial Government, remains a landmark to the discovery of diamonds. The historical significance of diamonds in Kimberley is a stark reminder of some of the exploitation of the past. A history that we do not want repeated, in the Square Kilometre Array Telescope or emerging Solar Energy Parks of the Northern Cape.

Upington represents one of the solar hub centres of South Africa. We look forward to the necessary infrastructure being implemented with our research partners, to establish Upington as a leading solar Research and Development centre.

Some of the agricultural strengths of the province lie in karakul sheep and dried-fruit industries, along with seasonal fruits, as well as South Africa’s most northerly wine-making region. The agricultural sector of the Northern Cape represents a significant untapped green-field for agricultural R&D and water management innovation.

Springbok, in the heart of the Namaqualand is spring-flower country and is an inspiring array of nature’s magnificence that is only matched by the richness of Kuruman’s iron ore deposits. Kuruman, is a major growth area for mining in the province. Significant planning has gone into the expansion of the Kuruman iron ore deposits, which has led to the expansion of the rail systems to increase capacity to the ports. This richness of the iron ore deposits presents a primary opportunity for R&D to develop suitable beneficiation processes whereby the province benefits from its natural resources. Not only in the mining and agricultural sectors, but more importantly the nascent opportunities around the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), Southern Africa’s Largest Telescope (SALT) and solar energy.

Sutherland is host to the southern hemisphere’s largest astronomical observatory, the multinational-sponsored Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and neighbours Carnarvon, the host of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). SKA represents the next-generation of radio telescopes being developed by scientists from 17 countries, which is poised to open the skies for our further understanding of the workings of the Galaxy.

The Northern Cape recognises the immense scientific potential awaiting the discovery of the new information that will inform the bedrocks of civilization. SKA, SALT and Solar Energy are focus areas that the Northern Cape has identified as catalysts to transform the natural resource endowments of the Province, as a means to transform the province into an information society and knowledge based economy.

The Nama-Karoo area is known for its spectacular display of spring flowers that attracts thousands of tourists every year. This biome is home to many wonderful plant species, such as the elephant’s trunk, tree aloe and a variety of succulents. Once again this presents an exciting area for research partnerships.

The diversity of the Northern Cape environment represents a Province that is poised to offer opportunities for international research partnerships as outlined by the themes to be covered during our two-days here in Cape Town. In particular:

Harvest Technologies for one of the Northern Cape’s predominant economic drivers namely, agriculture.
Water management, in the largest part of the Province, the Nama-Karoo Biome.
Satellite applications linked to our participation in SKA and SALT.
Potential pharmaceutical opportunities from our agricultural strengths and wonderful plant species in the Nama-Karoo; and
Renewable energies linked to our intent to establish solar farms; and;

The Northern Cape’s natural resource prowess offers a conducive environment for international research partnerships. Most importantly however, and pivotal to this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is to ensure that our emerging research partnerships benefit the local environment. Not only through low-skilled labour, but the positioning of the Northern Cape as the next hot-bed for research and nascent technologies in the fields of solar energy and radio telescopy.

We welcome discussions with partners interested in supporting us as we develop the first “new” university in the Northern Cape. Certainly a learning environment will emerge to leverage international experience and expertise to propel the Northern Cape’s natural endowment into a sustainable future that will usher in a new knowledge paradigm for the Northern Cape.

Programme Director, globalization, climate change, economic recession, disease prevalence and the growing divide between rich and poor are some of the challenges facing South Africa. The Province recognizes that much research with practical, implementable and lasting outcomes must still be produced to address these challenges.

Therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is imperative that R&D partnerships must provide a means for South Africa to become more proactive in the development of ideas, methods and techniques to implement viable and sustainable futures for our communities and the preservation of our natural environments.

It is therefore important that the people of the Northern Cape become the participants and provocateurs of research solutions for our conditions in the Province. For too long much of natural endowments have not served to grow the intellectual and skills capacity of the Northern Cape. In my considered view, and as an appropriate example, the “Big-Hole”, or “Groot Gat” represents a glaring example of how the natural endowments of the province, have not benefited its people.

The priority for people’s development must be evidenced in our research partners’ willingness to acquire research knowledge in the environment where the research is being executed. Our research partnerships must invest heavily in human and information capital and effective internal systems for the Northern Cape’s evolution.

