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Sat Dec 03 17:35:32 SAST 2016

What I would like to see in the budget - empowerment in research grants

Bruce Gorton | 2016-02-02 10:24:37.0
File photo of technicians carrying out research in a laboratory.
Image by: Gallo Images/ IStock

Pravin Gordhan has put out a call for suggestions for the next national budget.

This is one of those traditions brought about by the governing African National Congress (ANC) that I actually think is a good thing – as it brings us together on the issue that this is our budget.

Research into racism has repeatedly found that students with black or female names are at a disadvantage.

For example, the US National Institutes of Health was found in 2011 to be twice as likely to award research grants to white applications.

And I suspect that if we ran the same research here, we would find the same racial disparities come into play.

So we need a way to break that disadvantage, to change the face of science in our country.

And we need to boost funding overall.

The concept of economic empowerment is that it acts to balance the scales – and we need those scales to be balanced if we are going to achieve a working economy.

Because the economy is not the white minority – it is all of us in this together. And when we aren’t all given a fair shake at it, when will we have these inbuilt prejudices holding us back?

We all lose; we lose our Einsteins and our Curies because of skin colour and stupidity. The tragedy is not just the injustice, but the sheer waste.

There are geniuses out there who can figure things out nobody else knows - and they're languishing in obscurity because they aren't getting the opportunities they need to figure out that they are indeed geniuses.

So what I would like to see in the next budget – is more focus on research grants for black scientists and students.

This is about laying the foundations of the future, and about who we are as a nation.

Our country’s students are doing their bit. Good scientific research has even been done by our school kids – and we have praised them for it.

But they can do more, if we come together to support them in their work.

Somehow our country has an affinity for figuring out the unknown, we love to experiment and learn new things. With some money to nurture that instinct that is in all of us, we can build an economy for all of us.

Science costs money – but it can also make us money. Discoveries and the means we use to make those discoveries open up opportunities for the economy that we could not have previously imagined.

Consider the satellite, modern medicine, air travel, the things which you take for granted every day that our ancestors would have called magic - all of them based at some point on work by researchers who had to be paid.

And those researchers gained a respect that echoes through the ages - a respect that cannot be erased by any racist, a respect of figuring out what was once deemed unknowable.

Let us change the face of South African science, let us fund those great discoverers who lie dormant in our society through lack of opportunity, let us do more to fund the rise of the black scientist.

We have the money - otherwise what are the corrupt stealing?

We can do this – and it is time we did.

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