Address by the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Mr Sihle Zikalala during the Fourth Industrial Revolution Summit for Economic Development held at the Durban ICC
We extend our greetings to all of you, who today have joined us in this historic, inaugural provincial Summit on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We commend the KwaZulu-Natal government entity, Moses Kotane Institute (MKI) for creating this critical platform.
And thanks to all the delegates and speakers who over two days will share experience, expertise, and unpack the myriad of opportunities that are brought about by the 4th Industrial Revolution.
We are here because we refuse to sit aside and say the future is inevitable.
We refuse to say the future belongs to the super-intelligent machines without us.
With all the technological disruptions that are threatening traditional jobs, we are resolute in stating that together we will innovate to create the future of our dreams that is fair and humane.
Whatever labels we give to it: gig economy, automation, digitalisation, robotics, artificial intelligence, internet of things or big data - it must all be underpinned by social justice, social inclusion, and women empowerment.
The report of this summit must therefore go far in shaping both the provincial and the national agenda on the future of work, skills development, gender equality, and inclusive development.
We are here to sharpen one another and agree on a common programme of action because we have chosen to be a province that is 'reaching into the future.' Amongst us are senior representatives of government officials, leaders of business and labour, and eminent scholars.
In the 2019 State of the Nation Address (SONA), His Excellency President Ramaphosa emphatic highlighted the need for our country to fully exploit the benefits of this revolution without leaving anyone behind. In his address, the President said,
"As a young nation, only 25 years into our democracy, we are faced with a stark choice.
It is a choice between being overtaken by technological change or harnessing it to serve our developmental aspirations.
It is a choice between entrenching inequality or creating shared prosperity through innovation.
Unless we adapt, unless we understand the nature of the profound change that is reshaping our world, and unless we readily embrace the opportunities it presents, the promise of our nation's birth will forever remain unfulfilled.
Today, we choose to be a nation that is reaching into the future."
To give concrete meaning to a nation that is reaching into the future, President Ramaphosa announced the appointment of the Presidential Commission on the 4th Industrial Revolution to ensure that our country harnesses technological advances in pursuit of equitable growth and inclusive development.
The Commission has been tasked to recommend policies, strategies and plans that will position South Africa as a global competitive player within the digital revolution space.
The President further announced that over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.
The President made a commitment that,
We will start with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multigrade, multiphase, farm and rural schools...
Several new technology subjects and specialisations will be introduced, including technical mathematics and technical sciences, maritime sciences, aviation studies, mining sciences, and aquaponics.
To expand participation in the technical streams, several ordinary public schools will be transformed into technical high schools."
If we do things right and participate in setting the agenda for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we can leapfrog the development of the province and our country.
Technological innovation must underpin Operation Phakisa and all sectors of our untapped ocean's economy, the green economy, climate change, and agriculture.
Experience tells us we cannot succeed if we work in silos. We need more collaboration between government and the private sector. Globalisation itself demands that countries collaborate better to achieve inclusive development.
Last year in July, South Africa hosted the 10th BRICS Summit under the theme, "Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution".
It is commendable that in its declaration, the Summit affirmed, "the value of implementing coordinated BRICS scientific projects aimed at promoting BRICS science, technology and innovation potential as a contribution to our combined efforts in addressing the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution."
Apart from skills deficiency, the main challenge brought about by artificial intelligence is the re-organisation of work and loss of jobs.
This has been a concern of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which this year is marking a centenary since it was founded.
The ILO set up the Global Commission on the Future of Work which recently published its report.
The ILO's Global Commission is co-chaired by President Ramaphosa and Sweden's Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven.
The Report calls on countries to commit to specific measures to adopt in the context of rapid changes in the world of work.
Titled, "Work for a Better Future", the ILO report advances a human-centred agenda to attain a decent future of work.
The report recommends, among others:
A universal labour guarantee that protects fundamental workers' rights, an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces.
Guaranteed social protection from birth to old age that supports people's needs over the life cycle.
