The joint committee meeting on education has heard that innovation will be critical in a post-Covid-19 economy. The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, told the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology – and the Select Committee on Education, Technology, Science, Arts and Culture that emphasis should be on innovation if the country is to be able to develop its economy after the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will not be able to respond to the destruction of jobs unless we have an innovation-driven economy. Covid-19 is forcing us to develop a new economy, we cannot continue with the old trajectory that has tended to marginalise small, medium and macro enterprises (SMMEs),” Dr Nzimande said.

He said the country should not go back to the pre-Covid-19 economy – and that innovation will be critical to that.

The Department of Science and Innovation came to brief the committees on its annual performance plans – and strategic plans. The committees heard that over R300 million of the department’s budget has been redirected to the fight against Covid-19.

Members sought clarity on various aspects of the department’s work, including the programmes where funds have been re-allocated, the role of the business sector in innovation, the claims of a Madagascar cure for coronavirus, robotics, the role of the department in the establishment of a science and technology university in Ekurhuleni, and postgraduate students funding.

It was revealed that the bulk of the reprioritised funding went towards supporting the work being done in refurbishing the laboratories. The department was looking into developing a policy on fully funded students for postgraduate studies. At the moment, funded students constituted 10% of the postgraduate students in the system.

The bottled medication from Madagascar is made from a known plant, the Artemisia. The I-Care team from the department is working on research around the medication. What is known about the medication is that it can boost the immune system and has some antiviral effect on some of the other viruses. It has not been proven whether it works on coronavirus, and the department is not in a position to verify a cure for which data is not available.

“We are working on a protocol to be able to do approvals with the regulatory councils of health, but any pronouncements on cure will have to be backed by evidence.”

By Sibongile Maputi
15 May 2020