Monumental Gatherings on Covid-19 Research in Africa and Honour of Oliver Reginald Tambo a Resounding Success

Monumental Gatherings on Covid-19 Research in Africa and Honour of Oliver Reginald Tambo a Resounding Success

The Covid-19 Africa Rapid Grant Fund (CARGF) Reflection and Foresight Convening and the O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative (ORTARChI) Annual Gathering, both monumental meetings that the National Research Foundation (NRF) hosted last week, were a major success in terms of their set objectives. 

The meetings were called to celebrate and showcase the CARGF and ORTARChI initiatives, and provide a space for peer-learning, networking, and the exploration of avenues of collaboration among the participants, the majority of whom are stakeholders in Africa’s science ecosystem. These included both researchers and the participating councils of the Science Granting Councils Initiative in sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI).

CARGF and ORTARChI are two significant multilateral research funding partnerships that the NRF has administered under the auspices of the SGCI since 2020 and 2018 respectively. As a multi-funder and multi-stakeholder initiative, the SGCI partners with public funders of research in 17 African countries to support capacity strengthening with the aim of contributing to research and evidence-based policies for economic and social development.


In his opening address, NRF Chief Executive Officer, Dr Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, said the NRF was delighted to host the gatherings. He stressed that CARGF demonstrated that establishing partnerships across Africa and the world was key. “Africa’s science community managed to put up CARGF together within a short period following the coronavirus outbreak because partnerships were already established. Partnership is a key word here because it is all about us knowing that we cannot do what we want to do on the continent if we work alone. It’s a question of how we work as a collective team across Africa to ensure that we achieve what probably has not been achieved before,” Dr Nelwamondo added. 

Dr Gugu Moche, Acting Deputy CEO: RIISA, chaired the opening session. She pointed out that the CARGF gathering was an important opportunity to reflect on what was achieved, thereby preparing Africa’s scientists for the next pandemics. “As we engage, there are three fundamental questions that we should be answering: what are we doing, why are we doing it and what do we learn from implementation. If you look at those, they speak to the reasons behind our engagements, they speak to our reason for pursing long-term partnerships, and they speak to whether we are getting the results we thought we would.”

Vinny Pillay, Chief Director: International Resources at the Department of Science and Innovation shared similar sentiments, and appreciated that the gathering was happening at an opportune time when the global community has come to the realisation that it faced common challenges. “There is no one country that has enough resources to solve these emergencies, hence the need for science-based, cross-border partnerships”, she added. “As I always say, science knows no borders. This is also about how we prepare ourselves as South Africa, Africa, and the world for future pandemics.”

CARGF and ORTARChI were established to fulfil a variety of roles for the benefit of Africa’s science system. Established in May 2020 to support Africa’s response to COVID-19, CARGF funded 73 projects across three strands, i.e. research, science communication and science advice, in 50 institutions from 16 African countries. The CARGF was supported by the NRF and the DSI; Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Fonds de Recherché du Québec (FRQ); the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida); the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO); the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Newton Fund; and SGCI participating councils.

ORTARChI, on the other hand, was established to contribute to the expansion of research and innovation capacities in and for Africa, in alignment with African Union Agenda 2063 and Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA-2024); to contribute to Africa’s global research competitiveness while responding to the continent’s socio-economic needs; and to contribute to Africa’s career pathways for young and mid-career researchers, with a strong research, innovation and human capital development output trajectory. Ten O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs have been awarded across seven countries, namely Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia since its launch. The NRF and DSI, together with the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation (OATF), IDRC and SGCI participating councils have partnered to implement the initiative.

Importantly, the initiative honours and promotes the legacy of O.R. Tambo, emulating his values of professional excellence, integrity, inclusiveness, honesty, humility, and respect for human dignity. The late Oliver Tambo is recognised for his lifelong dedication to the struggle against apartheid. He criss-crossed Africa and the world as a longtime leader of the African National Congress in pursuit of freedom and equality. ORTARChI recognises Mr Tambo’s science background. He obtained his BSc Degree in 1941 from the University College of Fort Hare, near Alice, and taught Science and Mathematics at St Peter’s College in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, for ten years.

As part of his quest for social justice, Tambo switched to law studies. He graduated from UNISA and became an attorney in July 1951. Tambo established Mandela and Tambo, a law firm, with Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg in 1952. Mandela and Tambo, recognised as the first African-owned law firm in the country, closed in 1960 – a significant year in the country’s liberation struggle that saw Mandela facing treason charges and Tambo entering into exile.

Addressing a panel discussion that explored the intersection of O.R. Tambo’s legacy and research in Africa, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, paid homage to Tambo. “The O.R. Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative is a fitting tribute indeed to O.R. Tambo’s legacy, exemplifying the essence of his life and work. This initiative will contribute immensely to our effort to create an educated, well-informed, and liberated society, which is what O.R. Tambo stood for,” he said.

“ORTARChI deals with the challenges Africa and its people face, which includes climate change, public health and disease control, food and water security, entrepreneurship, ecosystems, and environment. It will contribute enormously to an appropriately funded African research agenda that is led by Africans and the diaspora. What is more pleasing is that this initiative is premised on ensuring that the knowledge that emerges from these research chairs will be openly shared amongst everyone in Africa and its diaspora. This supports the concept of open science, which I firmly support”, said Dr Nzimande.

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