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Address delivered during the FORUM III

by Dr. M. Jeena
Deputy Director General
Ministry of Education, South Africa

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South Africa would like to congratulate UNESCO, ICSU and the Hungarian government for bringing together science and technology stakeholders at this international forum to deal with problems and challenges facing science. South Africa would like to support the Draft Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge.

We welcome the concept of a social contract, which appears to be fully endorsed at this Conference. However to give effect to these objectives and ideals, scientists and decision-makers from the developing countries, especially in Africa, should play a more active role in determining the agenda for science within international organisations and international forums. This interaction will, we believe, not only enhance science's contribution to the social contract but global science will be able to benefit from the experiences and history of African scientists whilst at the same time we can benefit from global science's contributing to our vision of the African Renaissance.

At a micro-level a similar situation exists. It IS largely natural and pure scientists who determine the research agenda for society. There is also a need for science to take a lead from broader society. This implies a greater role for the social scientists and non-governmental organizations to ensure that the Science Agenda - Framework for Action becomes not only legitimate, but also relevant. We developed our National System of' Innovation after broad consultation between science and society. The Research and Technology Foresight programme that we are conducting has provided opportunity for government, industry, scientists and civil society to determine the research agenda of our county.

The theme of the World Conference on Science, ‘Science for the 21st Century: a New Commitment,’ is correctly grounded in a reflection on the relationship between science and society and a desire to highlight issues of social justice, equity, political choice and the ethical responsibility of scientists in the practice of science.

This focus comes at a time when we are seeing an ever-growing gap between the developed and emerging economies. While science and technology have been partially responsible for these disparities, it is imperative that, in this new era, science is utilised to further the cause of global equity. We accept that science alone will not be able to achieve global equity. However, the achievement of this goal will need the integration of science with an enlightened, global political approach.

From a developing-country perspective the question of education, particularly science education, is critical. In a world where information and knowledge are generated at such a rapid pace and where knowledge is a necessary commodity for competitiveness, it is essential for developing countries to have access to, and to create, knowledge. As we develop this capacity we also need to be mindful of the importance of enhancing the science awareness of the decision-makers as well as the public. The public understanding of science and technology is one of our priority areas as reflected in the fact that our President declared 1998 the Year of Science and Technology.

As we bring about changes in our scientific literacy, the education platform requires infrastructural development. The availability of communication networks not only for facilitating rapid communication in the South-North direction but also to promote South-South interactions is vital. An extensive investment in information technology can be one of the vehicles that allow developing countries to participate in the new knowledge societies.

Our government has adopted and supported the philosophy of the African Renaissance, which aspires to the rebirth and regrowth of the continent. South Africa believes that the next century will indeed be the century of Africa. This with start with the World AIDS Conference in 2000 and hopefully the World Cup in 2006. Science and technology will need to underpin these efforts.

In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, South Africa has started collaborating with neighbouring countries. To this end, a meeting of the Permanent Secretaries/Directors-General for Science and Technology was organised by our Ministry in collaboration with UNESCO in Pretoria, South Africa in April 1999

(Science and Technology in the SADC Region for the 21st Century). The aim of the meeting was to:

  • develop a mutual understanding of science and technology challenges;
  • identify strategies for improving science coordination; and
  • identify science and technology priorities for the promotion of economic growth.

The recommendations of this Associated Meeting have been submitted as background material to this Conference. There is no doubt that through this humble beginning the SADC region is attempting to address its problems in a coordinated fashion. In order to strengthen and sustain this effort we will need support from the international organisations. The region hopes it will soon be able to create a knowledge pool that it can share with the African continent and with the international community at large.

In conclusion, last year we uncovered a 3.3 million-year-old skeleton which affirms South Africa's position as the cradle of humankind. We now look forward to the next millennium reaffirming Africa's integration into the global home and humankind.


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