Subsequently, the primary intention of our dialogue must be to develop awareness about opportunities and challenges for international R&D partnerships in South Africa, and processes to increase the availability of skills, talent, knowledge and the infrastructure necessary to create value and innovation through our emergent partnerships, in the very location that is providing the research opportunities.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a critical aspect for accelerating development and growth is our economy’s ability to improve access to information and integrate information and communications technologies (ICTs) across the social and economic sectors. Appropriate and relevant information has the potential to dynamically catalyze education, health, cultural and the socio-economic development of the Province, especially within rural areas. The province has therefore prepared the Northern Cape’s first Information Society Strategy emanating from the INSPIRE programme.

“INSPIRE”, the acronym for the Provincial Information Society Strategy Programme in the Republic of South Africa, originated under the Co-operation Development Agreement between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of the Republic of Finland under the auspices of the Department of Communications and the Presidential National Commission on Information Society and Development (ISAD).

INSPIRE was conceptualised on the experiences of the Finnish peoples’ transition to an Information Society. The particular model that was used to guide the implementation of INSPIRE was based on one of Finland’s most famous information society projects namely, Learning Upper North Karelia, which sought to prevent social exclusion, support social innovations, and improve services and living conditions.

The development of the information society in Upper Karelia was based on the close co-operation and creation of networks for business, administration, municipalities, towns, educational organisations and broad participation by all citizens.

INSPIRE interventions were planned as “action against exclusion”, and incorporated the following aspects:

Basic computer skills for educators;
Information platforms to improve education delivery;
Open Source Software (OSS) training as a catalyst for programming skills;
Access points in libraries for those not having a computer;
OSS kiosks in learning environments; and
Education service delivery improvement platforms created as information channels for administration and teacher development processes.

Programme Director, these interventions were under-pinned by the ‘user-centric’ concept and was supported by social research that contributed to the development of the Northern Cape Information Society Strategy. The process for achieving an effective strategy in the Northern Cape was derived from the lessons from Upper Karelia.

The available land mass however, does provide plenty of space for the establishment of infrastructure to drive research and prototype some of the results for local production. The SKA is one such research opportunity in the Northern Cape. The human and technical resources required for not only the data produced by SKA, but also in the technologies, systems and products to build and maintain the SKA, present significant opportunities for research into “extremely high” performance computers required to operate at transactional speed sets that we do not have as yet, or cooling systems that must maintain operational functions in extreme temperatures that range from very low to very high as well as new materials for the fabrication of the satellite dish array and its devices.

The discipline and competencies for research excellence in the Northern Cape must still be built. Whether in post-harvest technologies, water management, radio satellites, pharmaceuticals, renewable energies or waste management. We do not propose we seed all of these research opportunities in the Northern Cape, but only the ones that leverage the natural endowments of the Province and present a platform to transform the province into an information-based knowledge society and economy.

Most notable research areas in which the Northern Cape recognises that it can partner in the accumulation of new knowledge and intellectual property are:

SKA
New materials from iron ore and other minerals found in the Province e.g. rare earth elements;
Pharmaceuticals from the Nama-Karoo; and
Water management innovation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Province proposes that the Research Partnerships pursue a systematic value chain that institutionalises research in the Northern Cape. The fundamental elements of this proposed research arrangement for Research Partnerships in the Northern Cape are:

 

 

Technical experts that will guide the process for the establishment of not-only the “top-down” administrative processes, but also the “bottom-up” research, production and skills attainment processes.
The creation of research facilities in the location of the comparative and competitive advantage that is being pursued as an international research partnership. The development of these facilities should be linked to a skills development process that accrues benefits to the Provinces’ human and natural resources pools.
The research partnerships should stimulate the “local” environment and conditions for the development of the economic sectors; introduction and uptake of technologies and resources that stimulate change; strategic resources to increase the local knowledge-base; and fundamentally transform the socio-economic structures and industrial characteristics of the Northern Cape towards a knowledge-based society and economy.


The lessons the province has derived from mining exploration and natural vegetation exploitation suggests the processes for defining and capturing the research agenda and the emergent technologies being developed and deployed in the Northern Cape, must create advantages in the province for new skills, processes, technologies and in particular “intellectual-property” that is a result of our local natural endowments.


Our research partnerships should exemplify the evolution of Northern Cape society into a society that is “characterised by a high level of information intensity in the everyday life of most citizens, in most organisations and workplaces; by the use of common or compatible technology for a wide range of personal, social, educational and business activities, and by the ability to transmit, receive and exchange digital data rapidly between places irrespective of distance”. Subsequently, the network of suppliers for hardware and software required to perform research, should be attracted to establish the manufacturing of components in the Province to support the local research agenda.

