SN 2 EP 8: Navigating South Africa’s Open Science Landscape Through the Lens of Ina Smith and Susan Veldsman of Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)

14 May 2024 Categories: latest news, Mazungumzo Podcasts, News


open, science, south africa, policy, africa, data, work, scholarly publishing, research, initiatives, access, journals, continent, publishing, scholarly, open access publishing, researchers, region, authors,


This episode takes us through South Africa’s journey towards embracing Open Science, a paradigm shift that aims to address societal challenges and promote research integrity. Ms. Ina Smith and Ms. Susan Veldsman, leading Open Access and Open Science advocates at the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF), share insights into the development of the draft National Open Science Policy, the challenges faced, and the opportunities it presents for the African continent. The conversation highlights the need for robust policies, infrastructure, capacity building, and incentives to encourage open data sharing and collaboration among researchers. The guests emphasize the importance of aligning with international standards while considering Africa’s unique contexts, such as ethical data sharing and combating predatory publishing practices.

Here are the key things to look out for:

  1. ASSAF’s role in developing South Africa’s draft National Open Science Policy, aligning with international best practices while considering unique African contexts like ethical data sharing and combating predatory publishing.
  2. The impact of global initiatives like the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) in promoting open access infrastructure, credibility and visibility of scholarly publications from the Global South, and its potential synergies with the African Open Science Platform (AOSP).
  3. The challenges and opportunities for broader adoption of Open Science across Africa, including infrastructure limitations, capacity building needs, policy support, incentivization models, and the role of collaboration.
  4. The transformative potential of Open Science in addressing societal challenges, promoting research integrity, questioning traditional research evaluation systems, and ensuring African voices are represented in emerging technologies like AI through open data sharing and open access publishing.




Welcome to Mazungumzo, African scholarly conversations, a podcast that highlights the perspectives of various stakeholders in academia, and research fields across Africa through open dialogue or mazungumzo on scholarly communication in Africa.

Joy Owango:

Welcome to Mazungumzo – African Scholarly Conversations, where we are joined by an expansive list of African policymakers, science communication specialists, innovators, and tertiary institution leads who contribute to this realm of science communication.


I’m your host Joy Owango, the Executive Director of Training Centre in Communication (TCC Africa), a capacity-building trust based at the University of Nairobi, Faculty of Science and Technology in Nairobi, Kenya.

This episode is particularly special as we are joined by two remarkable women who have been at the forefront of promoting Open Science and Open Access and shaping the scholarly communication ecosystem in South Africa for the last 7-8 years.


First, we have Ms. Ina Smith, a Program Manager at the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF),  and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) Ambassador for Southern Africa. Ina brings a wealth of experience and passion for fostering openness in scholarly communication, and her role as a DOAJ Ambassador emphasizes her commitment to advancing open-access practices in the region.


Joining Ms. Ina is Ms. Susan Veldsman, the Director of the Scholarly Publication Programme at ASSAF. Susan’s extensive career has seen her championing the cause of open science, beginning from her early days as an Information Librarian to her current role, where she drives the Open Science agenda at the Academy of Science of South Africa. Her leadership has significantly influenced the quality, visibility, and accessibility of South African scholarly journals.


A warm welcome to the programme ladies!


Susan Veldsman, Ina Smith:

Thank you so much, Joy.


Joy Owango:

I’d like to start by inviting both of you to share a bit about your background and respective roles that have shaped this transformative journey Ina, would you like to start?


Ina Smith:

Thank you so much Joy for this opportunity and for having me. I’m very excited to share my journey with you. I’ve always harbored a passion for self-learning and empowering others to acquire the necessary skills for their own journey. The adage or expression, “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you,” resonates deeply with me, emphasising the importance of personal initiative in learning. I firmly believe that where there is a will, there is a way. Nothing in the world brings me more satisfaction than taking on new challenges and successfully accomplishing them. Perhaps this inclination stems from my upbringing in a household where my mother dedicated her entire life to teaching. Our exposure to books and libraries made an immense difference in shaping my perspectives. My career is therefore a dedication to my mom.


