The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, has appealed to South African women leaders to harness the benefits of science and technology to advance their communities.
Speaking at the 8th Annual Leadership Development for Women Conference in Johannesburg yesterday, Minister Pandor urged her audience to marry science with humanity so that the technology could improve local government services.
The Minister said that many of the new innovations and technologies that have emerged in the past decade provide opportunities to enhance the health care, education, water provision, sanitation, energy supply, agriculture, Internet connectivity, and houses.
She hailed a project funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in Giyani in Limpopo, in which scientists and traditional healers are collaborating in studies on Rose Geranium to develop a network of rural-based oil production businesses. The DST is working with the South African Essential Oil Business Incubator on the business aspects.
There is a high global demand for Rose Geranium oil, and the DST project is developing the crop for primary production processes that are cheaper and produce higher oil yields of the required quality. It also exploits frugal distillation technologies and is rolling out a comprehensive marketing programme to ensure the entry of rural products into mainstream markets, both local and international.
The project, which started out with 85 employees, some of whom are part owners of the business, today employs 250 local people – a clear illustration of how science and technology can be used for local development.
The Minister said South Africa’s national system of innovation was geared to support regional and local innovation systems, with universities central to regional innovation forums and science parks, for example.
“Science parks can be extremely useful in promoting national and regional competitiveness, but by themselves do not guarantee regional success. For science parks to succeed in promoting local economic growth, they must be fully integrated into the overall social and economic development strategy and context,” said the Minister.
South Africa’s science parks include the East London Industrial Development Zone, the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, and a science park at the Vaal University of Technology.
The DST’s strategic objective is to develop regional innovation forums in each province to help set collective research priorities for the province and to elevate innovation as a driver for economic and social development.
The Minister also called for local government to go back to basics. Government should create conditions for decent living and community development by consistently delivering municipal services of the highest standards.
It was important to ensure good governance, transparency and accountability, sound financial management and the prudent spending of public money. Putting people first, and paying attention to their concerns should be a priority.