Sat Oct 22 05:30:49 CAT 2016


By Anna Majavu | Dec 07, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

SEVEN months into her new job Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor appears to be making waves.

Pandor told Sowetan in an interview that in the new year she will present the cabinet with a proposal that will make a dent in the high unemployment rate through new - green jobs.

"I feel that we haven't done enough in terms of exploring opportunities available through the green economy. There is great scope for green jobs," Pandor said.

She pointed to last week's revelation that 300 tons of highly dangerous medical waste had allegedly been dumped by Wasteman in Welkom.

Pandor said this would not have happened had the government developed a better waste disposal jobs industry.

"We are developing a green jobs profile to take this to government next year," she said. "We have a set of concrete proposals to address both green issues and (create) more jobs."

She said green jobs could improve the lives of the poor.

Water sources

"Our people have a problem with water sources that are not very clean. Our scientists have been looking at how we can clean these up using algae," Pandor explained.

"We could teach communities these things, which are not expensive and actually create job opportunities. If we could make recycling part of what communities are involved in on a daily basis, that's the kind of approach I am talking about."

She said the government must see to the recycling of waste, which is normally thrown on to garbage dumps, as an important opportunity for job creation.

Pandor also seems to be a champion of green wind and solar energy - something that could put her on a collision course with Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan, who is keen on nuclear power and is backing Eskom's bid to build R385million worth of new coal-fired power stations.

"All of us look towards Eskom to provide energy but there are alternatives and we need to explore those much more," Pandor said.

Reduce emissions

"Even with respect to building coal-based power plants, I think we need to explore how we reduce emissions ... how we deal with carbon emissions," she said.

Having a minister with a strong personality pushing the green agenda is welcome news for those who are not keen to pay 35percent extra for our electricity, just so that Eskom can build more polluting power stations.

Government's plan to spend an estimated R700billion on nuclear power stations, shelved after former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin quit his post last year, is still in the pipeline. And so it is a welcome relief to meet a science minister who does not mention nuclear but instead suggests new regulations to make solar energy panels compulsory in all newly built houses.

It is clear that Pandor wants to make sure that science takes its rightful place at the centre of our lives.

She points out that scientific developments, like South Africa's new home-grown satellite and the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere, have economic spin-offs for ordinary people.

The telescope, situated in the remote town of Sutherland in the Northern Cape, lures astronomers from all over the world to do research.

"You have young people studying astronomy in our universities who are keen to spend time in Sutherland. Having the telescope there has had an economic impact. Where there were very few guesthouses, suddenly it's become a huge area of activity," Pandor said.

She said that people may think it's unnecessary for the government to build its own satellite, but without one, South Africa will continue to spend millions of dollars buying images from other satellites.

"We buy satellite data from many countries to the value of over R80million a year. Once we are able to download images from our satellite, we are going to be saving quite a few dollars," Pandor said.

"Every country, including ours, needs information from satellite images. We are using satellites for the internet and cellphone communications. In order for me to plan that I'm going to plant wheat in an area I have to have a sense of the weather patterns from satellite data," she said.

She is also working on increasing the number of scientists through boosting the number of science students graduating with PhDs from 600 a year to 3000.

Improved scholarships

With improved Honours scholarships that provide an incentive for young science graduates to stay in university instead of going out to work, Pandor said results will be evident within the next three to five years.

She still works in partnership with her former ministry - Education - on supporting the Dinaledi high schools, which focus on improving maths and science training, and on a maths and science training programme for teachers.

As our interview ended, Pandor joined the British High Commissioner and 10 local teenagers who are about to jet off to England.

The teenagers will visit Oxford University's laboratories, meet British scientists and work at the Eden Project, where different ecosystems have been set up inside giant bubbles.


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