Andile Ngcaba lobbies for minister of AI

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 29 Apr 2024
Andile Ngcaba, chairman and founding partner of Convergence Partners.
Andile Ngcaba, chairman and founding partner of Convergence Partners.

Businessman Andile Ngcaba has called for South Africa’s own minister of artificial intelligence (AI), in the next administration.

Ngcaba made this comment at the 30 years of ICT in a democratic South Africa celebration hosted by the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies on Friday.

South Africans will take to the polls on 29 May to elect the leadership of the seventh administration, in what is expected to be the most contested election in the last 30 years.

Confident that the current status quo will be maintained post the May elections, Ngcaba said: “Here is the request I want to put to you minister [Mondli Gungubele] for the president…this thing of a minister of [artificial] intelligence is not a joke – it must happen.

“We expect it to be announced when new ministers are announced now in July when you win the elections. We expect that you will convince the president that a new minister of AI will be part of that new administration. We don’t expect anything less.

“We look forward to a new policy process that’s going to take us forward in the new administration.”

As AI continues to grow in importance, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the first country to appoint an AI minister in 2017. Omar Sultan Al Olama is the UAE’s minister of state for AI, digital economy and remote work application, as part of leading that nation’s AI strategy.

Last year, in Romania, the country’s prime minister reportedly unveiled an honorary government adviser joining his team – run entirely on AI.

In addition, last year saw unprecedented AI advancements, with a wide range of tools, solutions and industries adopting the technology. The launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022 brought to public attention the power of generative AI. Since then, Google’s Gemini Pro, Microsoft’s Bing AI and Elon Musk's xAI have been launched, showcasing generative AI’s evolution.

ICT sector wins

Ngcaba is chairman, founder and majority shareholder of investment group Convergence Partners, and is also former executive chairman of systems integrator Dimension Data. He serves as president of Digital Council Africa.

Soon after SA transitioned to a democracy, he took up the position of director-general of the then-Department of Communications for eight-and-a-half years until December 2003.

At the communications department, Ngcaba was responsible for policy formulation that restructured the ICT sector, and presided over various initiatives to reorganise and overhaul the telecoms sector.

During this time, more than 10 pieces of legislation were produced, including the Convergence Bill, which was subsequently promulgated as the Electronic Communications Act of 2006.

On Friday, he highlighted some of the strides made in mobile connectivity over the last 30 years, saying the minister and president have been shy in talking about this.

While other sectors have faced troubles, he said there’s been significant progress in the ICT sector, attributing this to many of the ICT industry stakeholders that attended the day’s celebrations.

“As a country, we found ourselves in a lot of things that have gone wrong. However, the ones that have gone right, we’re almost too shy to talk about.

“For example, South Africa is number six in the world in terms of cross-connections, 15 submarine cables, and number 10 in terms of global internet exchange points. Shameel [Joosub] and them…I’ve lost count of how many mobile towers they’ve put up in the last 30 years.

“If this is not something to boast about, I’m not sure what to boast about. We need to tell people about this.

“As a sector, comparatively speaking, and all the other 35 ministries, it’s no joke that we’ve done exceptionally well. It has been everybody’s effort, from mobile operators and everyone else that has done so much to take our country where it is.”