Address by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation of the Republic of South Africa, Dr Blade Nzimande, on the occasion of the 2023 BRICS Ministerial Meeting on Science and Innovation, 4 August 2023

Your Excellency, Minister Valery Falkov, Minister of Science and Higher Education, of the Russian Federation, and the members of your delegation,


Your Excellency, Minister Wang Zhigang, Minister of Science and Technology, of the People’s Republic of China, and the members of your delegation,


Your Excellency, Deputy Minister Inacio Arruda, Vice Minister of Science and Technology for Social Development, of the Federative Republic of Brazil, and the members of your delegation,


Dr SK Varshney, Head of International Cooperation in the Department of Science and Technology, of the Republic of India, and the members of your delegation,


Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General in the Department of Science and Innovation, of the Republic of South Africa, and the members of the South African delegation,


One of the strategic objectives of our annual Ministerial Meeting is to provide an opportunity for a high-level exchange on science, technology and innovation policy developments in our respective countries, and for us to share information with each other, on priority investment areas, as well as national progress in the implementation of BRICS partnership initiatives.


I am, thus, delighted to provide you with the South African input for this important agenda item, which enables a sharing of experience and expertise, true to the BRICS spirt of progress through cooperation and learning from each other. These exchanges will also enrich our planning for new cooperation initiatives, which can deliver greater strategic impact.


The year 2022 witnessed an historic milestone in science policy development in South Africa with the adoption by the South African Cabinet under the leadership of His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa, of our new Decadal, or ten-year Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation.


Although prepared by my department, it is not only a plan for the Department of Science and Innovation, or for Government alone, but for all of South Africa.


Through a number of policy, governance and funding interventions, the Plan seeks to enhance our national consensus, coordination and cooperation, including through enhanced Public-Private Partnerships, to put science, technology and innovation at the heart of South Africa’s growth and development agenda.


This new national commitment to work together will be embodied in an Innovation and Skills Compact, to be adopted by government, business, civil society, science and academic leaders at our Science, Technology and Innovation Plenary Meeting, to be chaired by President Ramaphosa.


The Compact will notably include commitments to undertake amongst others a regulatory reform to create a more enabling policy environment for innovation in South Africa; and forge a closer collaboration between higher education and training bodies, and employers, to ensure that skills development better corresponds to the needs of our economy.


Funding including increased investment by business in Research & Development (R&D) and the better coordination between different ministries of our government funding of R&D will be another important part of the Compact – as will be a commitment to use public procurement to support innovation and entrepreneurship.


Our plan does not identify priorities scientific disciplines or technology platforms in their own right, but instead focus on the collective and holistic response of South African science and innovation in a trans- and multi-disciplinary manner on key societal challenges confronting South Africa.


This approach notably foresees a central role by the social sciences and humanities, which remains a priority investment area.


Our commitment to support the long-term well-being of South African science, including through investment in the basic sciences, also remains strong as evidenced by our continued significant investment in astronomy as part of South Africa’s hosting of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.


Earlier this week, the BRICS Young Scientist Forum provided invaluable intellectual input for the implementation of the Decadal Plan with discussions focused on some of the societal challenges prioritised in the Plan, such as climate change and environmental sustainability, the future of education, and the role of technology in shaping the future of society.


Our Annual BRICS Young Innovators Prize also addressed priority themes of the Plan such as the unlocking of new sources of economic growth and increasing the competitiveness of our industries.


These challenges and priorities are of course shared by all BRICS partners, hence our choice of them as themes. I must say that we look forward to deepening our collaboration in all of them.


Dear Colleagues,


May I also briefly share with you developments in three other priority areas, in which we are keen to strengthen BRICS collaboration, namely vaccine manufacturing, the hydrogen economy and the marine sciences.


The Decadal Plan proposes a new dedicated programme on innovation for a healthy South African population. This programme will focus on both physical and mental health, build on our existing successes in for example the fight against infectious diseases such as HIV-AIDS, while also reinforcing our pandemic preparedness.


In this context, developing South Africa’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities will be a priority investment area. Our objective is to develop a viable local vaccine manufacturing industry in South Africa, which will notably to address African concerns regarding of security of supply.


In this regard we are already working with the World Health Organisation through South Africa’s hosting of mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, but are also eager to work with BRICS partners, notably leveraging opportunities of our BRICS Vaccine R&D Centre.


The Decadal Plan also identifies innovation for energy security as a priority and it is within this context that my department is leading the implementation of South Africa’s Hydrogen Society Roadmap, which also seeks to exploit South Africa’s unique comparative advantage, the endowment of 75% of global platinum metals group reserves.