With the advent of the Internet, it felt as if I were destined for technology. I derive joy from experimenting with new technological applications that support and advance open science, scholarly publishing, and science engagement, integrating these IT tools into my work. In 2021, I assumed the role of an information specialist at the University of Pretoria, where my responsibilities included implementing the institutional repository, developing the website, implementing a federated search solution, and more.


Previously, at Stellenbosch University in 2019, I was once again tasked with establishing the institutional repository, but this time also creating a hosting solution for scholarly journals published by the university. Thereafter, in 2014, I became a part of the Academy of Science of South Africa, an experience that granted me the freedom to collaborate with various science and higher education institutions and stakeholders across. Conducting a landscape study of the African Landscape in terms of open science was truly a highlight for me. This project spanned from 2016 until 2019.


Joy Owango:

Thank you Ina, Susan.


Susan Veldsman:

Thank you very much, Joy and once again thank you for having us this afternoon. It’s great to talk to you and to share with you, our experiences. I’ve had a very long career I must add, I’m actually a trained librarian. I started to work at the Department of Agriculture where I was part of a decentralized library, and in plan prediction, but later on, I moved out to the higher education sector where I worked for the Tshwane University of Technology, and then the now University of Johannesburg, where I ended up as Deputy Director of the library. But later on, my career sort of moved away and shifted from librarianship to be more focused on specialized science of technology issues, and specifically with a focus on science policies, therefore my interest in the work that actually do now. I uphold the open access movement advocacist. I started in 2004, to advocate for open access in South Africa, where I work for EIFL, which I think the listeners might actually know where I was a country coordinator. That installed in me sort of…I almost want to say the love but also reinforce the movements power, that it has to open up and democratize knowledge as such special in terms of accessibility, et cetera. And that really set the scene for me here in going forward, especially since I’m working in developing countries, I realized some of the struggles they had; perhaps not only to subscribe to databases, but to have access and to publish their own work in sort of commercialized databases, et cetera. But I think things changed quite tremendously for me in 2009, when I joined ASSAF, where I’m now responsible for scholarly publishing in South Africa, I think what formed sort of my ideas and my career and sort of, in the activities that we embark on is two very important consensus studies that were published by ASSAF. These consensus studies shaped scholarly publishing in South Africa, and as you might be aware, is that consensus studies or evidence-based studies as Academies of Sciences, calls them really informs policy, and specifically the research output policy and science policies in South Africa. So that really set the scene for the next 14 years starting in 2009, when I started with ASSAF, which is a very interesting journey, and currently, it’s actually escalating to bigger things, so to speak. Yeah, so because of the work ASSAF does, we initially started with open access and of course nowadays Open Science. I think, in generally, we’re actually in a very good space, in terms of Open Science because I’ve become so frustrated over the years for open access, per se not taking off really, lots of decentralized projects, etc. But not being sort of put together or being joined together under a policy. But I think we now are in a very good space, because for the first time, I think that Open Science policies worldwide, is actually embedding themselves in a very strong value system of inclusivity, accessibility, equitable and diversity, et cetera, on the one hand side, but then it also aims through open science to address societal problems like poverty, climate change, etc. So, I’m quite excited to be here and to be in this very particular space after some many years of preparation.


Joy Owango:

I can imagine. So now the next couple of questions are to you in regards to ASSAF’s contribution to policy. So the first one is, ASSAf is a key player in the Scholarly communication landscape in South Africa and really the broader African region. Could you elaborate on its role in the development of the draft National Open Science Policy in South Africa, and how did the approach align with or differ with international practices, and what unique considerations were taken into account. Where there are any specific provisions that ASSAF champion for?