The infrastructural layers comprising computing, communication and services are required to create excellence in the research partnerships that will provide break-through collaboration, knowledge-sharing and research across the local areas of competitive advantage; and
The priorities for choosing research partners will depend on achieving a balance between the economy and society and building consistency along the growth and development strategies and instruments aligned at National, Provincial, and Local Government levels.


Programme Director, a point for critical reflection could be defined from the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) statement, that is whether our research partnerships have contributed to the formation of a ‘People-centred, Inclusive and Development-oriented Society, where everyone can create, access, utilise and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and people to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving the quality of their life’.

Moreover, Ladies and Gentlemen, the monitoring and evaluation model for our research partnerships need to be informed by the vision, mission, partners, goals, objectives and strategic interventions presented by the provinces’ socio-economic comparative and competitive advantages. The basic units of analysis will be informed by the Provinces’ priorities as aligned from the citizen to communities, government, business, academia, civil society and networks, within the contexts of Government’s Development Plans.

The conceptual framework for our emergent research partnerships must firstly uplift the levels of skills in the Northern Cape; secondly to accrue infrastructure benefits for the Province to perform high value research; and thirdly to contribute to the evolution of an innovative knowledge society in the Northern Cape.

It is important to note that ALL efforts should maintain a desire to build research excellence for the South African context and circumstance. The experience of the Northern Cape Province suggests that our research partnerships be inextricably linked to the local context and competitive advantage and requires the institutional mechanisms and international policy arrangements to ensure that the new knowledge formed from our research partnership does not only benefit the developed world, but significantly contributes to research ownership by African scholars and scientists.

I would like to turn my attention to the use of indigenous plants for medicinal purposes. This is not a new area. As an example, several years ago the CSIR entered into an agreement with one of our communities in the Province around the exploitation of Hoodia – a plant which has traditionally been used in this community as an appetite suppressant. Notwithstanding the challenges that it experienced, this partnership managed to bring researchers, communities and industry together to develop and market a product that made use of indigenous knowledge.

The Northern Cape is home to some 5400 plant species. These are found in six ecological areas that occur in well defined vegetation structures and climatic conditions. The Botany Unit of Mc Gregor Museum, located in Kimberley, has done very good work in studying some of these species. The unit also regularly hosts post-graduate students from South Africa as well as from outside the country.

Support for this area of scholarship is demonstrated through several initiatives that are undertaken in various parts of the province. One such initiative is the Karoo Indigenous Plant Nursery. The centre, which is run by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, is devoted to saving endangered plant species that are indigenous to the Karoo area.

It is clear that there is a wealth of indigenous knowledge that awaits further development and, dare I say, exploitation. It is our hope that these opportunities for collaboration will be explored in a fair and just manner that shows sensitivity to the need for economic benefits to accrue to the custodians of such knowledge.

Ladies and Gentlemen, solar energy has emerged as a strong option that could respond in part to the search for alternatives. The Northern Cape has been identified as the best area for the development and use of concentrated solar power technology. In recognition of this potential, plans are underway to build, in Upington, a massive solar park that will generate an eighth of the country’s electricity needs when it is fully functional. It is fair to say that the harnessing of solar energy is not as yet a mature technology. I would like to think that a great deal is yet to be achieved through research and development. I am aware that good work is being done at places such as the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University. It is our hope that more of this type of work, which fosters partnerships between industry and higher education, will grow in the province to support what has been described as the new green economy.

At this point, I also need to mention the excitement that has accompanied the announcement that a new university is going to be established in the Northern Cape. We recognize the contributions that existing higher education institutions and science councils have made to research and development in the region. We, however, believe that the existence of a higher education institution closer to the opportunities that exist in the region should strengthen the possibility of their exploitation which must translate into a realization of economic growth and development for the region.

Programme Director, the use of indigenous knowledge for bioprospecting contributes to the creation of job opportunities, poverty eradication, skills development and technological transfer when it is utilised for purposes in the public interest. National Government announced on 27 July 2012 that seven bioprospecting permits have been awarded to organisations which legally enabled them to engage in bioprospecting activities whilst simultaneously channeling the benefits to the owners of the indigenous knowledge and/or providers of indigenous biological resources.

Programme Director, another example of the benefits of technological innovation for community development in the Northern Cape is the project of Professor Ernst Uken and his team from the Cape Technikon who have developed a world first: a battery-less solar-powered sewing machine. Fifteen of the photon-powered machines are in place at the remote community of Kliprand in the Northern Cape, where local women are producing overalls for the farming community. Driven by solar panels, the machines are conventional electric models converted to use 12V DC by replacing the ordinary motor with a car windscreen wiper motor.

