Department gets cash injection from Covid recovery plan to place graduates
South Africa’s science department will receive R24 million (US$1.5m) to create jobs for unemployed graduates under the country’s economic recovery plan.
The plan, unveiled last week by president Cyril Ramaphosa, includes an ambitious programme to get 800,000 unemployed South Africans into work to combat rising joblessness spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of these positions will be in labour-intensive public programmes, such as road construction and support for teachers. But the Department of Science and Innovation will get money to place graduates as well, its director-general, Phil Mjwara, told Research Professional News this week.
“We will be developing a detailed plan as to where these graduates will be placed, and we are still working out numbers,” Mjwara said. He added that the funding came as a “pleasant surprise” as the department had not asked for it.
Most of the remaining science and innovation support outlined in the recovery plan, published on 15 November, features historical or existing investments, Mjwara explained.
The innovation support for mining highlighted in the plan is already happening through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, he said. The same is true for the efforts described in agriculture and energy innovation.
The DSI has also been involved in drawing up “master plans” for re-industrialisation in key sectors, like forestry, and working with the Department of Public Enterprise to establish public procurement as a way to channel investments into innovative domestic industries, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises.
In these ways, the DSI has made “a significant contribution” to the activities outlined in the plan, said Mjwara.
He said that while the recovery plan focused on industry and innovation, that does not mean that basic science will be overlooked: “We can always debate whether the balance is right, but the commitment to finance [basic research] is something I and the minister want to continue to see.”
As for whether Ramaphosa, finance minister Tito Mboweni and other key holders of South Africa’s public purse strings agree with that sentiment, Mjwara said: “We have not been told otherwise.”