Information Technology in South Africa

Government Policies in South Africa

Civic Plaza, Pietersburg, Northern Province

National science and technology policy is the responsibility of the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. The Minister is assisted by the Branch: Science and Technology of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. Among other institutions, the Associated Scientific and Technical Societies of South Africa promote the interests of all the various scientific, professional and technical disciplines.

In pursuance of its policy and strategy development activities, the Department undertakes and contracts various studies and surveys on science and technological matters. This includes surveys of capital and human resources devoted to research and development and which are conducted biennially. The survey for the eighteenth report (1993/94) has been completed and was released during the first quarter of 1996. This survey covers all sectors of the economy.1

The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology is in the process of establishing a statutory National Advisory Council on Science and Technology to advise the Minister, the Ministers' Committee on Science and Technology and the Cabinet on science and technology policy and related matters.

The National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) was established during 1995 on the initiative of the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. The NSTF is to act as a sounding board for the broad science and technology community and as a communication channel to the Government.

According to the Government of National Unity's Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), science and technology have an important role to play in the development of all sectors of South African society.

Since South Africa's economy is characterized by extremely unequal distribution of resources, science and technology policy must address especially the development of indigenous science and technology in order to meet the challenges facing South Africa's people. The public sector, in partnership with the private sector, has an indispensable role to play in technology development to create a growing economy and in so doing, to improve the quality of life of all South Africans. 2

A South African Research and Development Trust was launched in 1994. The trust aims to facilitate, fund and implement the RDP by involving communities. Its activities focus on urban and rural development. The trust was founded by Mr. Walter Sisulu, Deputy President of the African National Congress. Most of the science and other research institutions are involved in research and technology activities which are in support of urban and rural development.

At present, about 0.75 per cent of the GDP is spent on research and development. A new mechanism for allocating funds to the science councils has been developed which entails that these institutions should gear their research and development more towards meeting the objectives of the RDP.

The statutory science councils are a very important component of the South African science and technology system. They are responsible for, among other things, science development and the promotion of the development of human resources for science and technology, as well as for technology development, innovation and transfer, and for the promotion of technology implementation. They are heavily involved in international co-operation with their counterparts in other countries.

These statutory science councils include3:

Agricultural Research Council
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Medical Research Council (MRC)
Council for Geoscience
The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS)
Other Research Organizations

A Green Paper on Science and Technology was published by the Department during January 1996. The Green Paper is not a policy document but outlines issues and options to which readers were invited to respond and in this way support the compilation of a White Paper on Science and Technology Policy

The White Paper was be published during the second half of 1996. The White Paper will form a framework for all science and technology policy matters, including the implementation of a program to prioritize key performance areas; the identification of new legislation or legislation requiring amendments to promote the functioning of the science and technology system; and the establishment of the necessary linkages between scientific and technical priorities and the objectives of the RDP.

The process of developing a national science and technology policy and implementation strategy will be supplemented by a foresight exercise on the skills and technologies required for the future well-being of the country, and by an audit of strengths and weaknesses in the science and technology system.

Developing science and technology policy and programs include involvement with research and development in the international domain. In 1995 and 1996, agreements on co-operation in the fields of science and technology were signed, inter alia, with the United Kingdom, the United States of America, India, the Russian Federation, Germany and the European Union. These Agreements will also promote the objectives of the RDP by enhancing socio-economic development and the development of human resources in science and technology. 4

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Author: Felix R. Klimpacher
Last Update:  May 8, 1998
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