Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor says the launch of a South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap is significant, as it will give researchers access to world class scientific knowledge to help them produce quality research outcomes.

The Minister said this when she addressed scientists at the launch of the roadmap document at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Tuesday night.

“The overall objective of the roadmap is to provide a strategic, rational, medium to long-term framework for planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the provision of research infrastructures necessary for a competitive and sustainable national system of innovation.

“The roadmap was also developed with the understanding that access to adequate and relevant research infrastructure is essential to promote the outcomes and quality of research.

“In order to maximise the return from investment in research, scientists and researchers must have access to modern and appropriate infrastructure,” she said.

The launch of the roadmap document took place on the sidelines of the International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI) 2016.

The roadmap is an initiative of the European Commission and South Africa through the two parties’ trade agreement.

It is expected that the roadmap will provide guidance to the Department of Science and Technology on the deployment of infrastructure to enable research, development and innovation.

It is also expected to allow the country to set national priorities and to earmark funds for development and participation in pan-European research infrastructure activities.

The Minister said world class research infrastructure is the basis for building competitive knowledge-based activities.

She said research infrastructure attracts the best scientists and innovators.

One of the strategies South Africa has pursued, with strong support from global partners, has been to develop big science infrastructure projects as a means of attracting scientific talent, the Minister said.

This includes the iconic Square Kilometre Array radio-telescope project, which brings together scientists in disciplines such as mathematics, physics, computer science and other fields working in Africa to build the largest scientific infrastructure on the continent.

The Minister said the success of South Africa’s bid to host the SKA was dependent on being able to demonstrate the country’s ability to capture, process and then disseminate data from the telescopes to the rest of the world.

“Apart from the complicated mathematical and computer science skills necessary to achieve this, massive computational resources to process the images, high speed networks to disseminate the data and large data stores are essential.

“For this reason, the department also invested in the key components of the national cyber-infrastructure system, namely, the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), the South African National Research Network (SANReN) and the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA).

“All the national cyber-infrastructure system is implemented at the CSIR,” she said.

She said the roadmap is the apex of a long and deep commitment by South Africa to infrastructure development.

The Minister said over the last eight years, the department has invested more than R2.7 billion in research and development infrastructure, R1.5 billion in cyber-infrastructure and R3.5 billion in the MeerKAT and SKA project.

“The South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap signals South Africa’s ongoing commitment to invest in infrastructure development and support, complementing existing infrastructure and research equipment programmes, not replacing them,” she said.

The Minister said as a consequence of long-term government support, South Africa has a comparatively well-established infrastructure base, including the National Facilities of the NRF, many science councils, and a significant scientific equipment base.

She said the department has signed agreements with international research infrastructures such as European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the Joint Institute for Nuclear Physics (JINR), the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), in terms of which South African researchers and students have access to such facilities.