Academy of Science of South Africa
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The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) is the national science academy for that country. It was started in 1996, and encompasses all fields of scientific work. Its legal foundation is the Academy of Science of South Africa Act, Act 67 of 2001, which came into operation in May 2002. ASSAf is the official national Academy of Science of South Africa and represents the country in the international community of science academies.
The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) was inaugurated in May 1996 by the former President of South Africa and patron of the Academy, Nelson Mandela. It was formed in response to the need for an academy of science congruent with the dawn of democracy in South Africa – activist in its mission of using science for the benefit of society.
The mandate of the Academy encompasses all fields of scientific inquiry and it includes the full diversity of South Africa's distinguished scientists. Since its inception, ASSAf has grown from a small, emergent organisation to a well-established academy. To date, the Academy comprises 338 members.
For about one century, the national science 'academy' comprised two separate institutions – the Royal Society (from the UK) and the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie van Wetenskap en Kuns (abbreviated as SAAWEK). SAAWEK had an Afrikaans-language focus and was heavily supported by South African business. Based in Pretoria, it was established in 1909 and was the national academy (the statute was passed in 1950) until democracy in 1994. It was structured in two ‘faculties’: human and natural sciences, with a journal for each. While it still awards numerous medals and prizes, it is no longer recognised as the national science academy of South Africa.
With the dawn of democracy in the early 1990s, it was realised that a new model was required. The Foundation for Research and Development (now the National Research Foundation) invited the Royal Society of South Africa, SAAWEK and the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA) to plan a new Academy.
Vigorous debates ensued with South Africa's scientific community in flux. A democratic model based on empirical inquiry was agreed to be essential to the new Academy, inclusive of all South Africa's leading academics. In 1994, a plan and a draft constitution were adopted.
In 1995, 100 founder members were elected, and the Academy of Science of South Africa was launched in 1996 with then-President Nelson Mandela as patron. When the ASSAf Statute was passed, Act 67 of 2001, and the SAAWEK statute was revoked, ASSAf became the official science academy of South Africa. The Academy had a central niche which differed from the previous academy: rather than having a merely honorific function, it was to provide professional, independent evidence-based advice. With the grant-in-aid from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Academy moved to central Pretoria.
In 2001, the DST commissioned the Academy's first study on South African scholarly journals. The study consisted of a steering committee comprising a number of stakeholders, and a consensus panel which would later release a report with a number of recommendations. In 2006, the report entitled A Strategic Approach to Research Publishing in SA was released.
The year 2004 brought a breakthrough when the African Science Academies Development Initiative (ASADI) led by the United States National Academies, selected ASSAf as an intensive partner, guaranteeing funding and mentoring for 5 to 7 years. This led to the first symposium on evidence-based practice theory and best-practice.
Studies currently in progress include:
- State of the Humanities in SA
- PhD Study: Enhancing the Production of Postgraduates in South Africa
- Scholarly Books: their Production, Use and Evaluation in South Africa Today
- Clinical Research and Related Training in South Africa
- Improved Nutritional Assessment in South Africa
- Low carbon cities
- Forum-based Study on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education
- Forum-based Study on Science for Poverty Alleviation
The Academy established a number of awards, the most notable being the Science-for-Society gold medals, two of which are awarded annually. In conjunction with the DST and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), the annual TWAS prize for young scientists is awarded. The Sydney Brenner Fellowship is also awarded by ASSAf, along with merit awards and certificates.
IN 2001, the Academy took over the publication of the South African Journal of Science (SAJS), an indexed ISI journal. The Academy has been instrumental in the establishment of SciELO SA, a free open access, fully indexed journal platform. The SAJS was the first journal to be uploaded to this platform.
In 2004, the Academy launched Quest: Science for South Africa, a quarterly popular science magazine, now South Africa’s top science magazine. In addition, a quarterly newsletter is published. The Academy has also released a number of statements on a variety of topics such as xenophobia, climate change, and ocean acidification, both by itself, and in conjunction with other science academies.
ASSAf aspires to be the apex organisation for science and scholarship in South Africa, internationally respected and connected, its membership simultaneously the aspiration of the country's most active scholars in all fields of scientific inquiry, and the collective resource making possible the professionally managed generation of evidence-based solutions to national problems.
Like democratic South Africa in general, ASSAf aspires to play both a national and an international role, particularly with respect to the African continent. We see the Academy as usefully at arms length from the government and other organised sections of the state, comprising an assembly of excellent scholars from many disciplines who are well networked both nationally and internationally, and have shown their interest in, and capacity for promoting the development of a prosperous and a fully enabled society. Membership of the Academy (by election) is both an honour and an obligation to work individually and collectively (as the Academy) to ensure that decision-making requiring scholarly scrutiny and analysis is based on the best and most integrated understandings and insights available to the country. The Academy thus represents an organised, independent, but responsive scholarly voice to help guide the development of the country and its people.
The key objective of the Academy is to promote and apply scientific thinking in the service of society. To this end, the Academy shall:
- Use the common ground of scientific knowledge and activity to remove barriers between people and obstacles to full development of their intellectual capacity;
- Endeavour in every possible way to inspire, promote and recognise excellence in scientific and technical practice;
- Investigate and publicly report on various matters, in its own discretion or at the request of government or organisations in civil society, to promote and apply scientific thinking in the service of society;
- Promote science education and a culture of science in the population at large;
- Maintain strict independence while consulting other organisations and individuals in the widest manner possible;
- Endeavour to establish and develop close relations with scientific organisations in South Africa and with similar academies in other countries; and
- Take any other action that it may consider necessary towards the attainment of its key objective.
The strategic priorities of the Academy are closely matched to those of the nation, focusing particularly on the need for the greatly enhanced availability of high-level human capital and an increased use of the country’s best intellectual expertise in generating evidence-based policy advice that is practically feasible.
The Academy is aligned to national policy as dictated in the White Paper on Science and Technology and the National Research and Development Strategy. It also seeks to meet other national priorities, such as the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa, the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition and the Grand Challenges of the Department of Science and Technology.