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DST: Harnessing science, technology and innovation for Africa's development


As South Africa welcomes its sixth administration since the dawn of democracy, the government remains committed to pursuing the African developmental agenda. This was the message to the 2019 African Unity for Renaissance Conference, an event held annually to mark Africa Month.

The conference kicked off in Pretoria on Wednesday, 22 May under the theme, "Pan Africanism for the 21st Century: Innovative Paths Towards a Future Africa". The two-day event has brought together over 100 leading researchers, practitioners and policy makers from around the continent.

Speaking at the opening, the Department of Science and Technology's (DST's) Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation and Resources, Daan du Toit, said South Africa's future was closely interwoven with that of the rest of the continent.

"Our government's commitment to science, technology and innovation as an instrument for growth and development nationally, continentally and globally will not change."

Reflecting on the conference theme, Du Toit noted that science knows no borders. "Science progresses through sharing," he said, adding: "Unity is critical for science to prosper."

While Africa has yet to harness the potential of science, technology and innovation (STI), there is consensus at the highest level that STI is crucial to advancing industrialisation, addressing developmental challenges, and realising the pan-African ideals of equality, dignity and collective self-reliance.

The African Union's developmental agenda is anchored in Agenda 2063, a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. To advance the implementation of Agenda 2063, the African Union formulated the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) 2024 – the first of a series of strategies aimed at increasing the impact of STI across critical sectors.

Du Toit reiterated the DST's support for Agenda 2063 and STISA 2024. "Our mission is to invest in STI to achieve renaissance, the South Africa and the Africa we want," he concluded.

Delivering the keynote address at the conference, leading African scholar, Prof. Abdoulaye Bathily, said the continued prevalence of racially motivated incidents worldwide underscored the relevance of pan-Africanism in the 21st century.

Pan-Africanism is an ideology and set of principles that have informed the struggle for liberation, democracy and development on the continent. It underpinned the formation of key intergovernmental institutions such as the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Key developmental policy frameworks, including the Lagos Plan of Action (1980), the Abuja Treaty (1991), Agenda 2063 (2015) and STISA 2024 (2014) have their philosophical foundations in pan-Africanism.

While Africa has advanced in many respects, Prof. Bathily believes the objectives of pan-Africanism have yet to be realised. "We must admit that independence in the true sense of the word has not yet been achieved. There is a need to take stock of the progress we have made, interrogate the obstacles, and highlight where Africa has ventured down the wrong path on its socio-political and economic journeys," he said.

The African Unity for Renaissance Conference will culminate in the Africa Day celebrations to be held at Freedom Park on 24 May. Africa Day commemorates the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, the forerunner of the African Union, and celebrates the continent's diversity, heritage and achievements.

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