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AWS commits R30bn additional investment in South Africa

Matthew Burbidge
By Matthew Burbidge
Johannesburg, 17 Aug 2023
Amazon Web Services has opened a skills centre in Cape Town.
Amazon Web Services has opened a skills centre in Cape Town.

US-based cloud computing giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) has committed to invest R30 billion in South Africa in the next 10 years.

This was revealed yesterday by Tanuja Randery, managing director of AWS EMEA, when the company opened its first international skills centre on the Foreshore in Cape Town, with the aim of training young South Africans to work with its cloud products.

The centre is open to anyone who wants to learn about AWS cloud technology, “regardless of their background, education level, or social status”, it said.

The centre is the third that AWS has built, and the first outside of the United States, after facilities in Seattle and Arlington.

At the launch, Randery said the company has so far invested R15.6 billion in the country, and supports about 5 700 jobs annually.

According to Randery, AWS envisages spending another R30 billion in South Africa over the next decade.

The company has deep roots in Cape Town, and South African AWS engineer Chris Pinkham was, in part, responsible for building the AWS service EC2 in the city in 2004.

A Johannesburg office followed and it opened the AWS Africa region in Cape Town, with three regions, in 2020.

The announcement comes amid swelling rumours that AWS parent company Amazon is set to bring its e-commerce platform to South Africa. However, Amazon has remained mum on this development.

It is also building its R4.5 billion African headquarters in Cape Town. The multi-purpose complex construction is under way, although its development faced several legal challenges from indigenous groups, which claimed the construction site was of great historical value.

AWS says it has trained, through free and paid courses, more than 100 000 people in South Africa on cloud skills since 2017.

The cloud computing giant also recently opened a 10MW solar plant in the Northern Cape. The plant has already started feeding power into South Africa’s ailing power grid.

The skills centre opened yesterday has a series of displays and monitors that demonstrate AWS cloud services and capabilities.

There’s an IOT-connected foosball table, where the action is recorded with an overhead camera, and a demonstration of multi-language translation technology in which speech is converted to text, translated, and converted back into speech.

Players competing on the IOT-connected foosball table.
Players competing on the IOT-connected foosball table.

Other displays include a virtual tour of an AWS data centre, robotics in an Amazon fulfilment centre, and analytics with a view of, among other things, all the flights taking place all over the globe.

At the official opening of the centre, higher education and training director-general Nkosinathi Sishi said he hoped graduates from the centre will have the skills that will provide solutions to contribute to social change on the Cape Flats, Langa, Gugulethu and similar areas.

“We’d like to commend Amazon’s commitment to fostering knowledge, sharing and enhancing capacity-building. This centre will undoubtedly become a cornerstone of the joint efforts to bridge the digital divide and empower individuals with the skills they need to flourish in the digital landscape.”

Changing ideas

Western Cape premier Alan Winde said he was certain young people stepping off the pavement into the centre would “right then and there, change their ideas on what they want to become, and the part they want to play in the world”.

Winde said unemployment had dropped by 6.6% in the Western Cape and was now at 20.9%.

“This is way too high, and our youth unemployment rate is way too high. Skills and skills centres are places where we can really make an impact and a difference for our young people who are unemployed. We’ve got to give them hope and a pipeline for a job in the future.”

Maureen Lonergan, vice-president for AWS Training and Certification, said the company started building the skills centres “right in the middle of COVID”, and that “Cape Town was always on the list”.

On why it needs a physical training centre when people can do the training online, she said: “Not everybody has access to the internet or devices; we wanted to remove that barrier.

“People like to learn in different ways. Some are comfortable learning digitally, others like a more hands-on experience. When we’re talking about foundational learners, we want to bring them in and train them, and we want to get them excited about the opportunity.”

Lonergan said learners’ interests may lie in weather, or sports. “It isn’t just coding. The combination of the training and discovery centre allows people to think of what an opportunity might look like for them.”

The centre aims to enable learners to discover opportunities.
The centre aims to enable learners to discover opportunities.