Closing Address by the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency, President Jacob G. Zuma to the Conference on the European Union’s Innovation for Poverty Alleviation programme with South Africa
18 September 2012
His Excellency, Ambassador Roeland Van de Geer, Ambassador of the European Union in South Africa,
Mr Richard Young, Head of Development Cooperation at the European Union Delegation in South Africa,
Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development,
Minister Naledi Pandor,
Officials from South Africa and the European Commission,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for the opportunity to join you at this important seminar, which further promotes partnerships between South Africa and the EU.
We value this partnership because we are on a path of building a better life for our people. The EU is an important partner in that programme.
South Africa has recorded significant achievements in our eighteen years of democracy. We are succeeding to reduce the levels of poverty. However, we still face the challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment that we are grappling with.
These are not challenges that are unique to South Africa. Poverty and unemployment are found in developing and developed countries, albeit in varying degrees.
I am confident that this conference on Innovation for Poverty Alleviation has provided a valuable platform for mutual learning and an opportunity to strengthen the valuable partnership between both South Africa and the European Union.
This partnership can also be of benefit to other countries confronting similar challenges.
Poverty, inequality, and unemployment are not easy challenges to address. They require multiple and complementary interventions.
New challenges and threats continue to arise as the world changes.
The current global economic slowdown has resulted in a global increase in unemployment.
Changes in the climate and environment, the emergence of new technologies, and changes in political and economic relations and systems create both challenges and opportunities.
It is no surprise, therefore, that innovation was identified by both the EU and South Africa as central to finding solutions to such changes.
The South African Cabinet recently endorsed a National Development Plan (NDP) that provides a framework for action between now and 2030.
The NDP identified the quality of education, skills development, and innovation as three of the key requirements for sustainable and successful long-term development.
Sharpening South Africa’s innovative edge will be achieved through continued involvement in global scientific and technological advancement.
This implies greater investment in research and development, better use of existing resources, and more nimble institutions to enhance the cooperation between public science and technology institutions and the private sector.
Developing our people is an essential feature in poverty alleviation strategies. This means a particular focus on women and youth.
South Africa places a high premium on international cooperation in Science and Technology and our cooperation with the European Union is significant. We are proud of the participation of the South African scientific community in global scientific efforts.
South African scientists were part of large global teams focused on fundamental science initiatives like the large hadron collider or the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars.
At the same time as being involved in these big science initiatives, we also have a special interest in key global research and technology initiatives targeted at key challenges such as climate change, food security, sustainable energy, water provision and poverty eradication.
We acknowledge and welcome the contributions by the European Union and its member states to such initiatives.
In particular, the Sector Budget Support Programme of the EU in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology has focused on Innovation for poverty alleviation. This has been part of the 300 million rand that the EU has made available under the Framework Programme 7.
Today you have been exposed to a small slice of what the South African innovation system is doing in response to poverty, inequality, and unemployment.
These responses include action on a range of fronts including health, the development of sustainable human settlements, and the development of appropriate social and economic infrastructure.
We have made significant strides in the provision of water and sanitation services but we still have challenges in reaching marginalized and difficult to reach rural communities. These challenges present new opportunities for innovation.
South Africa has a major focus on innovations that focus on key neglected diseases.
This includes new diagnostic instruments for HIV and AIDS using smartphones, using nano-technology in the design of slow-release pharmaceuticals, to breakthroughs in new treatment for malaria that the Minister of Science and Technology recently announced.
I would like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank the members of the European Parliament for adopting a Written Declaration in March 2012 identifying radio astronomy as a priority focus area for scientific cooperation between Africa and Europe.
The Written Declaration recognises Africa’s significant geographical advantages for radio astronomy, and the socio-economic impact that cooperation in radio astronomy will bring to the continent of Africa.
As you are aware, South Africa and its eight African partner countries have been selected to host the bulk of the Square Kilometer Array, the world’s largest telescope.
This announcement represents a significant milestone for South Africa and Africa and was greatly enabled by the valuable technical and funding support made available by the European Commission.
Given the European Union’s strong interest in the SKA and radio astronomy, it will remain an important priority focus area for cooperation.
Under the auspices of the European Parliament sponsors of the Written Declaration, a dedicated African European Radio Astronomy Platform is currently being established to advance cooperation.
South Africa is playing a leading part in these efforts to mobilise funding for initiatives such as the development of an African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network.
Earlier today, you were introduced to the many areas of successful co-operation in science and technology.
During the course of a one day conference, it is not possible to cover all the initiatives and innovations that are in progress in South Africa.
I believe that you did not hear of the development of a ‘tea-bag’ system developed by scientists at the University of Stellenbosch for purifying polluted water.
Neither were you exposed to the progress of our researchers at the University of KwaZulu in support of global efforts to re-engineer sanitation systems.
Just a few facts and figures on the achievements of this programme:
- 759 job opportunities in rural areas,
- 48 sustainable small businesses owned by rural communities,
- 200 rural facilities including schools and clinics have been connected to the internet through the Wireless Mesh network project.
- 218 digital doorways throughout South Africa providing access to basic computer skills in rural communities.
- Delivery of sustainable water supplies to villages in the Eastern Cape and
new initiatives on energy provision will begin to roll-out.
This simply means that the policy dialogue process of the Innovation for Poverty Alleviation initiative is not over and will provide further opportunities for mutual learning.
Finally, I have been informed that a workshop tomorrow will reflect on past cooperation on science, technology and innovation between South Africa and the European Commission.
I am confident that this workshop will yield new opportunities for innovation and cooperation and I wish you success in your discussions.
With these few words, I hereby formally close this conference.
I thank you.