Science and Technology minister Naledi Pandor says South Africa is on par with its peers and the European Union in the innovation business.
Speaking at the National Innovation Summit at the Maropeng Conference Centre west of Johannesburg this morning, Pandor said SA does well in international innovation rankings: “the 2009 African Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum, compared us favourably to Brazil and India.”
She added that the 2005 South African Innovation Survey, commissioned by her department from the Human Sciences Research Council, revealed that the proportion of South African companies engaged in innovative activities compared favourably with the EU average.
The survey also found SA was not a technology colony. “This means that that we do not depend exclusively on foreign technology.”
“Most innovations are developed by enterprises in South Africa “, the report said, “and the influence of foreign partners is comparable to the experience of other countries.”
Pandor said innovation and investment in new knowledge “have been strong foundations for economic growth and societal change in many countries in Asia and Europe.”
She says SA has benefited from innovation but still lags behind many successful countries.
“New technologies provide huge commercial and economic payoffs, and extend to global commerce and advances in energy, health, transportation, and many other sectors,” she says.
“The current affluence of developed countries is largely the outcome of their investment in new knowledge and the resulting spread of information and communication technologies, both through the use of modern transportation technologies, and virtual movement through the Internet and other global communication networks.”
Pandor says more can be done.
She says current public funding programmes for innovation in South Africa could be intensified, better publicised and aimed at establishing more trusting relationships between funders and performers of innovation activities.
“We can do something about the low level of interest in public funds for innovation. The DST has made a plan to do so,” she says.
The minister adds that the DST has identified five key areas for research. They are tapping biodiversity in support of the pharmaceutical industry, investing in space science and technology, moving towards the use of renewable energy, playing a leading regional role in climate change and, lastly, mastering human and social dynamics.
“South African universities are among the leading 1% of universities in several disciplines – clinical medicine, plant and animal science, social sciences, environment ecology, geosciences, and bio-chemistry.
“The point I`m making is that you won`t find sectoral excellence without indigenous academic excellence in the same field. And this is why we are committed to maintaining research excellence in our leading disciplines in our research-intensive universities,” Pandor says.
“South Africa has many areas of geographical and technological advantage. We now need to work strategically to ensure that some of the investments we have already made through the Innovation Fund are continued and improved under the TIA (Technology Innovation Agency, established this year).”
Pic: The DST’s Sumbandilasat, awaiting launch in Russia