South Africa and the UK have launched a multimillion-rand fund to spark more innovation, science and technology in South Africa and more widely across sub-Saharan Africa.
The governments of the UK and South Africa, as well as private companies and nongovernmental organisations have committed R140-million a year to the UK-South Africa Newton Fund. A memorandum of understanding has been signed for the first three years of the programme.
“It’s a milestone in science and innovation cooperation between our two countries,” Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor told the launch in Cape Town.
The UK-South Africa Newton Fund will support projects ranging from bolstering the skills of South African researchers to trying to halt the transmission of tuberculosis (TB) and combating the challenges of extreme weather owing to climate change.
Pandor described the agreement between the two countries as “a new kind of partnership” underpinned by the values of co-ownership and co-responsibility.
“It is not one party helping the other, but two nations working together, making equivalent investments in their partnership,” she said.
The fund will ensure the research activities have a regional footprint, with the ultimate aim of encouraging research that boosts job creation and growth. There will also be a special focus on “big data”.
A high-level UK delegation, led by James Duddridge, the Minister of State for Africa in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, attended the signing ceremony to kick-start the fund.
“This is a new chapter in our bilateral relations,” he said at the launch.
While the UK-South Africa Newton Fund is an equal partnership, the UK brings with it a wealth of knowledge and experience in research and innovation.
The UK boasts 78 Nobel prize winners in science over the years, while 20% of the UK workforce worked in science-based and research industries, said Duddridge.
A large slice of the fund will go towards public health. The South African and UK medical research councils (MRCs) have been allocated around R70-million for research funding on TB in a bid to halt transmission of TB.
Some of the money will be used to look into novel ways of TB screening, with R30-million of the total having been committed by South Africa’s MRC.
GlaxoSmithKline and the MRCs of the UK and South Africa will be working on a joint research programme on noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
The UK (Met Office) and the South African Weather Service will be working together on climate change issues.
The South African National Research Foundation (NRF) and the UK Economic and Social Research Council will collaborate on a close to R90-million project to explore issues which include urban transformation and water-energy-food international networks.
The British Council/South African Technology Innovation Agency Institutional Links Programme has been set up to boost international links and research partnerships.
Money has been set aside by South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the British Council to propel research in the bioeconomy sector in South Africa, while the British Council and the NRF will work together to support skills development for researchers, research managers and support staff.
The journey to the launch has been swift, with the memorandum of understanding signed only three months after Pandor and her UK counterpart discussed initial plans in May this year.
Pandor said South African and UK scientists would be able to access the Newton Fund resources before the end of the year.