The palaeosciences fraternity and academia have welcomed the launch of the South African Strategy for the Palaeosciences and the awarding of the Centre of Excellence (CoE) for the Palaeosciences of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation to the University of the Witwatersrand and its collaborating institutions, namely the University of Cape Town, Iziko Museum in Cape Town, the National Museum in Bloemfontein, the Albany Museum of Rhodes University, and Ditsong Museum in Pretoria. The announcement was made today at an event held at the University of the Witwatersrand's Origins Centre. The occasion also recognised the achievement of Prof. Lee Berger and his team; they had another six articles published in Science, one of the world's most prestigious journals.
The launch of the Strategy for the Palaeosciences is the culmination of two years of meticulous research and stakeholder and public consultation, led by the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Arts and Culture.
"With our geographic location comes the responsibility to protect, preserve and develop knowledge about our abundant fossil wealth. This Strategy for the Palaeosciences sets out some of what the South African Government plans to do to meet its responsibility in this regard. I am confident that this centre we are launching today will make a substantial contribution towards this goal of positioning South Africa as a world leader in palaeosciences, collections and site management. Apart from knowledge development, a major outcome of this centre is without a doubt human capital development at different levels, from semi-skilled through to professional, and the creation of expertise and careers in newly developing fields such as palaeotourism," said the Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, in his opening address.
"The Centre of Excellence for the Palaeosciences is the 9th centre in the CoE programme since its launch in 2004. The establishment of the centre has its origins in the National Research and Development Strategy (2002), which identified a number of knowledge fields in which South Africa should aim to achieve international research excellence because of its geographical advantage. The CoE is part of targeted interventions that are being systematically introduced, with the intention of strengthening research capacity in the palaeosciences and generating a dynamic research environment," said Dr Andrew Kaniki, Executive Director: Knowledge Fields Development of the National Research Foundation.
Wits University's Prof. Bruce Rubidge, who will be heading the centre, disclosed that "the CoE partnership between Wits and our South African partner institutions will comprise some 30 scientists and many more students and technical personnel, as well as established international research partnerships, making this one of the largest palaeoscience collaborations in the world." He added that South Africa, "because of its ancient rock history, has a remarkably diverse palaeontological and archaeological heritage, which includes the earliest evidence of life, a rich record of the origins of fish, retiles, early dinosaurs and mammals, and it has an amazing record of distant human origins and culture". He emphasised that the "establishment of the CoE in the Palaeosciences will enable Wits University and its partners to explore this heritage and establish South Africa as a world leader in this field of research."
The CoE launched today will manage a number of activities, including -
research focused on the creation and development of new knowledge and technology;
education and training of the highest standard at master's, doctoral and postdoctoral levels;
information brokerage through providing access to a pool of knowledge and promoting knowledge sharing and transfer;
networking through collaborating across national and international boundaries;
service rendering in respect of analysis and policy for government, business and civil society.
The Centres of Excellence Programme was established in 2004 and CoE for the Palaeosciences launched today is the ninth centre. The Department of Science and Technology has completed a framework for the opening of a call for an additional five CoEs in the 2012/13 financial year, at least one of which will be in the social sciences and humanities. The awarding of the five new CoEs will be completed before the end of the 2013/14 financial year, at which time there will be a total of 14 CoEs.