South African Young Academy of Science

Promoting Science and Society


Young Scientists’ Conference 2019 Explores Migration

Given the recent resurgence of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, it is timely that young scientists deliberated on these and other related issues at a conference aligned to the 2019 African Union Year Theme, “Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”. The 10th Young Scientists’ Conference was held from 28 – 29 October 2019 at Future Africa, in Pretoria and was themed: “Migration, Displacement and Mobility in Africa: Complex Issues in Current Times”.

The conference was hosted by ASSAf, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), and SAYAS. Additional support was provided by the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) based at the University of Witwatersrand. Sixty young scientists from twelve academic institutions, as well as some speakers from civil society organisations attended the conference.

Recent years have seen global migration policy discussions being increasingly driven by moral panics – public anxiety about issues thought to threaten the moral standards of society.  In 2018, two Global Compacts – agreed principles to guide an international response – for (1) ‘Refugees’ and (2) ‘Safe, Regular, and Orderly Migration’ were implemented but the ways in which these Compacts will influence policy making and programming at the local level are unknown. In 2019, will these Global Compacts support or hinder the development and implementation of appropriate responses to migration in Africa?  Key concerns include the continued side-lining of internal/domestic migration patterns, by far the largest form of movement on the continent, and the role of ‘Europe in Africa’ in relation to the ways in which the management of migration from Africa to Europe is increasingly being outsourced to African nations.

What do these concerns mean for the social and economic development trajectories of the African continent, and for the protection of people on the move? The African Union has declared 2019 as the Year of Migration, Displacement and Mobility in Africa. To this end, this Annual Young Scientist Conference focussed on these themes with the aim of unpacking complex issues in current times in order to provide critical thought for improved ways forward to respond to diverse migration movements across the continent. A focus was also on the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa probing how local and current migration management approaches strengthen or weaken the social integration of migrants.

Access the full Conference Report in the Publications page

Conference Participants

Young Scientists’ Conference 2018 Explores Corruption and its Negative Effects

Young scientists deliberated on corruption and its negative effects on Africa’s progress at the 9th Annual Young Scientists’ Conference which was held from 13 – 14 September 2018 in Johannesburg at the Protea OR Tambo Hotel, Johannesburg. The conference was hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS).

Seventy young scientists from ten academic institutions, as well as some speakers from civil society organisations attended the conference.

Corruption continues to hamper efforts aimed at promoting democratic governance, socio-economic transformation, peace and security, and the enjoyment of human rights on the African continent. South Africa was ranked as the 64th most corrupt country out of 176 countries in 2016 on the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) includes commitments to fight corruption, increase transparency, address illicit financial flows and improve access to information. The inclusion of the SDGs as a measure of assessing a country’s development track, for example, calls on countries to give a comprehensive assessment of the negative effects of corruption. Utilising multi-disciplinary approaches it is aimed to take into account the contributions that alternative disciplines, indicators and datasets can provide and thereby allow for a broader understanding of corruption.

As research by a range of institutions including academia, non-governmental organisations, policy think tanks, the private and public sectors, as well as the media, can help identify the causes, effects and types of corruption, the young scientists were encouraged to actively engage on these issues. This is crucial in understanding and fighting corruption.

Former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa Judge Zak Yacoob gave a guest lecture on the need for the judiciary, civil society and academia as a tripartite to work on providing checks on corruption. Other guest speakers included: Ms Ntshadi Mofokeng, Chief Operations Officer, Equal Education; Mr Lucky Menoe, Deputy Director, Corruption Watch and Mr Deprose Muchena, Regional Director, Amnesty International.

Additional funding was provided by the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World – South Africa National Chapter (OWSD-SANC) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). This enabled further discussions on the gendered effects of corruption as well as corruption in the healthcare sector respectively.

Access the full Conference Report in the Publications page

Conference Participants

a. Young Scientists’ Conference 2017 Explore Science Advice

Some 200 young scientists from all over the world converged on Johannesburg for the 8th Annual Young Scientists’ Conference and the 3rd Worldwide Meeting of National Young Academies of Science.

The Annual South African Young Scientists’ Conference held on 19 July 2017 was hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) and deliberated on young scientists’ role in science advice, under the theme: Young Scientists’ Role in Science Advice.

There is a growing movement internationally to bring together science advisors to share best practices and form a network to deal with global challenges, such as food security and climate change. Science is also at the heart of the United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals (SDGs). However, integrating the best science into the plans of government and others working towards the SDGs, remains a challenge.

