KZN looks to dislodge WC as Africa’s tech powerhouse

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 21 Oct 2022
KwaZulu-Natal premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube cutting the ribbon at the opening oif the laboratory.
KwaZulu-Natal premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube cutting the ribbon at the opening oif the laboratory.

KwaZulu-Natal premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube has unveiled a plan to turn the province into a technology powerhouse, in a move that looks to replace the Western Cape as South Africa's 'tech hub'.

Yesterday, Dube-Ncube, who took over from her predecessor Sihle Zikalala in August, revealed her strategy to advance the digital economy of the province through building fourth industrial revolution (4IR) skills training hubs. She spoke during the launch of the Mobile Digital Analytics Skills Laboratories at Orient Heights Primary School in Pietermaritzburg.

As the KZN economy recovers post-COVID-19, the civil unrest and flood disasters, premier Dube-Ncube said she is betting on accelerating the 4IR to help grow the digital economy – a key catalyst for creating a thriving province.

The new Mobile Digital Analytics Skills Laboratories, the first part of a province-wide initiative, is aimed at exposing school children from an early age, as well as youth, to 4IR technologies and empowering them with the skills-set and entrepreneurial acumen to be part of the multitrillion-dollar digital economy.

“To take advantage of this digital economy, young people must start working on these technology gadgets present in this lab today, which are linked to robotics, drone technology, mechatronics and other technologies.

“As we unveil this project, we want to expose our learners from a young age, to a world of new horizons of work and careers, which are broadened to include space technology, data analytics, multimedia production and 9D technologies.

“This is one of the ways the province of KwaZulu-Natal plans to position itself as a technology hub with youth and women at the centre,” said premier Dube-Ncube, during the opening ceremony.

In a world characterised by technological disruptions, which has resulted in the biggest companies globally coming from the ICT sector, Dube-Ncube noted she is on a mission to nurture new growth and youth job creation opportunities, with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.

The mobile lab is completely off the grid, as it is solar-powered and has backup generators to ensure learning and teaching is not affected during power outages.

Inside the Mobile Digital Analytics Skills Laboratory.
Inside the Mobile Digital Analytics Skills Laboratory.

Building a smart province

The World Economic Forum notes that 65% of children entering school will work in jobs that don’t yet exist.

However, SA is currently experiencing a massive shortage of ICT skills. According to the recent 2022 JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey, the country has a shortfall of thousands of ICT professionals – a challenge further exacerbated by the increasing number of ICT employees who seek offshore opportunities.

The 2022 Critical Skills List published by government at the beginning of the year highlights the need for ICT talent, ranging from data scientists and software developers, to network analysts and cyber security specialists.

According to Dube-Ncube, the launch of the Mobile Digital Analytics Skills Laboratories is part of the broader Connected Smart Province project anchored on several pillars, including broadband connectivity, 4IR skills development, innovation incubation, technology production, commercialisation of innovation, and solving social issues with smart business processes and technology.

“This is the launch of the Connected Smart Province Project, which marks the beginning of a long-term programme that will be rolled out to the rest of the province as part of the move towards the digitisation of our economy. Over the coming months, we will launch similar labs in the rest of the province, district by district,” added Dube-Ncube.

As KZN revealed its tech-focused plans, the Western Cape government says it wants to unite the tech ecosystem within the province to position the City of Cape Town as the tech capital of the African continent.

The Western Cape is home to many tech and digital businesses based primarily in Cape Town and the Stellenbosch region, with the former now ranked among the top 100 emerging start-up ecosystems in the world.

The City of Cape Town is now the only African country to rank among the top 50 start-up nations.

Over the past few years, the Western Cape government has reiterated its commitment to building Cape Town’s status as “Africa’s tech capital”, and affirming it as a leader of the African tech ecosystem, to present a common message to the world.

The Silicon Cape Initiative, Endeavor South Africa, Digital Collective Africa and Naspers’s heavy investments in the city’s tech start-up ecosystem have been some of the main enablers and promoters driving innovation growth in the province.

Wesgro, the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape, previously stated the Cape Town-Stellenbosch corridor contains 450 tech firms and employs more than 40 000 people, making the ecosystem bigger than Nairobi and Lagos combined.