Prof. Wiseman Nkulu, Chancellor of the University of Pretoria
Prof. Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pretoria
Prof Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal: Research and Postgraduate Education, University of Pretoria
Prof. Bernard Slippers, Founding Interim Director of Future Africa
Mr Thierry Zomahoun, President and CEO of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences
Dr Connie Nshemereirwe, Co-chair of the Global Young Academy and Africa Science Leadership Programme fellow
Prof. Howard Alper, Distinguished Professor at the University of Ottawa and Advisor to Future Africa
Ladies and gentlemen
I congratulate the University of Pretoria on the completion and launch of the Future Africa campus, and thank you for inviting me to join you today. I must highlight the significance of this campus to us, as this is where we hosted the final summit to discuss our White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, which has now been approved by our government.
I also take this opportunity to congratulate Prof. Tawana Kupe for his inauguration as the principal of this University.
I want to start by sending my deepest condolences to the peoples of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi following the devastation of Cyclone Idai. This is one of the worst disasters to befall the Southern African Development Community region, with Mozambique being the hardest hit.
Together with the rest of the region, our government has intensified efforts to find and rescue the missing and to bring much needed aid to those in affected by the cyclone. We must appreciate the work done by the South African Defence Force, the South African Police Service and other government agencies.
It is also encouraging to see South African citizens, companies and members of the diplomatic corps making donations to the victims in the form of financial aid, clothes, water purifiers, non-perishable food items and blankets.
We must commend the people of the United Republic of Tanzania for sending eight tonnes of assorted drugs in addition to seven tonnes of rice they had already sent to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. We understand that Tanzania will also be donating 200 tonnes of maize to Malawi. Similarly, the people of Botswana are providing emergency humanitarian relief and assistance in the form of water purifying solutions, non-perishable foodstuffs and blankets.
We encourage all South Africans and the rest of the continent to follow this example of African solidarity. It is vitally important that, as Africans, we give practical meaning to the expression “African solutions for African problems”.
Sixty-nine years ago, Dr Kwame Nkrumah stood before the United Nations General assembly and proclaimed the “Dawn of a new Era” for Africa. He said then that:
“For years, Africa has been the foot-stool of colonialism and imperialism, exploitation and degradation. From the north to the south, from the east to the west, her sons languished in the chains of slavery and humiliation, and Africa’s exploiters and self-appointed controllers of her destiny strode across our land with incredible inhumanity without mercy, without shame, and without honour. Those days are gone and gone forever, and now I, an African, stand before this august Assembly of the United Nations and speak with a voice of peace and freedom, proclaiming to the world the dawn of a new era”
When Dr Nkrumah made this speech, many African countries were still under the yoke of colonialism. In South Africa, colonisation had just been intensified by the imposition of apartheid two years before in 1948. Dr Nkrumah understood that the people of Africa were willing to pay any price to ensure that the continent was totally liberated from the shackles of colonisation. True to this understanding, Africans did not rest until, in 1994, South Africa completed the historic necessity of the liberation of the African continent.
Our forebears laid down their lives so that we could live in an Africa whose children would be free to pursue any endeavour regardless of its complexity, in order to construct a better Africa and the world.
Today, as Africans we have made bold to describe the 21st century as the African century. And it is in our hands to make this assertion a practical reality.
In 2015, African leaders adopted Agenda 2063 as the continent’s new long-term vision for the next 50 years. Agenda 2063, rooted in a purposeful Pan Africanism to realise Africa’s Renaissance, provides a robust framework for addressing past and current injustices. It recognises that to achieve its goals, science, technology and innovation should be harnessed as critical enabling tools. This is because, to quote Dr Nkrumah again, “It is within the possibility of science and technology to make even the Sahara bloom into a vast field with verdant vegetation for agricultural and industrial developments.”
The AU has adopted the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), which places science, technology and innovation at the epicentre of Africa’s socio-economic development and growth to �
eradicate hunger and achieving food security;
develop new and to support existing measures for the prevention and control of diseases;
promote communication (physical and intellectual mobility);
protect our space;
promote living together and building cohesive societies; and
expedite wealth creation.
We can all agree that these six priorities broadly cover all the challenges that the African continent needs to address on an urgent basis.
The expectation is that the implementation of STISA-2024 will take place at more than one level. At national level, member states are expected to incorporate this strategy into their national development plans. At regional level, regional economic communities, research institutions, networks and partners are expected to leverage the strategy to design and coordinate initiatives.
The African continent has been an object in three industrial revolutions because we failed to husband scientific breakthroughs for our own purposes. This is because colonisation confined and fragmented human capacity at every level on the continent. Thus, it has become very common for sceptics to ask us the question: How is it that Africa claims this century as the African century if it still lacks in the basic necessities of the first, second and third industrial revolutions?
We say to the sceptics, history is not linear and the Africa of today has developed and continues to develop the capacity to weave the lessons of our past with broader capabilities emanating from the modern world so that we can fast-track our development.
Gathered here today, we are all aware that we are on the verge of another industrial revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Thus, it stands to reason that for us, as Africans, to make the 21st century an African century, we have no choice but to be active participants in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We therefore need to answer the question: What is it that we are doing practically to ensure that, as Africans, we become active participants in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
The launch of the Future Africa campus we have come to witness is a timely response to the urgent need for us to place science, technology and innovation at the centre of our development. It is my belief that science, technology and innovation can also help us break the narrow nationalist walls that are sadly starting to take root, especially in the mental spaces of some of our elites on the continent, which run the risk of pitting Africans against each other. Future Africa must stand as a shining example of what Africans from all over the continent can achieve in resolving our challenges, working together as Africans and not citizens of individual nation states.
I was therefore pleased to read that Future Africa will “develop interdisciplinary and multinational research teams who, together with societal structures beyond academia, can engage in impactful and responsible research to find innovative solutions to complex problems in Africa.”
Furthermore, the initiative promises “to mobilise scientists in effective collaboration across natural and social sciences, humanities, economics and technology development, to find the best scientific solutions to multi-faceted problems.”
The Department of Science and Technology is in the process of establishing the African Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in partnership with the World Economic Forum. We will be inviting other African countries, academics and the private sector to partner with us so that we can work together to maximise the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We will expect Future Africa to join us and become an active partner in this initiative.
The launch of this initiative today must send a strong signal that South Africa is ready to discharge its responsibility as an active participant in the renewal of the continent. As our former President Thabo Mbeki put it:
“The peoples of Africa entertain the legitimate expectation that the new South Africa, which they helped to bring into being, will not only be an expression of the African Renaissance by the manner in which it conducts its affairs, but will also be an active participant with other Africans in the struggle for the victory of that Renaissance throughout our continent.
Necessarily, therefore, we are engaged and will continue to be engaged in Africa’s efforts to guarantee peace for her children, to feed and clothe them, to educate them and to bring them up as human beings as human as any other in the world, their dignity restored and their equal worth recognised and valued throughout our universe.”
It is my sincere hope that Future Africa will live up to its aspiration to be an African centre, bringing all Africans together to work towards finding solutions for our continent.
Once again, my congratulations on this milestone.
I thank you.
Source: Department: Science and Technology (DST)