This multilateral conference therefore provided a platform for scientific exchange among senior and young scientists in the area of harnessing the demographic dividend through investments made in young scientists. Specific themes that were deliberated upon included: the Role of Young Scientists in National Strategies to Achieve the SDGs; Application of a Gender Lens in Addressing the SDGs; and Building Scientific Capacity in Young Scientists to Advance Science Policy.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr Adrian Tiplady, General Manager of Strategy, Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Funding support for the conference was received from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), The World Academy of Sciences Regional Office for sub-Saharan Africa (TWAS-ROSSA), the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World – South Africa National Chapter (OWSD-SANC), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the New Zealand High Commission in South Africa.

Access the full Conference Report in the Publications page

Conference Participants

b. Annual Young Scientists’ Conference 2016

Human rights came under scrutiny at the 7th Annual Young Scientists’ Conference on 6 and 7 October 2016 at the Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre. The conference was hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS), Gender in Science, Innovation, Technology and Engineering (GenderInSITE), and the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World South Africa National Chapter (OWSD-SANC), and the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR). The conference theme, Human Rights, was aligned to the 2016 African Union Year Theme of Human Rights with Special Focus on Rights of Women.

Retired Judge Richard Goldstone gave the opening remarks and Ms Yasmin Sooka, Director, FHR gave the keynote address. The two later joined other panellists in a Panel Discussion on: Redress of Colonial Heritage in Promoting Human Rights in Africa. The discussion was facilitated by Prof Alex Broadbent –Executive Dean of Humanities at the University of Johannesburg. The other panellists included Prof Bongani Majola –former Assistant Secretary-General and Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Commissioner Mohamed Ameermia from the South African Human Rights Commission.

In setting the tone for the inter-disciplinary conference, Judge Goldstone qualified that: “Lawyers generally think that the topic of human rights is their domain, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

In addressing the Redress of Colonial Heritage, Ms Sooka sought to also interrogate traditional African practices that were equally harmful saying: “traditional custom is not static but changes continuously. Engagement and dialogue are essential to promote a universal set of values, as tradition cannot justify human rights violations”.

The conference also included a Round-Table Discussion focusing on: Transformation towards Sex and Gender Equality in Africa on the evening of 6 October, sponsored by the FHR. The Panellists included eminent persons in the Human Rights field inclusive of retired Judge Richard Goldstone, retired Judge Zak Yacoob, Prof Christof Heynes –Member, United Nations Human Rights Committee, Ms Janet Love –Executive Director, Legal Resource Centre and Prof Barney Pityana, ASSAf Council Member. This event was open to the public.

Human rights are inherent rights of all human beings regardless of nationality, sex, race, religion, language or any other status. In South Africa, the Bill of Rights forms the cornerstone of democracy. The Bill of Rights enshrines the rights of all people in South Africa and affirms the democratic values and principles of human dignity, equality and freedom. In order to achieve these values in South Africa and in the African continent in general, citizens have to promote and respect the culture of human rights. In addition, they should promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights.

The highlight of the Conference however are the presentations and discussions by young scientists. It provides a platform for young scientists to share their research and also sharpen their presentation skills.  The networking opportunity is also a big draw card as this provides suitable grounds for seeking out inter-disciplinary collaborations.

Traditionally, the conference has included capacity development components such as scientific writing and publication, communication and science engagement, and opportunities to interact with senior officials in government and science councils.

The closing Dinner on 7 October, provided further stimulus for the young scientists with an impromptu debate on the merits of Ubuntu and a further interrogation of the #Feesmustfall protests. The fiery but friendly debate saw a banter of thought facilitated by Prof Himla Soodyall, between retired Judge Zak Yacoob and Mr Joel Modiri from University of Pretoria’s Department of Jurisprudence. Mr Modiri and Ms Angela Mudukuti from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre gave the closing remarks.

-Access the full Conference Report –Document

Some of the conference participants

The Evening Rountable Discussion Panellists (from L to R) Ms Janet Love, Judge Zak Yacoob, Judge Richard Goldstone, Prof Christof Heynes and Prof Barney Pityana

Conference Participants

c. Science and Society Symposium

How can the reach of academic work extend beyond a closed circle of academics, and find a wider audience?

SAYAS Symposium 2018

Science and uncertainty was explored at a symposium hosted by SAYAS on 8 – 9 March 2018 held at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU). The symposium entitled: ‘Science and (Un)certainty: Exploring Science, Knowledge Production, Communication and Uptake in a Post-truth World’  aimed to create a space for meaningful engagement with on-going discussions in institutions of higher learning, and spilling into the public space.

