It’s time for a revolution: Government gazettes SA’s 4IR blueprint

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 26 Oct 2020

The report that outlines SA’s strategy and planned response to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) has been gazetted.

This comes shortly after Cabinet approved its publication, charting a way forward for the framework that makes recommendations on how best the country can position itself in the global 4IR context.

Compiled by the Presidential Commission on 4IR (PC4IR), the report was promulgated in the Government Gazette dated 23 October 2020.

According to the PC4IR, the fourth industrial revolution is an opportunity for SA to achieve Vision 2030 and beyond.

In the gazette, it says in analysing global best practice, a framework emerged comprised of eight pillars of 4IR strategy, which include, among others, a focus on service delivery and establishing the country as a global leader in a targeted area.

The commission notes its key consideration was urgency and accountability. “The 4IR is not in the future, it is the present. It is therefore imperative that the country reorganises itself to ensure citizens are positioned to benefit from the opportunities it presents.

“To achieve this, there must be clear accountability for implementing the recommendations within a timeframe that can be monitored by all stakeholders in society.”

Based on its analysis, the commission adds that Industry 4.0 is an opportunity for SA to integrate itself into the broader African market as envisaged in the long-term economic recovery plan.

“We recognise this moment as containing within it, the potential to use technology to address the most challenging development problems faced by South Africa and the rest of the continent. By supporting SMMEs to develop technology that will optimise the delivery of services in sectors such as health, education and transport, we can simultaneously enhance the wellbeing of our citizens and become globally competitive.

“Socio-economic integration, specifically within the African continent, is thus the 4IR implication of South Africa's current development trajectory.”

Success pillars

Key among the recommendations made by the commission is investing in human capital, noting that its people are SA’s greatest opportunity and greatest resource.

“The 4IR gives us a rallying point of urgency and an opportunity to redesign, streamline and align the education system through a co-ordinated, robust, multi-stakeholder process. The purpose of the next version of our skills ecosystem will be to leapfrog our youth into productive work and reskill current workers for job retention and ongoing productive work in the economy.

“The skills demands of the 4IR era require stackable competencies, which are micro-credentialed, industry-aligned and allow people to enter and exit the system at multiple points as part of a lifelong learning process.”

Second among its recommendations is the development of an artificial intelligence (AI) institute, which it says is a bedrock technology in the 4IR, underpinning the growing connections in cyber-physical and biological systems.

“Research and development, as well as implementation capabilities in Al are thus critical and must be embedded within the state,” it advises. “This will enable the generation of new knowledge and creative technology applications in sectors such as health, agriculture, education, energy, manufacturing, tourism and ICT, amongst others. The institute's mandate should also include training, to be delivered across various sections of society, as well as ensuring positive social impact.”

The 4IR commission also recommends establishing a platform for advanced manufacturing and new materials.

This, it states, will form part of the revival of the country’s manufacturing sector. “To be successful in the context of the 4IR, it is imperative that the manufacturing sector be supported by a state-led research initiative focused on advanced manufacturing and new materials.

“This should incorporate the science and technology department's existing advanced manufacturing technology strategy, with a view to provide tangible support to its aims. This structure will guide South Africa in growing the manufacturing sector, develop and apply new materials through the technologies of the 4IR in areas such as agriculture, construction, housing, health, energy storage, environmental sustainability and electric vehicles, to name a few.”

On the fourth recommendation, the commission endorses securing and availing data to enable innovation. “The principal opportunity in the 4IR is the storage of large sums of data. Reliable, accurate, standardised, integrated and easily accessible citizen data is critical for building e-government services across sectors such as health, transport and justice.

“However, this opportunity must be safeguarded by securely organising public data through the bolstering of cyber security capacity and capabilities.”

Other recommendations include incentivising future industries, platforms and applications of 4IR technologies; building 4IR infrastructure; and reviewing, amending or creating policy and legislation.

Finally, the PC4IR recommends establishing an Industry 4.0 strategy implementation coordination council within the Presidency.

Becoming a competitive player

Announced last April, the PC4IR was given the task of advising president Cyril Ramaphosa and government as a whole on relevant policies, strategies and action plans to position SA as a smart, connected and competitive global player.

Furthermore, it advises government on the most optimal strategies to harness the potential of technology as an enabler to grow the economy and create much-needed jobs.

Ramaphosa chairs the commission, while professor Tshilidzi Marwala, vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, serves as deputy chairman.

The commission, which comprises some of SA’s ICT industry heavyweights, leaders in academia, business and civil society, began its work in May 2019, combining research and stakeholder engagements to generate a comprehensive view of SA’s current conditions as well as the prospects in the 4IR.

In August, communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and Marwala presented the report to Ramaphosa.

In the gazetted document, Ramaphosa notes the 4IR eracalls for enhanced state capacity to seize the opportunities of the digital economy.

“South Africa must remain abreast of the exponential growth in technological change and ensure that no citizen or community is left behind,” he states. “The commission’s report recommends interventions to ensure we extract the greatest benefits from these revolutionary technological advances.

“For South Africa to achieve inclusive growth and social development in the digital era, the country must find ways of integrating scientific and technological innovations into the economy.”

The president believes the recommendations in the PC4IR report will help SA reinvigorate its industrialisation aspirations and significantly improve its global and continental economic competitiveness.

To view the full gazette, click here.