National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)



History of the NSTF

The National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) is the largest multi-stakeholder forum for science, engineering, technology (SET) and innovation organisations in South Africa. It is a non-profit company that promotes SET and innovation and engages with related government policy issues. It was launched in 1995.

From the NSTI to NSTF

The National Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI) was the pre-cursor of the NSTF. It participated in South Africa’s landmark CODESA Convention (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) in 1991. As a result of findings and recommendations of the NSTI, government together with other key stakeholders founded the NSTF in 1995 to oversee implementation of the recommendations.

Aims of the NSTF

The then-Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Mr Ben Ngubane, recognised the body as a science, engineering and technology (SET) forum for consultation and addressing SET issues within the broad SET community. The NSTF was established to oversee the restructuring of South Africa’s national science system and to ensure an integrated approach to science and technology.

First plenary meeting and government mandate

On 28 March 1995, the first plenary meeting of the NSTF was opened by then-Minister Ben Ngubane. The mandate given to the NSTF was to act as the sounding board, communication channel and constructive watchdog of SET in South Africa. Integral to this mandate was the establishment of best practice norms, and to integrate and share the positive advancements being made in SET fields.

Ongoing support from the Department of Science and Technology and all stakeholders

The NSTF has continued to enjoy support from the Ministry and Department of Science and Technology. There has also been continuous support from stakeholders at all levels, from the smallest of businesses to the largest science councils and universities.

Founding stages of the NSTF

A new South Africa in the making: The pre-cursor of the NSTF, the Science and Technology Initiative (STI), participates in South Africa’s landmark CODESA event

NSTF is born: NSTF is founded to oversee the establishment of a democratic and inclusive science system (later to be re-defined and called the national system of innovation – NSI). Initially, NSTF has a joint chairmanship, namely Jay Naidoo (the first Secretary General of COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and the then president of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr James Brian Clark. The NSTF contributes and provides input into the first White Paper on Science and Technology and other policy and planning processes within government. It initiates the discussion that leads to the declaration of South Africa’s first Year of Science and Technology (YEAST) in 1998.

First Chief Executive Officer (CEO) appointed: Dr Xolani Humphrey Mkhwanazi is seconded by the CSIR to build up the new organisation, NSTF. (The CSIR being a founding member of the NSTF). At the time he is the Technology Transfer Manager, Technology for Development division at the CSIR. He is subsequently appointed as the first CEO of the NSTF. Dr Mkhwanazi serves under the Chairmanship of Prof Malegapuru William Makgoba, who is the President of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) at this time. Prof Makgoba is to go on to receive the Order of Mapungubwe in Silver in 2013. Ms Wilna Eksteen is appointed to head the Secretariat of the NSTF in April 1998. Dr Mkhwanazi is to be awarded the NSTF Ukhozi Award in June 2018 to honour his contributions to NSTF as an organisation and to South Africa in various capacities. Sadly he is to pass away on 4 January 2020.

The NSTF Awards are born: NSTF establishes the prestigious annual NSTF Awards to reward excellent achievements in SET. The then Department, DACST, becomes the first sponsor of the NSTF Awards (a sponsorship that DACST and then the DST has continued every year up to the present). The Minister of Science and Technology serves as the patron of the Awards. The first patron is Dr Ben Ngubane, the Minister at the time. The NSTF Executive Committee under the leadership of Dr Steve Lennon conceptualises the structure and criteria for the Awards. Mr Denis Hunt is appointed Head Adjudicator and goes on to lead the adjudication of the Awards annually, as well as revisions and expansions of the Awards, up to the present.

SET Policies: The NSTF participates and adds considerable value to initiatives and processes relating to the establishment of the National Research Foundation (NRF).

First website: NSTF launches its first website, developed by the CSIR, listing 80 members across eight sectors. Besides DACST, other government departments and structures are included.

First newsletter: The first quarterly newsletter in print called NewS TufF is produced and circulated to members. The programme is published for the YEAST focus weeks in all nine provinces that commence 7-12 March 1998 in the Western Cape, through to 13-17 November 1998 in Gauteng. The newsletter is to continue consistently thereafter and later to become a monthly electronic newsletter.

Second CEO and Chairperson: Dr Mziwenkosi James Hlongwane takes over the position of CEO on 1 March 1999, having founded and run a dedicated school for science and technology for black learners for 13 years. He has a PhD in Immunosuppression from Witwatersrand University and experience in pathology and pharmaceuticals. He serves under the leadership of the newly appointed Chairperson, Dr Steve Lennon, who is Managing Director of Eskom Resource & Strategy at the time. Dr Hlongwane serves NSTF until his untimely death on 14 December 2005.

