“There is nothing wrong with our young people,” Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa told the audience of the Science Forum South Africa. “There is something very wrong with us when we do not give them the opportunity.”
Ramaphosa, who is in the running to head up the ANC, has chosen the country’s science minister, Naledi Pandor, as his prospective deputy president. The two have a particularly pro-intellectual stance, pushing science and technology as a way to drive economic growth and job creation.
The annual Science Forum is the government’s showcase of continental science and technology — something inextricably linked to the education of young South Africans.
“We should never let the constraints of poverty and underdevelopment extinguish the imagination of our people,” Ramaphosa said.
But youth unemployment in South Africa is a major crisis, with some reports suggesting that two out of every three South Africans under the age of 25 are not working.
Funding remains an issue for providing employment opportunities, as well as building the science and research system. For example, the department of science and technology’s annual budget has not kept up with inflation, impeding its ability to grow science and research.
“We have a responsibility to develop a community of young people that believe there is a future for science in South Africa and the continent,” Ramaphosa said.
The deputy president said he had visited research institutions and universities around that country, and spoken to young researchers. “These stories of success — of young people who often come from impoverished backgrounds — demonstrate that indeed young people can reach the pinnacle of their potential if we support and nurture their dreams.
“But we must not just talk — there needs to be a lot more action on our part to allow them to work and play in this fourth industrial revolution. It must be an inclusive revolution,” Ramaphosa said.
The clarion call from politicians addressing the forum opening was that science must respond to the needs of society. Sarah Anyang Agbor, the African Union commissioner for human resources, science and technology, said: “We need to demonstrate the practical value of science, technology and innovation.
“We fail in our duty as government and policymakers if we do not deliver to the people who look up to us.”
Ramaphosa said that “the word smart should underpin whatever we do. If we work smart, we are working in a clever way, an innovative way, a scientific way.”