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Glimmer of hope at Nokwane Biotechnology Park

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By Ackel Zwane - SWAZI OBSERVER-05-Dec-2010

Preliminary construction works are already underway at the Royal Science and Technology Park in Nokwane.

Along the way to defunct Swazi Paper Mills is a very long fencing that has suddenly sprung from the margins of the woods marking the boundary with Summerfield Gardens. Excitement is already high among stakeholders that finally the highly prestigious project has taken off. But still questions abound about what is this project about and what does it mean to the average citizen?

The project manager, Moses Zungu told stakeholders recently that there was still a lot to be told because of its magnitude. He even recalled a Sesotho saying, which appeared to literally move him, that says a cow does not let out all its dung but keeps some to release some other day. He said this because of a barrage of questions which he attempted to provide answers to but had to keep some information to himself for the benefit of progress.

The first disturbing information shared with stakeholders at the University of Swaziland lecture theatre was that soil samples had to be taken to Pretoria for tests, a process that would take time before the results return to Swaziland to commission the works. Stakeholders say the first step to domesticate the project is to get the equipment and expertise to test the soils done domestically.

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Nokwane project is a biotechnology park that will facilitate and promote high-tech industrial development and investment in Swaziland while targetting short, middle and long term industries related to agricultural, bio-fuel, bio-energy and bio-medicine products and services.

The much larger biotechnology facility would be funded by Taiwan, with the master plan and designs done by Taipei-based China Engineering Consultants Inc. The project will take many years to complete and, therefore, it is still not possible to give a round figure for its total cost. Swaziland would benefit from the project through skills development knowledge transfer.

Swaziland has qualified researchers to work at the S&T Park but the scope for developing a critical mass of researchers was huge, Zungu said as early as June. The park would also be accessible to researchers from other countries in Southern Africa.

sustainable

“Currently there is no formal link or collaboration in Swaziland between the University of Swaziland, industry and government, yet research plays important role in sustainable socio-economic development,” Professor Mgidi Dlamini, Dean of the faculty of science at the University of Swaziland, was quoted by University World News in June this year.

Before the core of the knowledge economy takes shape, a number of things must be put in place within given time lines. The establishment of the Research Council will entail the draft bill expected in Parliament early 2011; to cover a wide spectrum of fields spanning the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences; will be responsible for coordinating all research activities in the country; and will form the research engine of the Royal Science and Technology Park.

Infrastructure development is very key to all else especially because the public wants to see buildings and people working instead of the rhetoric about giant projects that end up in the lips of politicians and big government officials.

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People out there are already eager to exploit the employment opportunities as it has already been widely advertised. Zungu himself has acknowledged that people will start believing once there is a physical structure.

The construction will take place in two parts, the biotechnology in Nokwane and the Information Technology Park in Phocweni.

Aspects already covered at Nokwane are feasibility studies systems master plan development; land surveys; topographical surveys and geotechnical surveys.

Aspects being undertaken: n Infrastructure designs from August 2010 – January 2011 – by CECI with BICON n Meetings on settlements n Tendering for construction expected between February and April 2011 n Construction expected around June 2011 n Estimated construction cost is E853m over a period of three years (2011-2014) n Next design stage expected to start in April 2011 i.e. designing of architectural structures n Expected to take from six to 18 months n Consultations with stakeholders to start early 2011(covering designs, human resources development etc.)

Phocweni

n Construction expected to start early 2011 n No local tendering for the main contract as per the funding terms n Main contractor (from India) to sub-contract certain aspects; n Construction period would be three years n Construction costs expected to be about US$20m n Construction of four storey state of the art information technology centre building n Covering four hectares and 10 000 square metres; n Comprising of offices, data centre, four training halls, digital library, three laboratories, e-governance centre, six business shells, auditorium, canteen, banking hall and executive meeting chambers.

Now that the dust begins to rise, the stakeholders want more clarifications about protection of knowledge now that they will be a lot of traffic of ‘experts’ from around the world wanting to ‘peep’ through our discoveries.

We want to know how will we protect indigenous knowledge in the face of prying predators. Zungu admits that issues of intellectual property rights are crucial especially because we do not have a single intellectual property lawyer.

Our lawyers have always been keen on the crime side of life. There is, therefore, need for the creation of legal expertise base before jumping the gun. The intellectual property office had been, however, working on the IT policy.


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