Address by Nelson Mandela at the Centenary Conference of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers

30 August 1993

Science and Technology in a democratic South Africa: An ANC perspective
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.

On this occasion, celebrating the centenary year of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers, we must pay tribute to all of South Africa's scientists and engineers whose genius we will call upon in the future as we embark on the process of reconstruction and development.

After more than four decades of apartheid, our nation is divided, among those who have electricity, and those who do not, among those who have running water and those who do not, among those who have access to transportation and those who do not, among those who have houses and those who do not. The general state of our communities is one of underdevelopment and decay. To our nations engineers, I say, your country needs you now more than ever before. Let us build a future together.

I am here today because the ANC takes science and technology policy very seriously. To have the opportunity to address this audience of engineers, academics, entrepreneurs, financiers, and members of the private sector is a privilege. We know that you are concerned about the future, and those of you who are active in various areas of science, technology and engineering are especially concerned about the attitude of an ANC government to science and technology. In reflecting on the science and technology policies of the present government, and sharing our vision, I want to leave with you a message of hope and enthusiasm for the future. A future in which the scientist and engineer is valued by society, for indeed, you are the pride of a nation.

The science and technology policies of the present government were designed, not in the interest of the nation as a whole, but to serve the racist system of apartheid. Throughout the apartheid era, a substantial amount of our country's technological resources went into the development of arms to preserve and maintain apartheid. The amount of human and technical resources that went into the building of nuclear weapons is disgraceful. At the peak of government funding, the atomic energy corporation received approximately R980 million per annum. When we contrast the amount of taxpayer money spent on implementing a military technology policy with the enormous basic needs of the majority in our country, the words of former us president Eisenhower come to mind. He said:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the houses of its children"

Military expenditure must be balanced against other needs and priorities. Earlier I mentioned our fellow South Africans who are without electricity, running water, and transportation. When we devote resources to the manufacture of ratels, hippo's and tanks, they are not available for the manufacture of other goods that our people need, like roads, bridges and hospitals. Our scientists and engineers serving the military industry are not available to work in civilian industries. We are thus robbed of these gifted and talented individuals as they are not available to work on technological innovations that will prepare South Africa to compete internationally.

We must never again allow our nation's resources, scientists, and engineers to be used to support an ideology by producing weapons of mass destruction. The ANC will abide by the nuclear non proliferation treaty, and we fully support the declaration by the Organisation of African Unity calling for the establishment of the African continent as a nuclear weapons free zone. Our human and technical resources must be used to serve the entire nation.

At this historic moment, as we embark on the exciting journey of nation building and democracy, it is a unique opportunity for society to negotiate a new understanding with scientists and engineers, an understanding based on a shared desire to fulfil social and economic goals.

We must negotiate this new understanding with the scientists and engineers at the atomic energy corporation, at Armscor, at Mossgas, and at other strategic industrial projects. We recognise that these institutions and the individuals that are there constitute a wealth of technology, knowledge and expertise. In the past they were used in the service of apartheid, now they must be called upon to build and strengthen a democratic South Africa.

There are some people who fear that the ANC will simply close these institutions because of their shameful history. As we face the great task ahead of reconstruction and development, we are not asking what the strategic industries have done to our country in the past, we are asking what can they do for our country in the future. Quite simply, we do not intend to throw out the baby with the bath water.

The ANC will follow a policy that directs our country's science and technology effort towards economic growth, and meeting the needs of all our people. ANC policies on support for scientific research will almost certainly be driven by the degree to which social needs are addressed.

But our attitude towards basic research remains positive. We do not accept the view that basic and applied research should be in conflict with each other. Indeed, we appreciate the important role that our nations scientists have to play in training the next generation of researchers. An engineer needs a basic grasp of science. We are committed to retaining a basis of fundamental research which is internationally recognised and relevant to the long term needs of the country.

The government's skewed education policies and the purposeful underdevelopment of our nations human resources have left South Africa with a legacy of scientific illiteracy and a grave shortage of technical expertise which could strangle economic development for a long time to come. Verwoerd's statement in June 1954 when he addressed the senate on government policy on black education has had lasting consequences for our country.

He said:

"What is the use of teaching a bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? ... that is absurd"

Today approximately 96% of all engineers and 89% of scientists in South Africa are white. There is approximately one math and science matriculation exemption for every ten thousand black school pupils. Whereas South Africa produces about 35 engineers per million people, Japan produces about 500 per million people. This legacy of apartheid threatens our country, is unacceptable, and must be addressed.

You in the field, understand our human resource crisis in science and engineering very well. The World Economic Forum of Switzerland notes, South Africa has the worst human resources development record of the newly industrialising nations. We understand, through human resource development we can improve conditions for peace and social development. Professional bodies like the South African institution of mechanical engineers have a very important role to play in guiding its members in designing training and development programs for young engineers.

Under the present system, science policy falls under one branch of government - the Department of National Education, and technology policy falls under another - the Department of Trade and Industry. The fragmentation and lack of coordination in this system has left our nation without a common vision. For science and technology to serve national goals, strong linkages between the two must be forged. In this regard, our science and technology policy division is addressing the question of how the linkage can be brought about. The options of a future ministry of science and technology or an office of science and technology responsible to the highest levels of government are being discussed. Regardless of how this is eventually organised, two main goals of the system will be to improve the living standards of our people, and to ensure a climate in which our scientists and engineers can thrive.

In creating such a climate, the ANC is committed to developing a system of tax incentives that will encourage industry to spend a percentage of their sales on research and development. We also propose to develop incentives for industry to use clean technologies. South Africa cannot afford to be left behind while many countries realise the need for an environmentally sustainable economy. In fact, we must aim not just at technology policy, but at an environmental technology policy. A system of tax incentives will encourage sensible behaviour in this regard.

Our office of science and technology policy is located in the department of economic planning. We believe that science and technology are integral and crucial components of economic growth strategy. This principle strategy is not new. Japan is an example of a country that has applied this principle successfully. Japan is not known for it's Nobel laureates but for the high quality goods that are exported, and the failing economy that it turned around.

A very important priority of a democratic government will be to raise the standard of living of our people. Technology is very important in this regard. Robert Solow won the Nobel prize in economics for showing that 7/8 of economic growth is attributable to technological progress. Our country cannot continue to have 35 engineers per million people.

The ANC's position on science and technology policy is published in the ANC's policy document "Ready to Govern". Unlike the policies of the present government, which are discussed and carried out quietly, away from public debate and scrutiny, our policies are in the public domain, to be debated, criticised and influenced by all South Africans.

Mr Chairman, many South Africans use wood for fuel, and because of population pressures in certain parts of our country, wood is increasingly difficult to find. An energy researcher has noted that if wood gathering is counted as part of food preparation, more effort is put into the preparation of food than the growing of it.

This one simple example and many others like it illustrate the deep sense of urgency with which we must bring the benefits of science and technology to all our people.

Thank you, and may you have a successful and exciting second century of work.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation