Research Cooperation with South Africa

02.05.2018 - Press release

Germany is  a partner in innovation to South Africa, developing research capacity and facilities jointly through exchange programs, research initiatives, academic conferences and high-level delegate visits.

South Africa holds the leading position in science, technology and innovation on the African continent and has a relatively well-developed research infrastructure. Accordingly, South Africa is Germany’s main cooperation partner in  research, science and technology in Africa. Common research areas include climate change, energy, astronomy, sustainability, biodiversity, geosciences, integrated water resource and sustainable land management, as well as advanced manufacturing.


With Africa being identified by the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report as the continent with the greatest risk in terms of a changing climate, Southern Africa is one of these key regions. A number of negative factors are already clearly mapping local ecosystems and posing a serious threat. Climate-related impacts are earlier and more intensively to be observed in Southern Africa compared to other regions worldwide, since the interactions between climate change and anthropogenic environmental factors such as slash and burn and overfishing are especially strong.

Soil erosions, droughts, climatic and anthropogenic influences such as land-use, industrial pollution as well as aquaculture and changes in ocean currents are important issues that need to be examined in this context. The interactions between geosphere, atmosphere and the oceans as well as between land and sea and biosphere and atmosphere are therefore the focus of the systemic research programme “SPACES”.

The initiative aims at the implementation of scientific cooperation projects in the Southern African region, contributing to the formulation of science-based recommendations for policy makers regarding the earth system management and ensuring the sustainable use and conservation of various ecosystem services in the region.

The database collected through SPACES is expected to significantly enhance our knowledge of the functioning of the system earth and its adaptation to natural changes and anthropogenic influences. Creating resistant and adaptive land-use systems will ultimately lead to making man and the environment more resilient towards the negative effects of climate change. This will also help develop sustainable societies and healthy ecosystems.

Trout farming: Aquaculture in South Africa SPACES and SASSCAL scientifically complement each other. It is planned to make all results gained through SPACES available via SASSCAL. The initiative is furthermore partnered with the South African ACCESS programme (Applied Climate Change and Earth System Science) of the DST as well as with the Namibian Ministry of Education and therewith also with the University of Namibia.

In addition to workshops and summer schools, an education and training component is hence an integral part of the initiative. Therefore, the BMBF has set up a scholarship programme for Master's and doctoral students which is administered by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The scholarships are granted in close cooperation with the scientists involved in SPACES. Furthermore, training sessions for African students with experienced scientists on German research vessels are offered. The scholarship programme is open to young researchers giving them opportunities for academic development.

Further information on SPACES


Trout farming: Aquaculture in South Africa
Trout farming: Aquaculture in South Africa© picture alliance / WILDLIFE

Another example of successful cooperation in the response to the challenges presented by global climate change is the project Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management – SASSCAL for short. This project is a joint initiative of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Germany, the goal of which is to expand the research infrastructure in Africa over the long-term by setting up regional centres of expertise for climate change.

The current processes of global change, including demographic change, climate change and the globalisation of economic systems, are an enormous challenge for societies worldwide. Current projections on future developments indicate that there is an urgent need to develop concepts on how to adapt to these challenges in due course. Science and research offer proactive approaches to deal with the current and the expected changes. In this regard, the role of science is to be understood as a service to those societies that are most severely affected by climate change and to provide decision-makers with evidence-based results and advice.

The establishment of SASSCAL adds value for the whole southern African region. The Centre is conceptualised and operationalised to complement the existing research and capacity development infrastructure and research initiatives in the region.

Further information on SASSCAL


MeerKAT is a new radio astronomical receiver project of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. The scientific defined frequency range from 1.6 to 3.5 GHz can only be observed under significant sensitivity losses with the 100-m Effelsberg radio telescope due to man-made radio emission, the so-called Radio Frequency Interference.

Thus the MeerKAT observatory, currently under construction in South Africa, has been chosen as a host for this receiver system. MeerKAT, will be the most sensitive observatory of the southern hemisphere in the centimetre wavelength regime.

Thanks to its unique location at the Karoo semi-desert in South Africa, MeerKAT is hardly influenced by interference. The 11 million Euro receiver project will not only grant the Max Planck scientists access to a world-class facility and its unique unrestricted view on our galaxy, but also extend the frequency range for all MeerKAT scientists and thus empower MeerKATs scientific potential even further.

Radio astronomy provides an independent view of the cosmos. It allows the study of objects and processes that are otherwise not accessible, and enables the study of a wide range of questions in fundamental physics and astrophysics.

The discovery space is mostly limited by the sensitivity of the radio telescopes, but other factors like sky access, time and frequency resolution, throughput (or “survey speed”) and complementarity to existing facilities, are hugely important factors. Currently, major efforts are underway to make progress on all these factors.

An upfront development is provided by the MeerKAT observatory in South Africa. When completed it will already be a world-class facility in stand-alone mode. MeerKAT will even be more sensitive than the largest fully-steerable radio telescopes in the Northern hemisphere, the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. In addition, it will provide a spatial resolution comparable to an 8 km diameter telescope. The science potential of MeerKAT is therefore enormous.

In addition to providing the front-end, the complete project also includes the design and the construction of a state-of-the-art digital back-end system which will turn MeerKAT into a discovery machine for pulsars and other time-domain phenomena. The receiver system will be designed and constructed by the MPIfR in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Manchester and Oxford.

Further information on MeerKAT


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