The symposium also interrogated the position of science and of knowledge creation as either a hindrance or a transformative initiative and of the need for certainty in a post-truth world. The symposium provided an opportunity for inclusive debate to explore what science and its different interpretations are, as well as exploring varying bodies of knowledge creation and the current decolonising dilemma.

Prof Alex Broadbent, SAYAS Alumnus and Professor of Philosophy and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg gave the opening address. Other speakers included Prof Catherine Odora Hoppers who holds the South African Research Chair in Development Education at the University of South Africa who gave the keynote address. Prof Azwinndini Muronga, Executive Dean in the Faculty of Science, NMU in his welcome to the delegates to the university made reference to the pursuit of engaging in knowledge creation and various streams of thought.

In order to encourage young scholars’ interaction with science, SAYAS symposiums also provide an opportunity for high school learners to interact with early career scientists and meet the SAYAS objective of translating science for society and Influencing science policy. Towards this end students from Lingisa High School in Port Elizabeth (PE) attended the Symposium and three students from the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists –PE region, made presentations on their award winning science experiments. As SAYAS Symposiums take a broad understanding of science, to include multiple disciplines including the natural sciences, social sciences, music and the arts, an ethno musical performer -Ms Bongiwe Lusizi (Stage name: Mthwakazi) and her band, was also invited to make a performance. Ethnomusicology emphasizes cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts of musical behavior, instead of only its isolated sound component.

Some 30 representatives from various universities in the country attended the symposium.

Funding for the symposium was  provided by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust.

Science and Society in Africa Project leaders in 2017: Nosiphiwe Ngqwala, Puleng Segalo, & Edith Shikumo


SAYAS Symposium 2015

The 2015 symposium focused on the potential of engagements outside the domain of traditional science communication — in particular, science non-fiction writing (books and printed journalism), science fiction, and science in images and sound. Academics and professionals in astrophysics, archaeology, urban design, editing, writing, curating, history, music, design, and public health attended panel discussions, debating on interdisciplinarity, stereotypes, the challenges of the education system, and meaningful engagement between scientists and society. One example of this interdisciplinary collaboration was reflected in the first session between SKA SARChi Chair Professor Roy Maartens (UWC) and the curators of the Square Kilometre Array ‘indigenous astronomy’ exhibition, Shared Sky, at the National Art Gallery: Emeritus Professor John Parkington (UCT) and Sandra Proselandis. The artistic works on display reflected how aboriginal and South African people understood the cosmos, weaving this thinking into their folklore, narratives and creative expressions.

Sci-fi novelists Lauren Beukes and Professor Nnedi Okorafor, discussed parallels between science and science fiction. The conversation exposed the importance of narrative in capturing public imagination and of challenging norms, including experiences of gender imbalances in science and science fiction writing, and misperceptions of the role of science and science fiction in Africa.

Among the participants were Grade 9-10 scholars from Khayelitsha’s Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT) School who belong to the Optimistic Youth Reporters from the Children’s Radio Foundation. These outstanding young learners interacted with “Ask a Scientist” panelists, asking and judging complex scientific questions and spurring competition between scientists on their communication skills. This symposium was covered by SAFM, the Cape Times, and an audio podcast is available from SAYAS.

With a stronger funding base, this project has the potential to be hosted in other African countries, and bring together some of the brightest and most unusual thinkers from the continent.

Science and Society in Africa Project leaders in 2015: Tolullah Oni & Jo Vearey

d. Mathemafrica


A unique multi-lingual, multi-blogger site that works towards a better understanding of mathematics, for all.

The blogging platform was initiated at the AIMSImaginary joint workshop on Mathematics Communication at AIMS in Muizenberg in November 2014.

In 2015, SAYAS funded a web developer who has been integral in setting up a highly user-friendly, attractive website which is now bringing in many viewers. In the month of August alone the site had some 15,000 page views, mostly from within South Africa, but also, since its inception, from 18 other countries within Africa. On our blogging team we now have 27 people signed up who are able to write whenever they want, and we have had posts written in English, Xhosa and Sepedi over the last two months.

In total we have had almost 100 blog posts on topics ranging from mathematics education and communication, through to undergraduate level lectures on complex numbers, calculus and differential equations. We have run competitions, and given away prizes, including a Galileoscope to a student for a translation of a blog post about mathematics and dreams.

Our hope is to set up the multi-lingual framework in the coming months, in particular in Xhosa, Zulu and Shona to spread the word through the region. Overall we are extremely excited about how this project is going, and all feedback has been that this is both a worthwhile project and a very interesting prospect for the future of mathematics communication in Africa.

Project Leader: Amanda Weltman