Susan Velsdman:

As I started to allude to previously, ASSAF is in the business, of advocating for open science. And I think at the time, which was about four years ago, we realized that open science is actually making far better traction than it did, and because under open science, there are many more issues being dealt with, meaning copyright or incentivization, or ICTs, or connectivity. And we realized that we could take on a much broader role, and at the time we collaborated with UNESCO, we received some funding, we set up a workshop. And then we collaborated with Professor Cameron Neylon from the Curtin University in Australia, who is also leading the open science movement in Australia with doing a lot of research and portals and dashboards, indicating adoption of open science and open access worldwide and advocating for standards to be followed. So that we can actually track on the adoption of open access as such. That particular workshop we had in collaboration with UNESCO and the Curtin University really created the platform for debate and for further discussion within South Africa. It was soon actually spun out then to the DSI, the Department of science and innovation, where they then took lead and through the very large collaborative efforts with the European Union. They have a facility which they call the EU- DSI debate facility. Many workshops then followed, writers were appointed to assist and to actually come up with a first open science policy framework, which was established for South Africa. No. So you know, where is this policy at the moment? There is a little bit of frustration, I think in the research community. Just perhaps from a very personal opinion, I think that this framework might need a little bit of more work to translate into some outcomes for policy, you know, move towards an open science policy, because my personal feeling is it’s kind of a framework, and very extensive documentation referring to all the aspects that one can include under open science. You asked me, do we align? Yes, definitely, we align, we do not function in isolation, I think that will be shooting yourself in the foot. We have we have many good examples internationally, I’m referring to UNESCO recommendations, and the ISC in terms of the scholarly publishing, the future holder for scholarly publishing, these are very valuable principles that sets the scene. And after all, we all function in this global network. And it’s not only globally that we have to align with, we have to think about our continent, Africa. And there are some policy documents already in existence, the Africa we want of 2063. And also, through the African Union, you know, there’s already a lot of policy documents being established. And it is very important to seek that alignment, and to function within that alignment. It doesn’t help to be sort of the outcast or the different one. I think it really advantageous thing, the question and the cause that we that we want to create with open science policies as such. So, I think that’s really important that we realize that we work in a much broader network and policy framework.

I just sort of want to touch upon about each country, you know, whether they will have these specific considerations of things. I think that yes. I think that our copyrighted intellectual property rights laws are very different from those in Africa and those internationally, you know, so  we’ll have to pull into that remit as well. And if we just think about the evaluation of researchers, or the writing of researchers in South Africa, which is squarely in the mandate of the NRF, the National Research Foundation, and how we have to adjust that system to fall into the broader open science, evaluation, and incentivization of models. So, yes, definitely, each country will have its own, you know, little things that they have to do consider setting up an open science policy. Okay.


Joy Owango:

So, you’ve partly answered the following question, the next question, but if there’s anything missing, you can contribute to it. And that is, how has the scientific community responded to the policy? Have there been any indicators suggesting positive development or a cultural shift towards the democratization of scientific knowledge? In the broader context of Africa, how do you see the Draft National Open Science Policy influencing other countries’ initiatives and policies regarding open science and open access?


Susan Veldsman:

I would certainly say positively. It has influenced and certainly created awareness. You know, definitely all the other countries are looking at Open Science policy. What are the things to be considered, and the things to be changed? I think generally speaking, the movement towards open science policy is very slow. And I think, for the open science projects, very important to create further awareness in the work that we did, with AOSP you know, we did see there are many central projects already on the continent. So, it’s not as if Africa is not aware or dormant in terms of open science activities. It’s definitely aware and they are definitely efforts. But now to pull it together into an open science policy, I think that is the challenge. If you think stakeholders and government bodies and legislation that you have to pull together under this policy, it is a massive work, you know, it will need some time to establish. I do just want to send out a warning, you know, in terms of Africa’s efforts to open science policies, we must not conflate open science with open access. My only concern, is that we misunderstand that open science is a far broader, yes for the wider concept than just open access.


