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Africa can lead fourth industrial revolution, says Ramaphosa

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 05 Jul 2019
President Cyril Ramphosa delivered the keynote address at the Digital Economy Summit. (Photo source: GovernmentZA)
President Cyril Ramphosa delivered the keynote address at the Digital Economy Summit. (Photo source: GovernmentZA)

South Africa and the rest of the continent can be early adopters of emerging technologies brought on by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

So said president Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking at the inaugural Digital Economy Summit (DES), taking place at Gallagher Convention Centre, in Midrand this morning.

Ramaphosa noted South African society is in a process of renewal, adding the renewal in the country’s development trajectory intersects strategically with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution.

He highlighted that with the preceding technological revolutions,African countries were late bloomers. We have, in a short space of time, rapidly changing technological advancements, and the ability or the opportunity to utilise this has been placed before us, stated Ramaphosa.

“If you look at the African continent, we’ve become early adopters when it comes to mobile telephony – we adopted that. Even with the fourth industrial revolution, we are going to be early adopters.

“We need to focus on the new technologies that are going to revolutionise the world and we need to be ahead of the curve.”

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: DCDT)
Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: DCDT)

According to the president, some leaders of the African continent are saying: “We were left behind by the first industrial revolution, the second and so forth, but the fourth one is not going to leave us behind – we are going to get ahead of that fourth industrial revolution.”

Today, the South African government is hosting its first summit on the digital economy in collaboration with the fourth industrial revolution SA (4IRSA) partnership.

The 4IRSA partnership is an alliance between the Department Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), Telkom, Deloitte and the universities of the Witwatersrand, Fort Hare and Johannesburg. The partnership has now been extended to include Huawei and Vodacom.

According to 4IRSA, DES seeks to kick-start a wide-ranging societal dialogue on the challenges and opportunities of 4IR. Furthermore, the two-day event aims to stimulate and curate a coherent national action plan that galvanises industry, labour, academia, public sector and society at large.

Addressing the attendees, the president said the summit is a gathering of visionaries and dreamers just like him. He went on to say the country needs dreamers, referencing his statements about dreams at last month’s State of the Nation Address.

“You are all dreamers,” he said. “You are wonderful dreamers and visionaries that want to be creators. You are deeply immersed in the future and understand the power of turning dreams into reality.”

GP gets on board

Gauteng premier David Makhura expressed similar sentiments during his welcome speech.

Makhura said he is pleased Gauteng is playing host to the inaugural Digital Economy Summit because the province has decided to take the lead in supporting SA’s efforts to become the African continent’s hub of innovation and digital transformation.

President Cyril Ramphosa with minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at the Digital Economy Summit.
President Cyril Ramphosa with minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at the Digital Economy Summit.

“We as a province refuse to be left behind, and as a country and continent, we must refuse to be left out.”

The premier noted the country is moving towards a future in which 41% of current jobs in the economy will be rendered obsolete by automation, while 35% of the skills considered important by today’s work force will have changed beyond recognition and others will have disappeared.

Industry 4.0 is like a bullet train that is coming and t is up to the policy-makers to prepare and enable the masses to either get on board, or risk being a casualty in its path, he pointed out. Therefore, we in Africa cannot be left behind.

“Our country must take a lead in ensuring we collectively harness the opportunities and navigate the challenges brought about by the advent of the fourth industrial revolution.

“This summit takes place at the right time because there is already evidence that many sectors of SA’s economy are under going digital transition, although not at a fast enough pace.

“For instance, the average ICT intensity of jobs in SA has increased by 20% over the last decade. Gauteng province is determined to play an important role as an economic engine of our country and industrial,technological and financial hub of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Makhura continued: “The fourth industrial revolution is upon us and we must take action to prepare our nation fully for the new economy and new society.

“So we need a country strategy so that we don’t just muddle through, hoping that somehow we will survive.”

Spectrum in our lifetime

DCDT minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said South Africa has to invest in digital technologies and the skills required by Industry 4.0.

Going forward, government will finalise the review of key policy frameworks, such as the ECA Bill, in order to make it responsive and adaptive to the fourth industrial revolution, stated Ndabeni-Abrahams.

“As announced by president Ramaphosa, we will soon issue the policy directive to enable ICASA to license high-demand spectrum…I know you are all waiting for it.

“This directive will also provide a legal framework for the allocation of spectrum to the private sector and other industry stakeholders.”

Last month, Ramaphosa once again promised the long-awaited policy crafting the path towards mobile spectrum allocation will be issued in July.

At the summit, Ramaphosa reiterated the release of spectrum will be “released in our lifetime”.

He noted that providing infrastructure, including spectrum release, will enable the country’s digital ascendance and bring benefits to all sectors of the economy.

“The minister has spoken about the spectrum and she will be making those announcements. We are committed to releasing the spectrum and that is going to happen in your lifetime,” the president promised.