We have made excellent progress in developing new hydrogen and fuel cell technologies and are keen to join forces with BRICS partners in this enterprise.


Opportunities abound in areas such as the decarbonisation of transport and the production of green hydrogen, including as part of a dedicated Platinum Valley, spatial and economic development initiative.


Dear Colleagues,


Our meeting in the city of Gqeberha on South Africa’s Indian Ocean seaboard, is also to emphasize our commitment to the marine sciences and the development of a Blue Economy.


I am therefore delighted that many of your delegations have visited or will be vising the Ocean Sciences Campus of the local Nelson Mandela University.


The Campus is a hub for pioneering transdisciplinary, ocean sciences research, which promotes sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities, while preserving marine biodiversity and ecological integrity. It is a domain I am convinced offer exciting opportunities for BRICS cooperation.


The Decadal Plan also identifies science diplomacy as a crucial, cross-cutting strategic priority, as indeed international cooperation is vital for South African science and innovation to successfully respond to the needs of our society.


Cooperation with partners in the Global South and strengthening multilateralism and solidarity through our BRICS science, technology and innovation partnership is therefore a priority of the highest order.


It is therefore a privilege and honour for South Africa to have led our cooperation over the past year and I am looking forward to a report from our senior officials later this morning on the progress achieved and on the future plans proposed.


In order to ensure that South Africa’s Chairship of BRICS in 2023 leaves a lasting legacy also in science and innovation, I would like to commit that in addition to our ongoing support for instruments such as the BRICS Framework Programme and our various science and technology thematic working groups, we will be advancing a number of additional initiatives.


This will include organising in December 2023 the occasion of our annual Science Forum South Africa, South Africa’s biggest public science event, a first BRICS Conference on Technology Foresight hosted by our National Advisory Council on Innovation.


Secondly, we will be supporting technical exchanges to deepen BRICS cooperation in the strategic area of indigenous knowledge systems, with a special focus on research, innovation and training for the responsible use of natural medicine.


I would like to conclude with a special appeal, dear colleagues, and that is for us to honour the commitment our governments made in 2015 when signing the Memorandum of Understanding on Science, Technology and Innovation, in its Article 2 (d), which set the objective to “promote, where appropriate, joint BRICS science, technology and innovation partnerships with other strategic actors in the developing world.”


In this context I would specifically like to appeal that we explore appropriate partnerships in support of the Pan-African science agenda.


As you are aware the South African Government’s theme for our BRICS Chairship in 2023 is “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism” and our Ministerial Meeting has as theme: “BRICS and Africa: Enabling inclusive, sustainable development in a changing world through knowledge partnerships.”


I would therefore like to invite all BRICS partners to join forces with South Africa, whether bilaterally or multilaterally, in advancing the Pan-African agenda for science and innovation, consistent with BRICS spirit of solidarity and our commitment to development.


I believe that finding appropriate mechanism for enabling cooperation and possible joint programmes between BRICS and African funders of research and innovation will be a strategic game-changer for Pan African science funding.


In this regard, I would like to announce three concrete interventions I have asked my officials to take, to prepare such future cooperation:


  • Firstly, under the forthcoming BRICS Framework Programme thematic call for proposals on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, we will be availing additional funding to South African participants to also work with partners from other African countries and thus to introduce them to BRICS cooperation


  • Secondly, we will be providing funding to the South African participants in current BRICS Framework Programme projects, to facilitate networking between BRICS researchers and counterparts in other African countries, again with the aim of building BRICS-Africa networks, and


  • Thirdly we will be organising a symposium later this year between BRICS funding agencies and their African counterparts to consider possible future joint funding initiatives.


Dear Colleagues,


We are meeting here in our Eastern Cape Province, the home province of democratic South Africa’s first President, our cherished Madiba. President Nelson Mandela famously said: “There is little favourable to be said about poverty, but it was often an incubator of true friendship. Many people will appear to befriend you when you are wealthy, but precious few will do the same when you are poor. If wealth is a magnet, poverty is a kind of repellent. Yet, poverty often brings out the true generosity in others.”


In this regard, South Africa will always be grateful for the loyal and unwavering friendship and solidarity afforded to us by the peoples of Brazil, Russia, India and China, during our long struggle for freedom, and subsequently your consistent support since 1994 for development of our country, and our ongoing fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment. We deeply value the contribution of our cooperation in science and innovation to make South Africa a better country.


I therefore have every confidence that our BRICS partners will join us in an effort, within the spirit of generosity President Mandela spoke about, to also develop science and innovation capacities across Africa. This will be a lasting contribution of our shared objective to creating a better future for all, ensuring no-one is left behind.


I look forward to the rest of our discussion and our future cooperation.


I thank you.