Joy Owango:

I think the reason for that, why there’s still that slight confusion is because the whole conversation, began with open access. So, there’s a lot of push to open access. Then now getting to open science, it’s relearning what this concept is, which also includes open access. But also with the slow adoption, the way you mentioned it. I was just thinking through as you’re answering your question, I feel it also the political dynamics of the continent, some countries are quick to adopt some are slow and you know, for some countries high education is not as a priority level like defense or general politics. So, it tends to hit a back burner, but still, this low adoption of it. What I tend to feel is that it’s not intentional. This is my observation. It’s not intentional. It’s just the political dynamics that you’d find in any government. Because anyway, in any case, promoting policy in any government, you have to go through the bureaucracy of government and some are faster, some are big, some are even surprising. But what I’m also seeing is that even with the Open Science dialogues TCC Africa is hosting, we’re in a situation where governments are reaching out to us to host these dialogues. This wasn’t the case you know, in in most policies, you know, you have to pitch to present to the government they importance of this but thanks to this uniform conversation on open science now governments are seeing the importance of it is just that we have to deal with the internal political dynamics which might sometimes drag the process in terms of adoption. But the good thing is that the way awareness is increasing.


Now, Ina given your active involvement in the pilot study and landscape findings of the Africa Open Science Platform (AOSP), what observations can you share regarding the current capacity for open science across the continent? Has it evolved since the pilot study? Are there any insights you have you gained on AOSP’s impact since its establishment


Ina Smith:

When we concluded the study in 2019, it became clear that there was a lack of infrastructure on the continent, insufficient policies governing science and the sharing of scientific data, a shortage of capacity-building opportunities across sciences, and no incentives for scientists to share their data and more in an open and transparent manner.

The responsibility of the landscape study was not solely to collect information for a better understanding of open science and open data activities on the continent. Its purpose was also to raise awareness of open science and emphasise the importance of the required policies, infrastructure, capacity-building initiatives, and the necessity for scientists to be supported through incentives or acknowledgment. Initiatives such as H3ABionet and the Square Kilometre Array however demonstrated great success, and was used as an example of what is possible.

COVID-19 however halted the establishment of the actual platform in 2020. Nevertheless, I am delighted to report that the project is making progress under the leadership of the National Research Foundation (NRF), with Dr. Tshiamo Motshegwa as the Director. There was a call for science granting councils to get involved and for countries to contribute funding.


It is increasingly becoming a requirement from funders that data should be shared and made openly accessible, such as the Welcome Trust, IDRC, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


It’s encouraging to see open science conversations happening more frequently among scientists.  In my view, grassroots initiatives began to evolve as an outcome of the landscape study. Recently, I read about the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to enhance scientific and scholarly communication in Africa, thereby making science and datasets more open through a data repository. These might seem like small victories, but they are incredibly significant. This is what can be anticipated going forward, with national policies expected to emerge, similar to the SA policy currently before parliament.


Joy Owango:

Thank you so much Ina. I have another question for you. In addition to your position at ASSAF, you also serve as the DOAJ Ambassador for Southern Africa. What has been the contribution of DOAJ in promoting open-access infrastructure in Southern Africa and what specific initiatives or projects exemplify this contribution? Are there collaborative synergies between DOAJ and AOSP to further the cause of open science in the region?


Ina Smith:

Mentioning DOAJ, it’s a special year for DOAJ since this year it celebrated its 20th anniversary. So the DOAJ has played a significant role in promoting Open Access infrastructure in all countries but also in Southern Africa. DOAJ is a globally recognised, community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high-quality, open-access, peer-reviewed journals. Its contributions in Southern Africa primarily revolve around fostering open-access publishing and supporting initiatives that enhance access to scholarly information in the region.

DOAJ has been instrumental in improving the visibility and discoverability of scholarly journals from Southern Africa by including reputable journals from the region in its directory. By doing so, DOAJ facilitates broader access to research outputs and promotes the visibility of Southern African scholarship on a global scale.


