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SONA 2021: No spotlight on science

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

Little for scientists to cheer about in Ramaphosa's speech

Science was largely ignored in South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s annual state of the nation address on 11 February. 

One of only two mentions of science came in his vow to continue “to use the science-driven approach” to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. 

He also applauded South African scientists for leading new research showing that the Astra-Zeneca vaccine against Covid-19 provides “minimal protection” against mild cases caused by the virus variant that dominated in the country’s second wave of infections. 

"We applaud these scientists for leading this research and providing new evidence that is vital for guiding our response," he said. "Since this variant is now the dominant variant in our country, these findings have significant implications for the pace, design and sequencing of our vaccine programme."

However, there was no mention of the two new universities proposed in his 2020 address. Instead, Ramaphosa focused on the economic response to Covid-19, indicating more austerity measures could be delivered in next week’s national budget. 

He reflected on how much had changed in the year since his last address. “None of us could have imagined how, within a matter of weeks, our country and our world would have changed so dramatically,” he said. 

“Our plans had to be adapted in response to a global emergency. Budgets had to be reprioritised and many programmes had to be deferred. Over the past year, South Africa has experienced a sharp decline in growth and a significant increase in unemployment. Poverty is on the rise. Inequality is deepening,” he said. 

However, like the endemic fynbos plants, which need fire to spawn, the crisis has come with an opportunity to build back better, he said. “Let us work together as government, as business, as labour, as political parties and as all of society to clear away the rubble and lay a new foundation.”