Annual Report: The first NSTF Annual Report (for 1999-2000) is launched. The Report describes four major initiatives to embark on:

• Science and Technology (S&T) awareness development – resulting in the Growth & Innovation Report in 2001
• The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education (STEAME) Initiative – resulting in a national consultative conference on science, mathematics and technology education (SMTE) in 2000 in partnership with the Department of Education (DoE) and DACST. The Ministers of the Departments (Prof Kader Asmal and Dr Ben Ngubane respectively) officiate at the launch
• National Research and Technology Foresight Exercise to define mechanisms for implementation
• Ethics in S&T in South Africa that results in the establishment of a working group with a view to creating a committee

SMTE Strategy: The result of the SMTE Conference is the launch of a national SMTE strategy by the DoE, where the Deputy Minister of Education at the time, Mr Mosibudi Mangena, officiates with Deputy Director-General of Education, Mr Ketsi Lehoko.

Education Recognition Programme: The NSTF Awards expand to include recognition of SMTE in schools and the NSTF Education Recognition Programme is born. Initially the programme recognises top performing matric girls from all the provinces, top high school teachers, top schools, as well as STEM Olympiad and competition performers. Later, both boys and girls are recognised, and eventually NSTF focuses only on the top performers in matric science and mathematics, without the teachers, schools and Olympiads.

Science and economic growth: NSTF commissions a joint study between the NSTF and NACI (National Advisory Council on Innovation) on the interaction between economic growth, science, technology and human capital. The resulting Growth and Innovation Report is presented jointly to the Portfolio Committee in Parliament.

An important policy role: The NSTF plays an active role in the processes to create, and review the National Human Resource Development Strategy, the National Research and Development Strategy and the National Research and Technology Foresight Exercise.

Ethics: NSTF Initiates debate and discussions on Ethics in SET in South Africa which leads to a discussion document and a charter that aims to establish a National Consultative Council on SET Ethics in South Africa.

Dedicated science and technology department: NSTF participates in the lobbying for the establishment of a separate government department that would focus entirely on SET in SA. The structure and plans for the new DST are presented to the NSTF and its members for comment.

World Summit on Sustainable Development: NSTF receives accreditation from the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) that allows NSTF members and stakeholders to register as participants under the NSTF umbrella – an offer which over 60 organisations make use of. Each organisation can register employees to participate.

Growth and innovation: Commissioned a joint study between the NSTF and NACI (National Advisory Council on Innovation): Growth and Innovation Report on the interaction between economic growth, science, technology and human capital.

NEPAD: Substantially contributed to the development of the science and technology division of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to ensure that SET plays its rightful role on the African continent.

proSET: Created a new membership group, known as SETAG (Science, Engineering, Technology and Associated Group), consisting of professional bodies and learned societies. Some of the membership of the Associated Scientific and Technological Societies of South Africa (AS&TS Trust) joined the NSTF under SETAG which was renamed proSET (Professional in Science, Engineering and Technology) in 2009. This sector accounts for about 40 percent of NSTF member organisations.

Inclusiveness: Eskom and the NRF jointly create three categories of the NSTF Awards to recognise researchers – both senior and emerging, and research capacity development. The six new awards are aimed at the promotion of inclusiveness – the four awards sponsored by the NRF are awarded to black researchers, and the two research capacity development awards are made to researchers who have supervised a large number of black postgraduate students (the latter Awards are sponsored by Eskom). Half of the awards are reserved for men, and half for women researchers. The NRF sponsorship lasts for 11 years until 2014. The Eskom partnership is to continue (to date). In the same year (2003) the CSIR becomes an Awards sponsor (which continues to 2017).

First NSTF Awards Who’s Who in SET and innovation booklet published: These booklets, produced every year since 2004, are an almost comprehensive database of the achievements, skills and expertise of the South African NSI community. They contain brief descriptions of the contributions of the NSTF Awards finalists to SET and innovation. They are widely distributed and marketed through the media.

Department of Trade and Industry: The Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP), an initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) managed jointly with the NRF, joins as platinum sponsor of the NSTF Awards (which continues to 2015).

Provincial workshops: Workshops are extended to other provinces and a series of workshops are held in three provinces, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. These are held during the 2005 National Science Week and at local science centres. The topic for the provincial workshops is Technology Education.

Communication and outreach: The NSTF Awards Communications sub-committee is established (currently known as the NSTF Awards Committee) to raise publicity for the Awards finalists and winners, and profile SET professionals to the general public and the youth.

Science Councils and Statutory Bodies: A sub-committee is formed, consisting of representatives from each organisation in this membership sector, and meets 3-4 times per year.

Third leader at the helm: Ms Jansie Niehaus is appointed as Executive Director of the NSTF, and remains in this position to date. Her contribution is to make the NSTF more active and visible, lead the revision of the NSTF Strategy, turn the NSTF newsletter into a news service for the NSI community, conceptualise and lead the Discussion Forums, and in general expand and improve the activities and reach of the NSTF with the help of the Exco, Manager Ms Eksteen and staff.

Science Communication Award: The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), a business unit of the NRF, partners with the NSTF to introduce a new award for science communication and outreach. The SAASTA sponsorship is to continue until 2014.

Policy consultations: Discussion of and stakeholder feedback on the NSI and the DST’s 10 Year Innovation Plan. DST also presents their plans to the NSTF membership for the Technology Innovation Agency, Human Capital Development, the Youth into Science Strategy and the Hydrogen Economy.

