South Africa’s knowledge systems are in trouble “as we know a lot but we understand little”, says Professor Crain Soudien, the chief executive officer of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), which conducts research in areas that are crucial to development.

Addressing the 2nd Science Forum South Africa which began Thursday at the Centre for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR) Convention Centre here, Soudien said South Africa had witnessed an explosion of a knowledge of information and data over the last 20 years at a pace which was quite extraordinary.

“However, we understand so little,” he added. “South Africa is the centre of the world, it brings together the social differences, we have to deal with all these race class, race, gender, language, religion, sexuality all arise here.

“We are many countries trying to make sense of what it is to live in many spaces which we find ourselves in. We have brilliant science but we hold on to a world which traps us in our minds.”

He said social scientists and hard scientists had to come together to make sense of the significance and importance of new complexities. “We scientist have been able to find ways in which we can bring all our thoughts together in language that reflects each other so, it’s almost impossible to work together.”

“How do we begin a conversation, how do you begin to put a physicists with a sociologist to have some significance to frame a question, how do we come together to frame to understand what the question is.

“I would like to think this is challenging actually and a possibility for the forum like this and in this place which is the centre of the world and begin a movement, with a new forms of discourse, embrace all of our knowledge repositories, those indigenous knowledge that have been displaced.”

The forum is being held under the theme “Igniting conversations about science” and is a platform for scientists, policy-makers, students, academics and the public to engage on issues around science, technology and innovation.

The programme comprises several parallel sessions addressing diverse topics, while science bodies such as the South African National Space Agency and Square Kilometre Array form part of the exhibition. Displays were also staged at Church Square in Pretoria seeking to expose ordinary citizens to the world of science and technology.

Earlier, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor opened the conference and Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection Executive Director Joel Netshitenzhe addressed the gathering.