Specific initiatives and projects that exemplify DOAJ’s contribution in Southern Africa include:


  • Inclusion of Southern African Journals: DOAJ actively encourages and evaluates applications from journals in Southern Africa to be indexed in its directory. This inclusion ensures that quality research from the region gains greater visibility, attracting more readers and increasing the impact of scholarly work.
  • Capacity Building and Training: DOAJ has been involved in capacity-building efforts, providing guidance and training to journal editors, publishers, and institutions in Southern Africa. These efforts aim to improve the quality of open-access publishing practices and enhance compliance with international publishing standards.
  • Regarding collaborative synergies between DOAJ and the African Open Science Platform (AOSP), both entities share a common goal of promoting open science in Africa, albeit with different focuses. While DOAJ primarily concentrates on open-access publishing, AOSP aims for broader engagement in open science practices across various disciplines and research activities.


Collaborations between DOAJ and AOSP could potentially strengthen the cause of open science in Southern Africa. Such collaborations might involve joint initiatives to:


  • Promote Open Access and Open Science: Both DOAJ and AOSP could work together to raise awareness about the benefits of open access and open science practices through workshops, webinars, and collaborative advocacy efforts in the region.
  • Support Capacity Development: Collaborative efforts could be directed towards supporting capacity-building activities aimed at enhancing open-access publishing standards and broader open science practices among researchers, institutions, and publishers in Southern Africa.
  • While specific collaborative projects between DOAJ and AOSP might not have been extensively documented or publicly highlighted, the potential for synergistic efforts between these organisations remains significant in advancing the cause of open science and open-access infrastructure in the region. Collaboration could bring about mutual benefits by leveraging their respective expertise and networks to further support the development and promotion of open-access publishing and open science practices in Southern Africa.



Joy Owango:

Okay, so now, the next question is for you, Susan, you have been at the forefront of the Scholarly Publication Programme at ASSAF. From your perspective, how do global initiatives like DOAJ shape the landscape of open access in the Global South, and what lessons can be drawn for Southern Africa?



Susan Veldsman:

I think it is extremely important that we sort of participate in these global initiatives. I think Ina started to actually allude to those. I abide in my previous answers. And that is to say that, you know, we function in a very particular open science ecosystem. And I think it’s very important to be a team player. And also, to play an active role in this ecosystem. It really makes it so much easier for countries, if we look at the DOAJ, it really sets the standards, it indicates what are the best practices, and it aligns us, with international best practices. And I think that is extremely important. Also, for our office would like to be and our editors to be role players in international system of things. And I think just by participating in these initiatives, we become very important role players in that regard. So that’s extremely important. I also just would like to highlight one very particular concern that we have in Africa. And I think that is, that is very important way we start tapping into especially the practices in Europe, and that is the sharing of data. Especially when personal information of participants are involved. And I think that’s our biggest challenge, actually, in Africa is when we share data, this data has been taken out of our continent and then it gets used in another research abroad outside of our continent. So ASSAF has been playing a really leading role in setting up a code of conduct, which then researchers will have to follow if they start sharing data, especially when personal information is involved. that is under certain conditions and circumstances. And there’s a framework in which it can be shaped. And I think what’s very important is that we seek, especially the European Union GDPR certification to ensure that we also can be global players in the sharing of data, especially those associated with personal information. So, again, it is important to look towards or outside the borders of South Africa, also to align and to ensure our authors, our editors, the research in South Africa, that we are following international standards, and that we are a very important team player. And you know, also because Africa research is very tainted, and is sort of viewed with a lot of apprehension from other countries beyond our continent, we know the whole north -south debate and that authors of the Southern Hemisphere struggle and battle to publish the results in both in northern journals etc. We know that huge problem that does exist so it’s very important that we actually strengthen our local journals and our local research practices and to follow standards, so that we can ensure the world that we can be trusted, that we follow trusted standards and best practices and also combat predatory and unethical publishing practices. So, it is important that we fall into the broader remit of international organizations and what they stand for and the work that they do.


Joy Owango:

So Ina, how do you perceive the impact of the Journal Master List created by the South African DHET on mitigating predatory journals, not only in South Africa but also in other African countries? Have there been observable changes in the quality and credibility of scholarly journals in the region?