Programme Director, the Bloodhound supersonic car project has been regarded as one of the most beneficial projects ever hosted by the Northern Cape. An attempt will be made to break the world land speed record of 1000 mph. This engineering adventure project provides us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. To achieve this ambitious goal, the Bloodhound Education Programme will be made available to all pupils in primary and secondary schools, and to students in further and higher education. Nearly 4000 schools have registered in the first 18 months of the project, and numerous presentations have been given to other groups and professional institutions, taking the project to the heart of the community and society. The Bloodhoud Project offers a unique opportunity to provide university level engineering and technology students with access to real design challenges and test data as the project develops. This program is driven by the Univeristy of West of England (UWE), Swansea University, the Univeristy of Southhampton, and Birmingham Univeristy. The Bloodhoud SSC centre will be a world class learning environment.

In preparing the track for this engineering feat, 300 workers have, thus far, cleared the whole of the main track, 19 km long by 500 m wide, and they are now working their way back up the western side of the track, clearing a 300 m safety zone to give BLOODHOUND SSC some run-off area in the (unlikely) event that it’s needed.

Ladies and Gentlemen, think about the scale and magnitude of that for a moment: 19,000 by 500 m. That’s 9,500,000 square metres of desert surface, cleared by hand. Try and visualise it this way: next time you stand next to the road you live in, imagine sweeping one lane of it from end to end. If you live on a long road, this rapidly becomes a huge task. 9,500,000 sq m is the equivalent of sweeping that lane from London to Moscow – and now that they have reached Moscow, they have to turn round and sweep the other lane back to London, to complete the safety zones. To say that its simply staggering is an understatement indeed!

Programme Director, South Africa and the province also shows great potential in terms of wind energy. The Northern Cape Provincial Growth and Development Strategy states that a potential market for 11 million heaters exists and this can be linked to the establishment of Siyanda as the solar capital in South Africa. Production of solar geysers will also serve as job creation initiatives. The solar park that is being created needs infrastructure that can be manufactured locally. The maintenance of wind generators can create a substantial number of jobs.

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to offer the Northern Cape

Provincial Government’s unconditional support for the proposals outlined

in the National Development Plan 2030 as they relate to research and

innovation in South Africa. The proposals, in essence, are as follows:

Create a common overarching framework to address pressing challenges in the national system of innovation, involving the higher and further education system, state-owned enterprises and private industries. The system needs to function in a coherent and coordinated manner with broad common objectives aligned to national priorities. Special consideration should also be given to dedicated programmes in water, power, marine, space and software engineering, in which South Africa has both comparative and competitive advantages.

Nurture and coordinate research capacity in higher education and link it to postgraduate studies. Improve coordination and support for partnerships between universities and other research and innovation sites.

Transform the demographic composition of researchers in higher education, research councils and private research establishments.
Increase support for postgraduate study at universities, for senior researchers, for partnerships between universities and industry.
Develop a common policy framework on the critical role of science and technology, the role of higher education in shaping society, and the future of the country and its growth path.

Relax immigration requirements for highly skilled science and mathematics teachers, technicians and researchers.
Revitalize science and mathematics by increasing the number of school leavers eligible to study science and mathematics-based subjects at university.
Develop a few world-class centres and programmes within both the national system of innovation and the higher education sector over the next 18 years. The right to co-host the Square Kilometre Array project is an example. These should be in South Africa’s areas of comparative and competitive advantage, including indigenous knowledge systems.

The government must create an investment climate that encourages the private sector to compete locally and internationally with innovative products, services and technologies. The freedom of scientists to investigate and of entrepreneurs to innovate is critical. The government must support collaboration between the business, academic and public sectors.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the national system of innovation is about networks and partnerships. Research and development happens in many sites outside universities, including the science councils, state-owned enterprises and industry.

Partnerships are important for drawing together the capabilities, interest, and resources of different stakeholders. A framework to coordinate the production of knowledge and guide the investment of public funds should support such partnerships.

The framework should include strategies and incentives to attract businesses to develop industry clusters designed to increase competitiveness and wealth.

The decisions we make at this Forum will surely determine our competitiveness as a Nation. We have no option but to forge ahead.

It is therefore my sincere wish that not in the too distant future our research output will be of such quality and magnitude that we can all, in unison, proclaim:

“A small step for the Northern Cape, but a gaint leap for South Africa”


I Thank You

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