A universal entitlement to lifelong learning that enables people to skill, reskill and upskill.
Managing technological change to boost decent work, including an international governance system for digital labour platforms.
Greater investments in the care, green and rural economies.
A transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality.
Reshaping business incentives to encourage long-term investments.
The ILOs report speak to South Africa's unique challenges and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. Much of this inequality is structural and is perpetuated through due to wage differentials.
We have unacceptably high levels of unemployment which burdens much of our youth.
It is therefore in our national interest to have targeted policies that will reskill our labour force and save jobs. Decent employment must continue to be a driver of living standard for the millions of our people.
We have a large youth contingent and we need to work together to take advantage of this youth dividend.
As Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) recently observed at NEDLAC, "Investing in Africa's children now is the best hope to reap the demographic dividend."
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As KZN, we do not intend to be spectators in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The records indicate that the move from hand production methods, especially in textile, characterised the first Industrial Revolution in Britain, and later in the US between 1760 and 1840.
Expansion of the industries from the First Industrial Revolution and increased use of electric power to create mass production characterised the Second Industrial Revolution.
The Third Industrial Revolution built on the previous one's electronic and mechanical processes to digitise production and ways of doing things in society.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has the 3rd one which was also referred to as Digital Revolution to scaffold into this era that is characterised by new technologies in many fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, The Internet of Things (IoT), decentralized consensus, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.
The envisaged improvement of the quality of life on account of the 4IR will only be realised by a few if we don't all embrace the new modes of doing things and doing business.
We can be leaders in this field.
South Africa ranks among the best in the world when it comes to scientific research and innovation.
While there are many great South African innovations, there is still a room for many more, particularly in this era. Some of our innovations include:
The well-known first human transplant performed by Dr. Chris Barnard in Cape Town,
Q20 (the lubricant used by mechanics) that was invented here in KZN by Mr. Robertson,
Maths app called Open Omnia was recently launched by KZN's Lloyd Gordon to improve the learning outcomes in mathematics for students who struggle in maths.
Earlier this month, we learned about Professor Mashudu Tshifularo of the University of Pretoria who has pioneered surgical procedure using 3D-printed middle ear bones for hearing loss rehabilitation.
It therefore can't be right for a country with such a capacity, natural resources and human capital to be associated with poverty, unemployment, and inequality.
To create a better South Africa all hands should be on the deck - government, private sector, labour, civil society, religious society and other formations.
As government, we undertake to ensure that you receive the kind of support that will enable your innovations to move from emerging innovations to established innovations that will be exported to world markets.
The labour market requires new skills, new curriculum and a new mind shift. We thus need to capacitate ourselves and make sure that we don't miss out on the new 4IR opportunities.
With reduced need for warm bodies in our banks, we now require people to develop new Apps for banking. This also means there'll be a massive increase in the use of computers.
Who is going to supply South Africa with all of those? There's nothing stopping us from producing our own computers and smartphones.
New medical technologies now enable a doctor in Durban to diagnose and treat a patient in Mahlabathini.
It may not be long before we go online and order a doctor to diagnose and treat you in the comfort of your home any time of the day.
We can both sit and moan about the disruptions brought about by the new ways of doing things, or take the lead in producing these technologies.
The advantage is that when we are the producers, we'll better customise them as we understand the South African market better than others. We can also indigenise some of our innovations by making them do things in our languages and those of Africa and the developing world.
Thus this summit should not be a talk shop. We all have to make our contributions on the crafting of sound resolutions which will equip citizens with the necessary skills to thrive in a digital society. We have chosen each and every one of you to be part of this summit because we value your contribution.
Let me close by referring to the revolutionary Moses Kotane, after whom the MKI is named. It was in 1968 that he posed these words:
"At this hour of destiny, your country and your people need you. The future of South Africa is in your hands and it will be what you make of it"
Let us create our destiny.
Let us reach into the future.
And Let us Grow South Africa Together!
I wish you well and thank you very much.
Issued by: KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs