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Friday, January 21, 2022

Boosting the market for Science and Technology in SA

Moipone Malefane

Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane is passionate about bringing more women into the science and technology space.

She wants to see them serving on the boards as well being the CEOs in the entities that fall under her department.

Her interest is also to ensure funding is unlocked in order for them to study in the space of science and technology – making them ready for the fourth industrial revolution.

Kubayi-Ngubane, in an exclusive interview with Inside Politics, said she was the first to admit that almost all senior positions in her department were occupied by men, but she was slowly changing that.

“I cannot proudly say we have done it [having women in senior positions], this is my daily work because we have contracts with people in these strategic positions but where there are vacancies, we look for qualified women.”

She said that so far on-board appointments at entities that belong to her department like CSIR, HSCR, SANSA and NRM, have managed to place women.

However, she added that the CEOs of all the entities were men, but she was working on changing that.

Kubayi-Ngubane recently released a white paper for public comment which speaks to will science, technology and innovation will be inclusive, saying you “will feel part of it, whether you are white, women, young people and also bridge the gap between urban and rural”.

“Inclusiveness means you bring everyone to have a role in science and technology, we remove the notion of science and technology being an elite area where others will say is complicated.”

Centre of development

Her drive is to see science and technology bringing new innovations like new technologies of sanitation in the rural areas.

“We want to make sure we are in the centre of development, we want to make sure that South Africa’s economy is driven by innovation… meaning when you go to transport, your SMMEs have a role to play.

“We need to innovate [our] own cars, we need trains that are different because we are talking about climate change. If we are to respond to such things, we need young people and innovators that will be able to come up with new technologies.

“The white paper is now to be taken to Cabinet then portfolio committee thereafter it becomes an implementation document.”

Kubayi-Ngubane said there were many young innovators in the country with completed products such as hair products, but the problem was cracking the markets.

“They have done the products, they have tested it, people have used it, given feedback, also approved by SABS but the market and the capital are a major problem.

“If you look at our mandate as the department, the mandate says I end once the person has the product and someone must come within government and fund the innovation.

“One of the things that we need to do is to review the mandate of the Technology Innovation Agency, which is responsible for funding, it has to bridge the gap and we are answering that in the white paper, what do we do….,” she said.

She said the review will help innovators to get their products into the market.

“Innovators are there but it is all about getting into the market. The South African market is not easy to access, including the consumer. They are not welcoming products they don’t know,” she said.

She is however happy that there were consumers who were warming up to innovators, she made an example of a young boy who is producing running shoes and had customers despite them being used to labels such as Nike, Puma and so on.

“We have to do a big drive in having South Africans buy a product they do not know.”

She is key on building foundation on science and technology at schools so she says they do a lot where they have a science week at different schools.

She admits that a lot of people do not know what her department does and they think they were consumers of technology but “I tell them that I am expected to develop technology”.

“My department has a huge potential into the future in terms of being at the centre of even solving service delivery protests, I think we can utilise technology to fix the problems we have, for example sanitation problems we can have ablution solutions that do not need water.”

When asked about being kept in the portfolio after the elections, she said she was happy that President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza understood science and technology and that it was the future.

“Whether it is me or not, the leadership shares [the] same vision.”

Inside Politics

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