Ina Smith:

So, the The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) does not maintain a comprehensive master list per se. According to the DHET research outputs policy, seven indexes are accredited by the DHET. These include Web of Science, Scopus, the Norwegian List Level 2 journals, the ScieLO list, the IYBSSD list, the DOAJ list, and a DHET list containing South African journal titles.


Whenever an author publishes in a journal listed within any of these indexes, it generates income for the higher education institution with which the author is affiliated. All journal titles featured in these lists have undergone rigorous quality assessment processes to ensure exclusion of predatory journals, although occasional oversights might occur. Nonetheless, these guidelines provide authors with a reliable reference for trusted journals. Consequently, observable improvements have been noted in the quality and credibility of scholarly journals within our region.


Despite these advancements, there remains a continuing need for capacity building. Currently, we are actively engaged in a series of workshops focused on implementing criteria for potential inclusion in the DOAJ. This initiative is a collaborative effort with Research4Life and it targets scholarly journals from Tanzania, Ghana and Bhutan.



Joy Owango:

So, as we wind up, I’d like to hear your views on this last question. So, from your vantage point, what are key lessons have you learned from your collective experience in Open Access, and particularly now Open Science? And what do you envision as the future of open science in Africa? Ina, would you like to begin please?


Ina Smith:

First of all, I think AI is on the increase Artificial Intelligence, and for Africa to be represented on AI tools such as Chat GPT. We need to have data out there, if Chat GPT returns with a response and It’s not inclusive of Africa and South Africa, and it’s Us- centric or Euro-centric or euro centric, it means it could not find sufficient data from Africa from its data or data it searches. To realise the full potential of open data and open science in Africa, it’s essential to address challenges such as infrastructure limitations, data quality assurance, ensuring ethical considerations, promoting data literacy, and establishing supportive policies that encourage data sharing and collaboration among researchers and institutions. Collaboration among governments, research institutions, NGOs, and the private sector is crucial in harnessing the benefits of open data and science for the advancement of African countries. There’s lots of opportunities for innovation through AI utilizing data from Africa.


Joy Owango:

What additional comments do you have?


Ina Smith:

I think there is more and more uptake of open science, and an awareness of the need for open data and data to be made openly accessible, and that data must be managed in a responsible way. It should be quality data, and it should be well documented. And we all have a responsibility to make sure our data is managed in a responsible way for AI innovations to come from that data. And yeah, that’s my main takeaway points. I think that’s what we’re all working towards to get DOAJ, whatever we do, and whatever we put out there online, in DOAJ, AI will harvest from me.

Joy Owango:

Okay, thank you. Susan?


Susan Veldsman:

I think what for me stands out is sort of this vehicle, called open science and it allows us to question and, in some instances, actually, boycott some of the systems. So it does bring about an opportunity to change a lot of things, especially in the research system, how we publish, how we should share data, how we evaluate our researchers to sort of not look at very traditional ways of journal impact factors, H-indexes, etcetera, that we should question that. And then if we question them, what should we put in their place? And then how do we recognize when authors and researchers actually participate in this, let’s call it new system? And what are those incentivization systems, and that makes me quite excited. It’s that there’s a complete renewal of the system as such, and we have an opportunity here, and we must really work hard with that. But it also emphasizes the role of research in solving today’s problems. I don’t think ever before have this, so much emphasis has been put on to what is it that we need to resolve. And then, of course, the role of researchers in decision making and policymaking. That whole advisory role that they should play. And then of course, to be advisory is then the necessity of evidence to eradicate sort of the world’s problems. And Ina has also stolen one of my points, and that is certainly artificial intelligence and ethics, because now it opens up a complete different can of worms, and we start engaging with the issue of trust in science and research integrity. It’s sort of emphasizes again, the very important role that we have to play. So, thank you again, once again for the opportunity.


Joy Owango:

Thank you, ladies, this has been very enlightening. You’re doing such amazing work. You’re influencing policy, not only at a national level, but also at a continental level with the work you’re doing. It is really appreciated. Thank you so much for joining us at Mazungumzo.



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