South Africa: An upcoming provider of sustainability innovations?

This project aimed to find out, besides other questions, to what extent is South Africa’s innovation system actually responding to the challenges of national, regional and global sustainability and what are the main actors in science and innovation for sustainability.

Projektleitung:
Andreas Stamm

Projektteam:
Andrea Friederichs
Sarah Hees
Philipp Kauppert
Luisa Reichert
Benjamin Smale

Zeitrahmen:
2008 - 2009 / Abgeschlossen

Kooperationspartner:
Institute of Economic Research on Innovation of Tshawane University of Technology

Projektbeschreibung

South Africa has a relatively strong and mature Innovation System, with a series of world standard performing organizations, established funding agencies and clear governance structures. In the last years, the government has implemented a series of strategies, programmes and instruments to further strengthen the system and enhance science and innovation capabilities. The ratio of R&D spending to gross domestic product has significantly risen, and the international linkages of research and higher education organizations have been strengthened and amplified. Based on this progress, the government of South Africa in February 2008 approved an ambitious Ten Years Plan (TYP) for the development of an effective Innovation System (Innovation Towards a Knowledge Based Economy). Production and dissemination of knowledge shall lead to enhanced economic growth and enrich all fields of human endeavour.

Science and Innovation are crucial instruments to meet the challenges related to global change and to achieve the transition towards sustainable development on the level of nations, regions and the globe. The TYP refers explicitly to five grand challenges to which increased knowledge creation shall respond, among them, energy security and science and technology in response to global change.

To what extent is South Africa’s innovation system actually responding to the challenges of national, regional and global sustainability? What are the main actors in science and innovation for sustainability? How dynamic are scientific and innovation capabilities developing? How do the actors assess the political framework conditions and incentive systems? Where do they perceive barriers to a faster development and diffusion of sustainability innovations? Which lessons may be drawn for policy makers and for the international science & technology and development cooperation?

These are the guiding questions of the research project projected by the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE). The research was based on the conceptual approach of National Innovation Systems, developed since the 1990s by economic and social researchers and increasingly being applied by science and technology policy makers. In order to get an adequate insight into the innovation processes the research was structured along different Sectoral Innovation Systems (SIS). The following list of SIS has been established, based on a number of interviews with stakeholders and experts of the South African innovation system, it is still open to modifications:

  • Forest, timber and wood-based products: The research focussed on resources-saving technological innovations along the wood value chain and comprise organizational innovations at the upper end of the chain, that contribute to the overall sustainability of the sector.
  • Renewable Energies: The research looked at different types of renewable energies and its development in South Africa: Solar (thermal and PV), biomass, wind and waves.
  • Hydrogen Economy: One team explored this highly innovative technology field and the potential that South Africa has to become a competitive provider of hydrogen based solutions.


The research was based on a series of common hypotheses and issues that allow for a cross-sectoral analysis and may help to develop appropriate recommendations for policy makers and the international cooperation. Some of these common issues were

  • the links between different elements of the SIS (public research, private sector)
  • the available human resources,
  • the international cooperation of research and higher education organizations,
  • the absorption of incentives and other instruments of innovation policy by the SIS.



The Institute of Economic Research on Innovation of Tshawane University of Technology was the formal research partner in South Africa. Other organizations had also shown their interest in supporting the work, among them the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) at Stellenbosch University and CSIR Natural Resources and the Environment (Stellenbosch).
It was intended to carry out the research in a collaborative effort between postgraduate researchers from Germany and South Africa. Matching the five researchers from Germany with  postgraduates from South Africa did significantly enhance the research capacities. The selection of the South African researchers was done in close collaboration with IERI and other national partners.

Aktuelle Publikationen

New educational formats for civil service needed worldwide to support global sustainability

Reiber, Tatjana / Wulf Reiners
Externe Publikationen, 13.11.2019

Steuerstaat und Fiskalverfassung

von Haldenwang, Christian
Externe Publikationen, 13.11.2019

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