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Mboweni serves up more pandemic science cuts

Image: GovernmentZA [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr

South Africa’s mid-term budget slashes basic science but boosts astronomy

Finance minister Tito Mboweni has delivered more bad news for South Africa’s researchers. His medium-term budget policy statement in Parliament on 28 October cuts an already stretched science budget.

Mboweni announced further adjustments to finance the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Science and Innovation’s 2020/21 budget, trimmed by 16 per cent or R1.44 billion (US$88 million) in June’s emergency budget, has been cut by another R84m. 

Of the new cuts, R66m—more than three-quarters—falls in DSI’s research, development and support programme. The technology innovation programme receives a small boost of R3m.

Funding within the research budget has been shifted around in the latest adjustment. The DSI’s budget for basic science and infrastructure is down R87m, while astronomy gets a R33m boost. 

Human capital and science promotions have been cut by R10m and science missions by R2m. But space science within the DSI’s technology innovation programme rises R16.3m, and innovation funding for inclusive development receives an additional R23m. 

The DSI and four other departments—cooperative governance, public works and infrastructure, basic education, and trade and industry—will share R375m of the R12.6bn allocated for job creation in the economic recovery plan. Of this, the DSI will get R24m to place graduates in the science system, Phil Mjwara, the DSI director-general, told Research Professional last week.

There is a marginal increase in total government spending allocated to science, technology and innovation across all departments over the coming three-year spending framework: from R16.6bn in 2020/21 to R17.8bn in 2023/2024.

The Department of Higher Education and Training’s 2020/21 budget is cut by a further R2.7bn in the mid-term budget. Universities receive a R856m cut, almost all of which will come from subsidies. 

The DHET’s budget was cut by R10bn in the June emergency budget, which included R900m less than planned for the universities allocation. The mid-term cuts are additional to these.

Mboweni made no explicit mention of science or research in his address to Parliament. Neither did president Cuyril Ramaphosa in his economic recovery plan speech on 16 October.