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Enhancing Science Partnerships for Innovation and Sustainable Development


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Interview: Minister Derek Hanekom

Minister Derek Hanekom
Minister Derek Hanekom - (c) DST

Since October 2012, Derek Hanekom has been the South African Minister of Science and Technology. Before then, he held the position of Deputy Minister of Science and Technology. The funding of the partnership in the fields of science, technology and innovation between South Africa and the European Union has long been one of Minister Hanekom’s projects. The German-South Africa Year of Science 2012/2013 is particularly important to him. Read in our interview what Minister Hanekom thinks of the co-operation between the partner countries and what he thinks the future challenges will be.


1.    What do you consider to be the biggest advantage of bilateral science collaborations such as the German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013 – and what is the biggest challenge?
South Africa views Germany as an important and strategic partner in many respects, borne out of strong economic, political and scientific relations. I may mention that the value of this collaboration can be seen from the perspective of objectives set out for the YoS, which are to promote and showcase existing co-operation, initiate new partnerships between South African and German research institutions, universities and organisation, enhance the institutional cooperation, stimulate in both countries young scientists’ interest for cooperation and increase publicity of South Africa and Germany as key locations of innovation. A lot of effort has gone into ensuring that we achieve these objectives and based on the projects launched in the last year, I am convinced that we are on the right path.

The interaction amongst the researchers during the YoS certainly has shone light on the relations between the two countries. There have been 41 initiatives that have been funded for the duration of the YoS, which has facilitated interaction between research communities in both countries, drawing extensively on pools of expertise and creating exposure for students. It is my hope that these engagements have also set the platform for further directed cooperation between the two countries. The biggest advantage is yet to be realised through increased participation in the future project proposals and general support for the collaboration. Not only do we collaborate bilaterally and regionally but both countries also participate in EU framework programmes and this is significant.

We would further like to collaborate in a broad range of areas with Germany, however, from a strategic perspective, we need to develop niche areas for our cooperation. It is with this background that I am of the view that there is no insurmountable challenge that we can’t meet.

2.    What are the benefits of intensified cooperation for South Africa and for Germany in your opinion?

The intensified cooperation opens new avenues for the cooperation. The challenges that are faced by humanity know no borders and have to be addressed by collective efforts of the like minded. It is therefore beneficial to jointly tackle these challenges. As you may be aware, South Africa has won a major share to host the SKA, and now with Germany as a member of the SKA board, this brings strong partnering linkages for the success of the project.

The DST also participated in the Antarctic inspection with Germany, early in January 2013. The inspection was opportune for South Africa as it had never conducted an inspection as required by Article VII of the Antarctic Treaty. This inspection was momentous because it was carried out with Germany as a partner and it happened during the YoS.

At a continental level, there are opportunities for South Africa and Germany to work together. The Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Use, which is a partnership between Germany and five partner African countries, (South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Botswana) was formalised through the signing of a MoU in April 2012, making it one of the flagship initiatives to deal with the critical challenge of climate change.

3.    Germany and South Africa have been linked by a cooperation agreement in the fields of science and technology since 1996. What do you think has changed and/or improved as a result of the intensified collaboration during the past twelve months?
Through this event, our cooperation has been strengthened. A coffee-table book which is under production showcases the work of our collaboration over the past 16 years. Furthermore, I believe that the book will lend support in the publicity of our cooperation and encourage dialogue and understanding between our countries and benefit citizen thereof. It is early to suggest significant and marked changes at this stage, however, change will certainly be observed in time to come particularly when we see increased uptake of our projects on offer and heightened demand for opportunities derived from this cooperation. It is my hope that the visibility of the excellent projects and programmes that both countries have undertaken would also provide opportunities for institutions in both our countries to collaborate.  In addition, opportunities for student exchanges is something that I think would benefit the system of science and technology in both countries.

4.    South Africa is a country rich in natural resources. However, knowledge is an important – if not the most important – resource of the future. Your department's goal is to move away from a resource-based economy towards a knowledge-based economy. What role does our Year of Science play in this effort?

Natural resources are not infinite yet the use of the vast minds of our people will sustain us to the future and beyond. The YoS and the interactive nature of the events allow for people to interact and explore opportunities in knowledge exploitation. Certainly, the YoS will contribute to bringing us closer to our goal of achieving a knowledge based economy. Another factor that we must take cognizance of is that science is international and in a globalised world knowledge is borderless.   

The world faces a multitude of challenges, ranging from climate change, and energy security to food security, just to name a few. The focus of the YoS through the various thematic areas is a broad reflection of these challenges.  At a national level, these are some of the challenges that we too need to address through collaboration and networks.  In moving towards a knowledge based economy, there are opportunities in our bilateral partnerships which can facilitate capacity building and human capital development.

5.    Imagine you could see into the future – how do you envision the relationship between Germany and South Africa in ten years' time?
This cooperation between our countries must be the anchor of our science diplomacy. That we are already collaborating beyond the bilateral focus fulfills a vision of a cooperation that deepens our collective effort in the science endeavour. Again, as a way of example, SASSCAL is a joint initiative involving Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and Germany aimed at responding to the challenges of global change. The regional dimension of this initiative spells out that our cooperation is maturing and that it can be a catalyst for regional development..  

6.    What was your personal highlight during the German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013

The entire event was to me a major personal highlight. However, I may mention three issues which I think are personally important to me; namely the student involvement in this event is a major contribution in developing and attracting the youth into science careers. The second highlight is the involvement of women in science. I believe that women play a crucial role in our societies and in the world of research. Lastly, the deliberations at the opening session during the Astronomy Symposium highlighted the importance of Astronomy and that bodes well with our position as a major shareholder in the SKA project. The announcement by Germany to join the SKA during the period of the YoS has sent a strong signal on the significance of our partnership. I personally believe this cooperation holds benefits for both our countries into the future.