Fourth chairperson (and first woman) is appointed: Prof Brenda Wingfield from the University of Pretoria is appointed and serves for six consecutive years. At the time she is Professor of Genetics at the University of Pretoria and Deputy Dean of Research and Post-Graduate Studies, as well as DST/NRF South African Research Chair Initiative: Chair in Fungal Genomics. Her focus is the long-term ideal of spreading NSTF’s activities nationally and in doing so not only strengthening some activities, but also to better serve the sector.

Non-Profit Company: NSTF registers as a ‘Section 21’ company under the Companies Act. When the Act is amended, Section 21 companies become known as ‘non-profit companies’.

Unemployed SET graduates: NSTF manages the National Youth Service (NYS) programme on behalf of the DST for five years, benefitting 330 young unemployed graduates. The NYS provides science graduates with additional skills to enable them to find suitable employment.

Bursary management: NSTF manages the DST’s ‘Incentive’ Bursary Scheme for eight years to the benefit of more than 70 undergraduate students.

FESTOC: The DST contracts NSTF to host the Secretariat for an umbrella body of the various existing national SET Olympiads and competitions, called the Federation of Engineering, Science and Technology Olympiads and Competitions (FESTOC).

NSTF Awards – 10th anniversary

Brilliants Programme initiated to recognise top matric performers in physical science and mathematics (previously called the Education Recognition Programme).

Media sponsor one: Business Report newspaper joins forces with the NSTF Awards as media sponsor to publicise the outcomes of the annual NSTF Awards. (Business Report is inserted in The Star, Pretoria News, Cape Times and The Mercury newspapers reaching millions of readers nationwide.)

Media sponsor two: After a period of NSTF working closely with the Mail & Guardian newspaper to produce an annual supplement on the NSTF Award winners, Mail & Guardian becomes them second media sponsor with the focus of communicating the science behind the work of the NSTF Award Winners. NSTF Share ‘n Dare Programme: This programme is initiated to inspire the youth and public with the NSTF Awards Winners as SET role models.

NSTF Discussion Forums: Discussion Forums on specific topics replace the workshops as well as the discussions at the twice-yearly plenary meet

BHP Billiton becomes co-branding sponsor of the NSTF Awards

Fifth Chairmanship: Prof Muhammad Ali Dhansay is appointed as the new Chairperson of the NSTF and is to continue to serve (to date). At the time of his appointment, Prof Dhansay is the Director of the SAMRC’s Nutritional Intervention Research Unit. He leads the organisation with an emphasis on integrity and acknowledging complexity in science and society

New trophy and Special Annual Theme Awards: The new NSTF Awards trophy, manufactured from titanium and using additive manufacturing (3D printing) is launched to celebrate the NSTF’s second decade. The first Special Annual Theme Award is also introduced, recognising an outstanding contribution in photonics research and innovation. The awards theme celebrates the United Nations International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies, and henceforth annual themes are adopted for the Awards. Annual NSTF Discussion Forums on the annual themes are also introduced. The first discussion forum, on Light-based Technologies, is arranged jointly with the CSIR.

GreenMatter partners with NSTF as category sponsor, launching a new award that recognises contributions to environmental sustainability, biodiversity conservation and the green economy.

The dti takes over from the joint NRF/dti THRIP sponsorship, by sponsoring the Innovation Award for a corporate organisation, which continues up to 2018.

Co-branding sponsorship transferred to South32: South32 that is a company established when BHP Billiton demerged, takes over the co-branding sponsorship of the NSTF Awards from BHP Billiton for the next five years.

Youth outreach sponsored: The Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation becomes the first sponsor of NSTF youth outreach programmes. The sponsorship is awarded as part of their flagship 50th Anniversary programme (The Golden Years), and would be extended
to 2020.

Water, data, and SKA tour: The Water Research Commission (WRC) partners with the NSTF Awards as category sponsor launching a new award that recognises contributions to sustainable water management, knowledge generation and solutions. The Network of Data and Information Curation Communities (NeDICC) co-founds the new Data for Research Award. The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) join forces with the NSTF to initiate a national astronomy tour for the Brilliants students. It is to take place for three years, 2017-2019. The tour includes a number of provinces, and for two years it includes visits to the MeerKAT site outside Carnarvon – part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) megaproject.

Second White Paper: The NSTF organises DST consultations to review the existing White Paper and participates in the launch of DST’s new Science, Technology and Innovation White Paper.

Awards celebrate 20 years: NSTF celebrates the 20th anniversary of the NSTF Awards that grew from 2 categories to 13, eventually recognising 15 winners every year. To celebrate the occasion, the first CEO of the NSTF, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi is awarded the NSTF Ukhozi Award for an essential contribution to the NSTF and South Africa.

Innovation is rewarded: The National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) joins the NSTF Awards as category sponsor of the Innovation Award to a small, medium or micro enterprise (SMME).

NSTF’s Silver Jubilee: NSTF is 25 years old and celebrates its Silver Jubilee as an established player in the NSI, with a loyal and representative membership, a wide network and reach, an all-inclusive platform for recognition of excellence, a neutral platform for discussions, and as promoter and influencer of SET and innovation in South Africa.

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