Rail parastatal Transnet says its research centre will contribute to job creation and the expansion of the country's knowledge economy.
The State-owned rail, port and pipeline company on Monday launched the Matlafatšo Centre, a hub dedicated to increasing the competitiveness, capacity and capability of Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) through skills transfer and access to research and development facilities.
"We also aim to empower black-owned and black-managed enterprises by providing financial support," Transnet Group Chief Executive Siyabonga Gama said.
He was speaking on Monday during the launch of the Transnet Matlafatšo Centre, which the state owned entity is running in partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand. The centre is located at Wits University.
To date, R19.4 million has been spent on the centre, which will use innovation and research to promote high value enterprise development. Transnet will spend about R62 million on the centre over a five-year period.
"We know that a lot of people face difficulties and challenges when they are trying to find jobs but here we are... (creating) entrepreneurs who can create jobs, people who can grow and contribute the economy, which is important," Gama said.
Transnet is hoping that its partnership with Wits will lead to new ideas, incubations and inventions, which can be commercialised.
"The model we are unveiling today is one that creates a fulcrum for research and innovation initiatives. Once it has matured, Transnet will roll it out nationally in a structured and well-coordinated fashion to reach all the communities of our country," Gama said.
Wits Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Crouch said the university has positioned itself as a research intensive institution because it believes that through research and innovation, it will drive technology and the future.
Innovation for the future
The Transnet Matlafatšo Centre is an example of one of the centres that has been established to introduce innovation in the curriculum and to the broader public.
Crouch said the country needs to find innovative solutions to address the challenges of the 21st first century such as artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, poverty and inequality.
"Wits is tackling these challenges head on. We are looking at trying to resolve these challenges with innovative ways going forward.
"We also have a teaching and learning plan because teaching in the classical sense has changed. We have to embrace technology and make sure that the technology becomes an enabler to significantly increase our access to higher education," Crouch said.
The university will soon be launching two online programmes in an attempt to make education more accessible.
Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said she was excited about the potential of the Transnet Matlafatšo Centre.
"Increasing the competitiveness and capacities of black-owned and managed SMMEs to take their place in the Transnet supply chain - and those of other large companies - is exactly what is needed to spread the wealth these companies generate and to change peoples' lives," Minister Brown said.
She said Transnet recently released a set of financial results for the six-month period ending in September, showing a 13.8% increase in revenue earnings.
Profit increased from R1 billion in the previous period to R3.4 billion.
"These are good results achieved in a very difficult economic environment. They are the outcome of improved operational performance by Transnet - on the back of practical cost-cutting measures such as drastically reducing requirements for overtime work - coupled with increases in mineral production and consumer demand.
"Best of all, the results were not achieved at the expense of developing skills and infrastructure that our nation profoundly needs, by shedding jobs that the nation can ill-afford to shed, or by decelerating Transnet's expansion into Africa," Minister Brown said.