AIMS alumni and others
Africa has not always been at the forefront of knowledge acquisition and innovation.
But that was before AIMS.
In ten years AIMS has become internationally recognized as a model for postgraduate training.
As alumni will know, AIMS graduates have been highly successful in taking up excellent teaching and research posts in Africa and elsewhere.
What you have learned here has helped to educate a new generation of African mathematicians and scientists.
While we struggle to overcome the legacy of poor or limited science and maths teaching in South Africa, AIMS has forged ahead and made us all proud in contributing, expanding and sustaining high-level quality programmes that make an indelible imprint on the quality and success of African graduates.
What have we done in government to match, support or facilitate this awe-inspiring private initiative?
Let me tell you the story of SKA.
South Africa will soon host SKA the world's largest array of radio telescopes.
The SKA holds out two big promises or opportunities.
One is pure scientific achievement. Because the array will be able to look back in time almost to the big bang itself, we can expect new data on how the first galaxies formed, the nature of gravity and the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
The other is the social and economic impact of such a mega science project. Having been chosen to host SKA, the project’s Euro 2 billion price tag and more will spark a new sense of scientific achievement across the whole of Africa.
In Africa, the commitment to the project has never been stronger.
In addition to infrastructure, South Africa and Africa are also contributing that most precious of resources, people, to the global SKA effort.
Boosting human capital development, for radio astronomy specifically, but science and engineering more generally, has always been a critical driver for South Africa’s SKA investment.
The South African SKA Project Office alone has awarded close to 300 grants and scholarships. Students and scientists from several African countries have benefitted from these grants under a dedicated programme worth 15 million Euros. Many of them are pursuing training and research opportunities at international institutions.
What excites me most about winning the bid is its potential to encourage a greater interest in scientific careers among the youth.
We have used our collaboration with the international SKA consortium to attract young people into science and technology careers.
We are collaborating actively with some of the best universities and institutions in the world.
Our young scientists and engineers have been able to jump to a leading role in many of the areas of development of the SKA, because of the excellent skills imparted by our universities and the expertise and experience that they have picked up from our partners.
With its strong current footprint of initiatives on the continent, the SKA is playing a dynamic role in contributing to African growth and development.
Let me give you a concrete example of what I mean.
The SKA will consist of over 3 000 dishes that will require networking and processing power in order to communicate with one another. In fact the networks will use enough fibre-optic cable to wrap around the earth twice and will carry nearly ten times the current amount of data that flows daily on the internet.
So we are also going to be building a new industry in information communication technologies. We will train software engineers, data processors, system analysts and hundreds of technicians.
Boosting human capital development for radio astronomy specifically, but science and engineering more generally, has always been a critical driver for South Africa’s SKA investment, the great scientific project of the twenty first century.
This is important to highlight, since South Africa’s investment is not only boosting the African talent pool but also contributes to enriching the global scientific expertise available for radio astronomy.
Policy-makers, scientists, civil society advocates, and other experts often refer to the need for global scientific cooperation to address the many shared global challenges, such as climate change, energy security or pandemic disease, confronting our plant.
Yet we will only be successful if we are able to draw on the collective resources and capacities of our planet in a fully inclusive manner.
Global scientific endeavour requires the contributions of all regions, especially those like the developing world excluded in the past.
We are proud that the SKA project is well positioned to play a pathfinder role for a new generation of global science partnerships.
With its strong current footprint of initiatives on the continent, the SKA will play a dynamic role in harnessing Africa’s science and technology capacities to contribute to global growth and development.
There are many unique and wonderful opportunities ahead.
South Africa and Africa are ready to play their parts in exploiting them as part of a global partnership for the benefit of all.
Let me conclude with these remarks.
Emerging economies compete in a global world that is driven by scientific and technological invention and innovation. It’s not possible to do science in a one country. Our societies are too complex. Our science is too conceptually complex. Our technology is too cognitively complex.
We are all in the quest for knowledge together. Knowledge ultimately depends on frontier research in our science councils and universities.
Astronomy is an ideal example of a frontier-research field in which research is driven by curiosity. It is essential to understanding matter. It is a foundation for physics, and the exploration of the nature of light and energy.
What government can do better than corporates or individuals is in the provision of ‘big science’ infrastructure.
As the Nobel physics laureate, Steven Weinberg, said: “Exploring the outer frontier of our knowledge of nature is in one respect like war: It pushes modern technology to its limits, often yielding new technology of great practical importance.”