Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation
Between Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe

Policy Context

Africa-EU STI policy landscape


South Africa

South Africa's STI system has undergone important transformation since 1994. This has entailed moving the country from relative isolation to a system that is inclusive and competitive at an international level. At the same time, the system has had to address the needs of a large population that had previously been excluded from many of the benefits of development that apartheid's research system generated.

Profile developed by: Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI), Austria (data as at 2013). To submit comments and/or requests for corrections, write to 


Outline of Research and Innovation System

Since 1994, when the ethnic minority regime transferred political power to all citizens, fundamental to the political order has been transformation and redress (Erawatch 2013).

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) is the primary agent of South Africa’s research and innovation policy. The DST funds a range of research, development and innovation activities. This funding is primarily provided through state agencies such as the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Technology and Innovation Agency (TIA) and funding to the various national science councils.

Other ministries with significant research responsibilities are the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Energy (DE), the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), the Department Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the Department of Health (DoH), the Department of Water Affairs (DWA). The key research performers are the private sector, the higher education sector, and the government, which supervises science councils.

At the political level, the key actor is the parliament (which legislates on all policy matters and budgets).  Parliament is advised by the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology and its accountability is overseen by the Presidency and assisted by the National Planning Commission (NPC) and the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME).

S&T Policy

The research policy in South Africa is guided by two main strategic documents: the National Research and Development Strategy (NRDS) (DST, 2002) and the Ten-Year Innovation Plan (TYIP) (2008).

The Ten-Year Innovation Plan promotes multidisciplinary approaches in the research community in order to guide South Africa's transformation towards a knowledge-based economy. It seeks to realise significant changes in South Africa's national innovation system, such as increasing innovation investments, facilitating the development of technology intensive sectors and decreasing the dependence on imported technology. The strategy specifies five key strategic areas: Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals, Space science and technology, Energy security, Global change science with a focus on climate change, and Human and social sciences (Ten-Year Innovation Plan 2008). The vision for South Africa for 2018 includes:

  • Being one of the top three emerging economies in the global pharmaceutical industry, based on an expansive innovation system using the nation’s indigenous knowledge and rich biodiversity;
  • Deploying satellites that provide a range of scientific, security and specialised services for the government, the public and the private sector;
  • A diversified, supply secured sustainable energy sector;
  • Achieving a 25-percent share of the global hydrogen and fuel cell catalysts market with novel platinum group metal (PGM) catalysts;
  • Being a world leader in climate science and the response to climate change;
  • Having met the 2014 Millennium Development Goals to halve poverty.

In addition to these focus areas South Africa has adopted strategies for Palaeosciences, Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), Biotechnology and Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy (AMTS), Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Strategy, and Nanotechnology. (Erawatch 2013)

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) coordinates the development of the National System of Innovation (NSI) and influences the system through its key strategies such as the NRDS and TYIP. Three government agencies and three research councils operate under DTS, including the National Research Foundation, the Technology Innovation Agency, the South African National Space Agency, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Africa Institute of South Africa (which has been incorporated into the HSRC). These and the National Advisory Council on Innovation, the Academy of Science of South Africa, and the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions, are accountable to the Ministry of Science and Technology through the Department. All of these agencies and councils have their own performance indicators, agreements, and governance bodies appointed by the DST.

The DST funds a range of research, development and innovation activities. This funding is primarily provided through the DST's support of the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and it’s funding to the various national science councils.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) is South Africa’s primary research support agency. The NRF supports high-quality research and knowledge generation and development of a critical mass of globally competitive human resources in prioritised areas as well as promotes innovation and develops research infrastructure.

The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) was established in 2008 with the purpose of supporting South Africa’s capabilities to commercialise products and services from local R&D and to develop its national technology base towards more knowledge based industries. The TIA provides financial support to the NSI using a host of financial support instruments as well as technical support, technology nurseries, and commercialisation advice for technology development and commercialisation of technologies. Furthermore, the TIA has a particular thematic focus on agriculture, industrial biotechnology, health, advanced manufacturing, energy, information communication technology, and mining sectors.  (Source: Erawatch 2013)

On the side of the research councils reporting to the DST, there are also other research commissions and councils such as Medical, Water and Agriculture, which are accountable tor the respective Ministries.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has a primary objective of promoting improvements in the health and quality of life of all South Africans through research, development and technology transfer. In this context, the MRC also seeks to lead in the planning and execution of health and medical research; in facilitating and co-ordinating health and medical research; serving as the interface for the flow of information among policy makers, health services, industry, funders and research structures; and to develop high quality human resources in health and medical research. The MRC reports to the South African Parliament and the Minister of Health.

The Water Research Commission (WRC) promotes co-ordination, co-operation and communication in the area of water research and development, establishes water research needs and priorities, funds water research, promotes transfer of information and technology and enhances knowledge and capacity-building within the water sector. The focus on water resources and the WRC’s formation emerged from the identification of water as a critical growth and development constraint for the nation during the 21st century. The WRC reports to the South African Parliament and the Minister of Water Affairs.

The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) conducts research and development and acts as an intermediary disseminating scientific and technological finding in order to promote agriculture and related industries; contribute to a better quality of life; and facilitate or ensure natural resource conservation in South Africa. The ARC's effective dissemination of its research and development is an integral activity in order to support and develop successful agricultural development, food security, economic growth and competitiveness of the agricultural sector. The ARC reports the Minister of Agriculture.

In June 2010, the Minister of Science and Technology established the Ministerial Review Committee on the Science, Technology and Innovation Landscape. Currently, councils such as the Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council receive funding from their respective departments, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture. Owing to concerns around adequacy of funding to these institutions, the Minister has proposed that all public research organisations receive ring-fenced funding directly from the DST. Along with that proposal, the Minister announced that DST is initiating work to establish a high level national council on science, technology and innovation. This proposed council will be supported by a policy unit responsible for STI data-collection and interpretation as well as evaluation and science-advisory capacity. (Erawatch 2013)

Key R&D Figures

Fiscal Year 2011/12 2010/11 2009/10
Gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) at current prices (Rand millions) 22 209 20 254 20 955
R&D intensity (GERD as % of GDP) 0.76 0.76 0.87
Basic research at current prices (Rand millions) 5 440  4 848 5 553
Total researchers (FTE*) per 1 000 in total employment 1.5 1.4 1.5
Total R&D personnel (FTE*) per 1 000 in total employment 2.3 2.2 2.3
Female researchers (headcounts) as a percentage of total researchers 42.3 41.7 40.8

Source: National Survey of Experimental Research and Development 2011/2012

The business sector is the largest funder and performer of research and development (R&D), spending R10.464 billion on R&D in 2011/12.  Most R&D expenditure is reported in the engineering, natural sciences and technology fields (National Survey of Experimental Research and Development 2011/2012)

The government and business sectors were the main sources of funding for R&D in 2011/12. The Government sector funded 43 percent of the R&D expenditure and business sector 39 percent.(National Survey of Experimental Research and Development 2011/2012)

Download Supporting Documents

  • South Africa Country Profile (AfDB)
  • South Africa STI Profile (World Bank)
  • South Africa STI system (OECD)
CAAST-Net Plus is funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement 311806
Image alt tag Image alt tag