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Pandor: men sceptical of initial women research chairs drive

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

Former science minister praises Qhobela for support

South Africa’s former science minister has said there was resistance against the initial plan to increase women research chairs from top “male colleagues”.

“I was told by my colleagues–males–in the science fields and in the leadership of higher education, ‘You’re going to embarrass yourself, minister. There aren’t women who meet the criteria,’” said Naledi Pandor.

Pandor, now the foreign affairs minister, made the remarks at a women’s day event on 9 August with the visiting United States secretary of state, Antony Blinken. 

She was referring to a 2015 call of the South African Research Chairs Initiative that was only open to women applicants.

Pandor praised Mothapo Qhobela, the former head of the National Research Foundation, who backed her up and urged her to “go for it”. Qhobela’s contract as NRF head was surprisingly not extended in 2020 as part of a shake-up in the country’s science councils.

Pandor was the country’s longest serving science minister before moving to international affairs under president Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019. Increasing the number of women in South Africa’s researcher pool was one of Pandor’s main priorities as science minister.

“I think what women scientists have taught us is we need to be bold, we need to be active and practical in terms of ensuring that women enjoy equal opportunity. If you take your eye away, you will find that they don’t [equal opportunity],” said Pandor.

Despite transformation efforts, women and Black researchers remain underrepresented in South Africa’s science sector.