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First SA science forum ‘like my wedding day’, says Pandor

Image: Marianne Weiss [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

South African science minister Naledi Pandor prompted gasps from the audience when she said the Science Forum South Africa held earlier this week reminded her of her own wedding day.

“When I was waiting outside to come in, thinking about all the people who are here, it reminded me of my wedding day,” Pandor told the forum’s opening session on 8 December.

“At my wedding day I was first amazed that I knew so many people,” she told the delegates in the packed auditorium at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.

“But then I realised how many other people I knew who would be upset because they had not been invited. Today, I have the same feeling,” she added.

Pandor opened the two-day festival, which brought scientists, policymakers, journalists and other stakeholders from Africa and the rest of the world to discuss science’s role in society.

“Africa cannot advance without investing in science. Unfortunately, science is still at the margins of government attention. It is seen as less important than issues like water scarcity or food insecurity, yet all those things can be addressed through science and innovation,” Pandor said.

Around 1,500 delegates attended the meeting, far exceeding the organisers’ expectations. On the first day, food and drink quickly ran out at break times due to the popularity of the event.

The themes and discussions of the conference were varied, but most focused on raising the profile of science and technology as a tool for development, as well as common challenges in getting research insights taken up by policymakers.

African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told the meeting that science was integral to her organisation’s 50-year vision of Africa developing into a prosperous and healthy region.

“We need science for industrialisation,” she said, adding that industrialisation required energy and infrastructure, which in turn required science and scientific skills to design and build.

“In fact I can’t think of anything that we are doing [at the AU] that doesn’t need science,” she said.

Discussions and presentations at the forum ranged from how space science can aid development to issues relating to the decolonisation of knowledge in Africa. For more information on the detailed debates at Science Forum South Africa, follow #SFSA2015 on Twitter.