KZN zones in on connecting communities

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 06 Apr 2023
Sibusiso Ngubane, deputy DG in the office of the premier in KZN. [Photograph by Shaun Tarr]
Sibusiso Ngubane, deputy DG in the office of the premier in KZN. [Photograph by Shaun Tarr]

In line with its ambition to be the digital hub of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is focused on bringing broadband connectivity closer to communities.

This is according to Sibusiso Ngubane, deputy director-general in the office of the premier in KZN, noting this is being done through the Smart Connected Province project launched by premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube.

Ngubane delivered the keynote speech at the KZN chapter of the Public Sector ICT (PSICT) Forum event, held under the theme: “Prioritising universal connectivity as a catalyst of the digital economy”.

Held in conjunction with ITWeb Brainstorm and ICT solutions provider BCX, the forum brought together private and public sector stakeholders to unpack IT governance processes, areas of collaboration and innovation.

According to Ngubane, the project aims to provide affordable, high-speed broadband connectivity to public institutions, businesses and residents across the province.

It includes the establishment of a provincial data centre and deployment of WiFi hotspots in public areas.

He told the PSICT Forum that the initiative is already yielding results. “The aim of the Smart Connected Province project is to shift focus to the digital economy, robotics, drone technology and mechatronics, as well as other technologies.

“We now use smartphones, tablets, smart watches and bracelets, and other mobile internet devices to connect to a global environment, anytime and anywhere. Most of us take part in the digital economy to buy or sell goods and services.

“The digital economy can operate within a knowledge economy. It is my belief that KwaZulu-Natal needs to strengthen itself to be a knowledge-based economy, meaning this is the greatest opportunity for the province.

“We need to work collaboratively with the private sector to unearth opportunities for our people.”

At the 2021 instalment of the PSICT Forum, Dube-Ncube stressedthe essential nature of connectivity in the digital age, saying it is no longer a “nice to have”.

According to the premier, who was finance MEC at the time, about 11% of communities in the province have internet access.

“Connectivity is an essential part of our lives,” she emphasised. “You can do your business in your own home − only if you are connected and able to use technology to your advantage.”

She called on government and the private sector to collaborate for the sake of communities, and provide the much-needed resource of connectivity.

Ngubane added KZN is focused on digitising its government services to improve efficiency and convenience for citizens.

“The province has implemented online services for vehicle registration, driver's licence applications and the payment of traffic fines.

“We are investing in digital skills development programmes to equip our citizens with the necessary skills to participate in the digital economy. The province ensures people who live in rural areas and townships are not left behind. We want to get rid of digital inequality.”

Dr Vuma Magaqa, KZN health department IT manager and acting CIO. (Photograph by Shaun Tarr)
Dr Vuma Magaqa, KZN health department IT manager and acting CIO. (Photograph by Shaun Tarr)

In line with the province’s move to e-health, the KZN health department has introduced several digital innovations, according to Dr Vuma Magaqa, provincial health department acting CIO.

Top among these is an e-procurement system, where the health department has utilised its own resources, said Magaqa.

“We didn’t outsource it; we established a system development unit within the department. Whenever there is a requirement of systems development within the department, we look at the needs and then we develop a system for that particular need.

“That e-procurement system is now used by all units within the department, districts and our health facilities, down to the hospitals.”

The department has also piloted an electronic intensive care unit (ICU) system that serves as a bridge between senior doctors, specialists and junior doctors working in rural areas.

By using this system, senior doctors or specialists in a hospital are able to remotely assist the junior doctor in the outskirts on how to better manage a patient in ICU.

“Before we developed this system, the department used to fly specialists from Pietermaritzburg to those rural sites. This cost the department a lot of money.

Magaqa indicated the plan is to procure the system for three facilities as a start, with the aim to extend it to other facilities later. He noted the department has also developed a patient information system.