Conclusion of the German-South African Year of Science: Germany and South Africa look to more advanced partnerships in science and technology

South Africa and Germany have further intensified their cooperation in science and technology, providing opportunities for more sustainable and strengthened relations. This comes as the two countries culminate the celebration of the year-long German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013 themed “Enhancing Science Partnerships for Innovation and Sustainable Development” on 16 April 2013 in Berlin. A joint initiative between the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Year of Science celebrated the two countries’ intense relations in science and research, and sought more innovative ways to strengthen the relations further.


Informed by similarities in objectives, the celebration opened with a call for proposals among German and South African scientists and researchers which has seen 41 projects jointly funded. Some of the successes included various initiatives that promoted human capital development in the form of student exchanges as well as collaboration among the countries’ institutions.

Speaking at the closing ceremony joined by the German Minister for Education and Research Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, Minister Hanekom said South Africa was proud to be associated with Germany which was a leader in cutting-edge technology, and viewed the country as an important strategic partner, with strong economic and political ties. “For both our countries’ economies, strategic bilateral partnerships are key in engaging with the challenges that our countries and the globe face,” said Minister Hanekom, acknowledging that innovation in science and technology was central to enhancing competitiveness, economy and human capital development and technology transfer.

The Minister said the collaboration was contributing immensely to South Africa’s strategic objective to improve the human capital base, especially in the number of African and women postgraduates, in particular PhDs, to improve and diversify research and innovation capacity.

The science and technology cooperation agreement between South Africa and Germany was signed in 1996, with a joint research fund established to support research and development (R&D) in agriculture, life, earth, mathematical, engineering, physical and health sciences. More than 400 R&D projects in excess of R80 million have been funded bilaterally at research institutions, universities and industrial partners.

Prof Dr Wanka told the gathering that with the science year Germany and South Africa had created a new quality of cooperation, improved contacts and networks, showing what a global responsibility could mean for the future. “Our aim was to strengthen even more our collaboration in the field of science and technology – not only for the time of a year but in the long run. Therefore, we identified together a number of issues, such as bio-economics, health economics, climate change and urbanisation,” said Minister Wanka.

Furthermore, the two countries found common ground also in the fields of arts and humanities. In addition, skiling young people were a condition to deal with the overwhelming problems of climate change and human capital development. One of the highlights of the Year of Science has been Germany’s announcement early last year to join the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Germany has a strong track record in astronomy including in delivery of megaprojects and associated engineering capacity. This expertise is seen as of great benefit to the SKA as the project moves towards the construction phase.

Research on the Antarctic is another area of common interest, and in January this year the two countries carried out an inspection in terms of the Antarctic Treaty, as part of research done to understand climate change. At continental level, there are many opportunities for Germany and South Africa to work together to address common challenges. The Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) is one such project developed to address global change problems in Africa. This project involves South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Botswana.

This SASSCAL project is expected to create added value for the Southern African region as well, a fitting tribute to the success of this bilateral cooperation. In this light, both Ministers agreed that the most important problems in the world today were global and it was compelling to work together to deal with them.

Following the Year of Science, there is a good indication that an increase in joint projects and demand for opportunities will derive from this bilateral cooperation, and that the cooperation will continue to serve as a catalyst for scientific development and improve the quality of life in the two countries.