Calls to reinstate researcher

2008-11-27 00:00

Cape Town — Both the Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front have added their voices to calls from a range of organisations for the suspension of water researcher Anthony Turton to be repealed.

Turton was suspended last week after the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) ordered him not to deliver a hard-hitting presentation on South Africa’s water crisis at a CSIR conference on South Africa’s water quality in Pretoria. The CSIR said his presentation, entitled “Three strategic water challenges that decision-makers need to know about and how the CSIR should respond,” contained “unmotivated statements”.

DA spokesman on Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Gareth Morgan, has called on Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena to investigate Turton’s suspension.

FF Plus Minerals and Energy spokesman Willie Spies voiced alarm at the “blatant censorship” of Turton’s presentation.

“Debate and constructive criticism is of cardinal importance in a democracy. When academics do not have the confidence to speak out and only follow what the government of the day says, democracy has failed.

“The CSIR cannot afford to silence researchers about the threatening water crisis. Debate should actually be encouraged.”

The DA’s Morgan said that by attempting to gag Turton, the CSIR showed a “scant disregard” for the national interest in the face of numerous reports on water-borne deaths and diseases. “It might also set a precedent that will result in the stifling of the production of knowledge that the government may not like to hear,” he said.

Turton, who has described himself as a “humble scientist” who just wants to get on with the job, included in his presentation a plan to increase the number of scientists in the country and a new funding model for research.

Morgan said the contents of Turton’s paper require real debate between government, the scientific community and civil society. He said the pursuit of cutting-edge knowledge and research should be a priority in South Africa.

Morgan said it is vital that the minister of Science and Technology respond to Dr Turton’s suspension.

“The minister, while respecting that the CSIR has its own management procedures, should investigate the matter and determine whether the suspension, if based on the publicly stated reasons, is not outweighed by the need to have Dr Turton defend his paper in public.”

Morgan said he has written to Mangena urging him to call on the CSIR to reverse Turton’s suspension.

A motion by DA MP Denise Robinson for Turton to be reinstated was voted for by all parties and passed by the National Council of Provinces yesterday.

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