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 (SAAWEK, a National Party institution). SAAWEK had an Afrikaans-language focus and was heavily supported by South African business. Based in Pretoria, it 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 enquiry 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 When the ASSAf Statute was passed, Act 67 of 2001, and the SAAWEK statute was revoked, ASSAf became the official science academy of South Africa.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 Science 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.
This was followed by the Study on HIV/AIDS, TB and Nutrition, ASSAf’s first self-initiated consensus study. The highly-acclaimed report was released in mid-2007.
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.Back to Top