South Africa: Preparing SA for 4IR

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams says her department has commenced some of the groundwork towards preparing South Africa for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

"We began engagements with stakeholders to identify various enablers that could help us derive the benefits that come with technological innovations and developments relating to 4IR," Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

Addressing the Presidential Commissioners on 4IR in Tshwane on Tuesday, Ndabeni-Abrahams said digital technologies can generate more than R5 trillion in value for industry, consumers and society in South Africa.

She said one of the most important priorities for government is to grow the economy and in the process of doing so, ensure that there is inclusive growth.

"We are making concerted efforts to assist government to gravitate towards certain obligatory steps, standards and principles that should provide guidelines for every government department to function within the realm of the 4IR.

"The department, with the advice of the [4IR] Commission, will develop a strategy and framework for government, which will enable every government department and organ of state, to develop their own plans to integrate 4IR in everything they do, and ensure that the sectors in which they function align accordingly," the Minister said.

She said government will set basic rules to manage the externalities of 4IR, distribute the benefits thereof and address structural market issues, such as curbing monopolies and making infrastructure rollout pervasive.

"However, it is important to acknowledge that South Africa is not starting from a zero base, as various elements of 4IR are already being implemented across the country," the Minister said.

She said 4IR will not only create jobs for citizens, but will ensure that the majority of citizens are active participants in the economy, specifically in research, innovation and production.

"Government's intention is to move towards a trajectory that will facilitate a country plan for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in a manner that enables government to ensure a better life for all South Africans by reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality."

Commissioners to bring 4IR change

Communications Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana said the Department of Communications is grateful to the Commissioners who have showed interest in serving the country.

"As a department, we are grateful to you for answering this call to be in a room that consists of the best amongst equals to drive our 4IR agenda as a country.

"It is our time to set the world alight but also and perhaps most importantly, it is our best shot at truly transforming this nation's economy and the lives of all South Africans for the better," Kekana said.

She told the Commissioners that it is their chance to change the continent for the better.

"I urge you to think beyond the borders of South Africa. 4IR doesn't know any borders. Let us use this moment to leverage on the 1.3 billion plus Africans as catalysts of new markets, new solutions and to some extent, let's use this moment in history to break the shackles of colonialism for all of us," said Kekana.

Presidential Commission on 4IR

President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed members of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution to assist government to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital industrial revolution.

President Ramaphosa instructed that the Presidential Commission on 4IR be established, comprising society representatives.

The Deputy Chair of the Commission is University of Johannesburg Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, whose expertise spans the theory and application of artificial intelligence to engineering, computer science, finance, social science and medicine.

In his State of the Nation Address to a Joint Sitting of Parliament in February 2019, President Ramaphosa said South Africa had chosen to be a country of the future at a time when the world was changing at a pace and manner that was unprecedented in human history.

"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," the President said at the time.

Objective of Commission

The 30-member Commission, Chaired by the President, comprises eminent persons from different sectors of society and reflects a balance in gender, youth, labour and business, including digital start-ups as well as digital entrepreneurships.

The objective or the aims of the Commission are to:

Develop an integrated country strategy and plan to respond to 4IR, including detailed interventions to be carried out achieving global competitiveness of the key economic sectors (agriculture, finance, mining, manufacturing, ICT, and STI);

Advise on a technology research and development program to advance 4IR;

Advise on strategies for skills development and future of work; and

Make recommendations on enabling relevant infrastructure for SA to participate in the digital economy and make recommendations on an institutional framework and mechanism to coordinate 4IR programs.

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) has been tasked to coordinate the work of the Commission because of the ICT sector role underpinning an enabling capacity of the 4IR.

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