Academy of Sciences of South Africa

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The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) is the national science academy for that country. It was started in 1996, and encompasses all fields of scientific work. Its legal foundation is the Academy of Science of South Africa Act, Act 67 of 2001, which came into operation in May 2002. ASSAf is the official national Academy of Science of South Africa and represents the country in the international community of science academies.

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) was inaugurated in May 1996 by the former President of South Africa and patron of the Academy, Nelson Mandela. It was formed in response to the need for an academy of science congruent with the dawn of democracy in South Africa – activist in its mission of using science for the benefit of society.

The mandate of the Academy encompasses all fields of scientific enquiry and it includes the full diversity of South Africa’s distinguished scientists.

Since its inception, ASSAf has grown remarkably from a small, emergent organisation to a well-established academy. To date, the Academy comprises 338 members.

History 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 (abbreviated as 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.

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