Team CSIR honoured at sixth parliament legacy report on science and innovation meeting

Continue to prioritise science, engineering and technology. This was the message when the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation of the sixth Parliament Administration presented its sixth Parliament Legacy Report on Science and Innovation. With elections scheduled for May 2024, South Africa’s seventh Parliamentary Administration is set to assume office in mid-2024.

The meeting took place on Wednesday, 23 March 2024 at iThemba Labs in Cape Town, with stakeholders from the science, higher education, technology and innovation sectors in attendance. Among the attendees were Dr Thulani Dlamini, Chief Executive Officer of the CSIR, and Vuyani Jarana, CSIR Board Chairperson.

In his address, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Buti Manamela, stated the importance of research and development and the pivotal role of science for the incoming seventh administration, as highlighted in the Science and Innovation Legacy Report. He expressed appreciation for the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Nompendulo Thobile Mkhatshwa, for presenting the key outcomes achieved from 2019 to 2024, as reflected in the Science Technology Innovation Legacy Report. Mkhatshwa outlined the committee’s key achievements during this period and proposed a series of recommendations for the incoming Administration. “As a portfolio, we are at the forefront of change. We must be intentional in driving this change,” she says, describing the committee’s actions as inclusive, impactful and transformative.

Dr Philemon Mjwara, the Director-General of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), underscored the importance of prioritising science and acknowledging how the national system of innovation supports the government’s initiatives. Science and innovation have demonstrated that significant change is possible when embedded in government and society. This was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, where South Africa’s scientists assisted the government in making decisions on variants, vaccines and genomic surveillance. “Building a science ecosystem takes time and patience,” he said. “The next administration will witness scalability and greater impact.”

Among the distinguished dignatories in the science and innovation landscape were several former bursary recipients of the CSIR and the National Research Foundation (NRF). Regarded as great legacies of the Sixth Administration, these beneficiaries were invited to share the impact of the committee’s investment in their science careers. CSIR candidate engineer, Lukhanyo Somlota; National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS) – Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) cloud lead, Zama Mtshali; and NRF-funded researchers, Ruvimo Mhari and Dr Ali Elbashier attended, with Somlota and Mtshali sharing their journeys of becoming scientists.

“Being a top-performing student in school and at university set me on a path to a career in civil engineering,” stated Somlota. “The CSIR funded my studies from my second year onwards. Challenges during my university years humbled me and despite it taking seven years to complete a four-year degree, the patience and support I received as a CSIR employee enabled me to overcome the obstacles stacked against me.” Upon graduating, Somlota immediately received work placement at the CSIR’s Stellenbosch office. “Here I was introduced to port and coastal engineering, where I am a key researcher and the only black woman on my team.

“When you get good grades, you get good things in life,” Mtshali shared, detailing her humble beginnings and journey as an NRF-funded intern placed at the CHPC. “After I completed my honours degree, I was absorbed into the CSIR, where I contributed to building the fastest super-computer in Africa. Following this, I got involved in cloud computing where I led the deployment of the first NICIS cloud computing system, Sebowa – a system that was used to provide computing resources to solve the Covid-19 crisis at the time.”

Sharing their journeys of becoming young professionals in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation, served as a living testament that the efforts invested to ensure students receive funding and support do yield dividends, resulting in life-changing careers in science and innovation.

Committee members were also treated to a walkabout of the South African Isotope Facility at the iThemba Labs, providing them with a unique opportunity to engage with the investment and its application in science and innovation.

Photo: Attending the presentation of the Sixth Parliament Legacy Report are, from left: CSIR CEO, Dr Thulani Dlamini;
Group Executive: Business Advancement at the National Research Foundation, Dr Thandi Mgwebi;
Director-General of the DSI, Dr Phil Mjwara; CSIR candidate engineer, Lukhanyo Somlota;

CSIR Board Chair, Vuyani Jarana; and NICIS-CHPC cloud lead, Zama Mtshali. Photograph: DSI

Source: CSIR