South Africa, one of the foremost nations pushing boundaries in the African space industry, has been presented with a chance to further support the space cause, as the country recently disclosed the portion of its national budget that has been reserved to cater to science and technology.
South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, briefed the media on Tuesday, 9 July 2019, on the plans of the country’s Department of Science and Technology to spend its R 8.2 billion (USD 577.9 million) budget for the 2019/20 financial year. The morning briefing preceded the Minister’s Budget Vote debate, which took place in the Old Assembly at 4.30pm local time, under the theme: “Let us grow South Africa together through science, technology and innovation”.
The Department’s 2019/20 Budget Vote took place just a few months after the nation’s Cabinet approved the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). The policy document charts a new path for unleashing South Africa’s full potential towards growing the role of STI in a prosperous and inclusive society over the next 15 years.
Among its key priorities for this financial year, the Department will spend R 2.6 billion (USD 183.2 million) on human capital development and in particular, on assisting Honours, Master’s Degree and Ph.D students, recognising the fact that highly skilled human capital is essential to developing a national system of innovation that is globally competitive and responsive to South Africa’s developmental needs. In addition, about 120 knowledge products are expected to be generated with a budget allocation of R 1.2 billion (USD 84.6 million), focusing on bio-innovation, hydrogen fuel cell technology, renewable energy and energy storage applications.
The Budget Vote was dedicated to Mr Mandla Maseko, who passed away in a bike crash on 7 July 2019, at the age of 30, and who would have been the first black African to venture into space.
In his address to the media, Nzimande disclosed that the Department had embarked on a South Africa-European Union (SA-EU) Open Science dialogue with funding from the SA-EU Dialogue Facility. He further disclosed that in the 2019/20 financial year, the Department would invest R 1.498 billion (US$ 105.6 million) in support of students, researchers and interns, with a projected total investment of R4.6 billion (US$ 324.2 million) over the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period. The funds have been earmarked to support at least 8,279 pipeline Honours and Master’s Degree students, 2,538 PhD students, 4500 researchers and 690 interns.
He also announced that South Africa had been scheduled to host the International Astronomical Union’s 2024 General Assembly and that it would be the first time the Assembly would be taking place in the African continent. He added that the Space Weather Regional Warning Centre for Africa (SANSA) facility at Hermanus was recently designated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as one of two regional centres around the world that will monitor space weather for the global aviation sector, providing crucial safety-related services such as solar storm forecasts and warnings.
Nzimande went on to inform those present that the budget allocation for the Department in the 2019/20 financial year is R8.2 billion (US$ 577.9 million), which included allocations to agencies, and was distributed as follows:
- Technology Innovation – R 1.2 billion (US$ 84.6 million)
- International Cooperation – R 149 million (US$ 10.5 million)
- R & D and Support – R 4.6 billion (US$ 324.2 million)
- Socio-economic Innovation – R 1.8 billion (US$ I26.9 million)
- Administration – R 380.3 million (US$ 26.8 million)
It would be interesting to see how much the South African Department of Science and Technology plans to specifically allocate to the furtherance of space technology and research, seeing that the country’s space agency is answerable to the Department, and whatever strides the country is going to make in Africa’s space ecosystem could depend on how much funding is made available.