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The History of SA Innovations

Project Leader: Dr Neville Comins

Project Coordinator: Duduetsang Mokoele

Faculty of KESA
Project started

December 06 2013

Estimated end date:

June 22 2016


History of innovation gives the narration of the development of humanity. From ancient civilisations scientific innovation has been harnessed into a technology which improved the lives and the commercial activity of the time.  In pre-colonial South Africa, African communities of Mapungubwe and other settlements employed the services of its artisans and scientists and engaged in trade with the region and further afield. The emergence of the mining industry served as a progenitor to the formalisation of the innovation system within our country. This spurred the formation of focussed scientific research at centres of learning, the now UCT, Wits and UP. The geology and mining studies that followed the Kimberley moment focused on innovations that would support the profitability of the mines.

In the late 1920’s South Africa made efforts to streamline and formalise the system of innovation in the country. This eventually led to the formation of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which co-ordinated applied and basic research. By then South Africa had understood the imperative of innovation as the cornerstone for industrial competitiveness in the world.

Over time, South Africa honed its STI system and emerged as a leader in a variety of niche areas: some as a consequence of base research and others, on the basis of adapting international innovations. While the mineral-energy complex dominated in this regard, the years of isolation saw  the expansion of the military STI system, many of the products of which were extended (with SA or by others) into civilian applications.

Alongside the formalisation of the innovation system in the country, large bases of knowledge existing in the African community were excluded. Further, the ownership of such intellectual property was not properly protected within the formalised system of innovation.

MISTRA undertakes this project to investigate the current, global challenges such as carbon emissions, food security, and health and information platforms which present an opportunity for the country to further expand its STI areas of excellence. The country also has the possibility to build on scientific endeavours in the public and private sectors to pursue new vistas. Among the issues that need to be addressed, is whether existing structures and systems facilitate this.

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