South Africa announces ‘visionary’ science budget

Artist's impression of the proposed Square Kilometre Array Copyright: CSIRO Australia

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[CAPE TOWN] South African science has been boosted by an additional US$253 million, making the government’s 2007–2008 budget about US$450 million.

Finance minister Trevor Manuel said yesterday (21 February) that the country was on course for a US$565 million science and technology budget by 2009–2010.

This would enable South Africa to meet the target — set by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) — of spending one per cent of its gross domestic product on research and development by 2008–2009, according to the Business Day newspaper.

It follows a pattern of increases in the country’s science budget over the last few years. Nhlanhla Nyide, spokesperson for South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology, confirmed that the current allocation is nearly triple that of 2005–2006.

John Mugabe of NEPAD’s science secretariat said it demonstrated that “science, technology and innovation matter, and will continue to be sources of economic change and growth.”

Robin Crewe, president of the Pretoria-based Academy of Science of South Africa, called the investment a “visionary step” toward establishing a vibrant, knowledge-based economy in South Africa.

He also welcomed the decision to allocate US$8.5 million to fund several research chair positions at universities, which he said were “absolutely critical for developing the next generation of scientists and engineers”.

Julie Cleverdon, acting head of the MTN ScienCentre in Cape Town, said the additional funding would “encourage bright young South Africans to use their talents in the scientific field and find solutions to many of the problems that plague us”.

She hopes Manuel’s other announcement of US$1.1 billion to hire additional teachers, and a further US$1 million for teacher bursaries, will improve the country’s dire shortage of science and mathematics teachers.

Manuel announced that US$70.7 million of the science budget would go toward South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array, a series of enormous telescopes across the Northern Cape which would use radiowaves to study the origins of the universe.