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South Africa needs ‘billions’ to hit R&D spending target


Extra R20bn in annual spend required by 2024 to reach 1.1% of GDP

South Africa will have to raise billions of Rands for research and development in order to hit its 2024 spending target, a senior official has said.

Phil Mjwara, the director-general of the Department of Science and Innovation, outlined the gulf between the country’s R&D targets and its current spending to Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation on 2 February.

South Africa aims to spend 1.1 per cent of its GDP on R&D by 2024. At projected GDP rates, this would translate to R54 billion (US$3.5bn) in that year, Mjwara told MPs.

The country spent R35.5bn on R&D in 2019/20, the last year for which data has been processed from both public and private sectors, he said.

That means South Africa would need to spend R20bn more in 2024 than in the 2019/20 financial year to meet its target.

Future challenge

The 1.1 per cent is just an interim target on the way to South Africa’s ambition of spending 1.5 per cent of GDP on R&D by 2030.

However, to hit that target, the country’s gross R&D expenditure will need to rise significantly again, to R85bn at current projections, Mjwara said.

South Africa’s R&D spending as a proportion of GDP has been on a downward trend for several years.

However, the government is working on a Department of Science and Innovation budget coordination plan, which aims to bolster science spending by leveraging funding from other government departments.

Mjwara said that it will likely take two to three years to see the benefits of the coordination plan in the national spending data.

He added that the National Treasury has given approval for a budget coordination mechanism, but that his department’s talks with the other ministries are ongoing.