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Minister outlines deliverables as GovTech marks 15 years

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 13 Sept 2023
Communications and digital technologies minister Mondli Gungubele. (Photograph by DCDT)
Communications and digital technologies minister Mondli Gungubele. (Photograph by DCDT)

With the State IT Agency’s (SITA’s)GovTech 2023conference in full swing this week, delegates have been tasked to ensure the event addresses some key issues, including shaping robust policy.

This was the word of communications minister Mondli Gungubele, remarking that after 15 years, GovTech discussions need to make a difference and respond to the challenges experienced by citizens.

Hosted by SITA, in partnership with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, GovTech 2023 was yesterday officially opened by Gungubele, SITA’s shareholder on behalf of the state.

Held under the theme “Platform economy for digital transformation and inclusive growth,” it brings together public and private sector officials, CIOs, ICT experts, C-level executives, IT directors and ICT SMMEs.

Delivering his keynote address, Gungubele commented that as GovTech marks 15 years, the annual government-led ICT event must make a difference for ordinary people inNkandla, for example.

“The biggest challenge as you meet here is that you need to answer a series of questions.”

With GovTech now in its 15th year, the biggest question it must answer is: what has happened within this time?

“What has happened to internet penetration since then, what is the coverage since then, at what level is our manufacturing since then and how many SMMEs have had access since then, etc.”

Referencing professor Tshilidzi Marwala, former University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor, Gungubele said digital enablers comprise data, accessibility, affordability, real connectivity and devices.

“We may penetrate our country with internet, but if those surrounded by it are not able to use it productively, it becomes a futile exercise.

“When we talk inclusion, the digital economy and real connectivity, it means the data is affordable, people are trained effectively to make use of it, and there’s WiFi that makes it possible for them to gain access.

“The question we must ask ourselves over the coming days is…since we’ve been meeting for 14 years, what has happened to these issues? We’ve been having a conversation; what impact does it make on the 51% unemployed young people, what is its impact on the youth and women whose absorption rate in terms of employment is lower than their male counterparts?”

On legislation, the minister said digital technologies pose a challenge to all experts. “You all know the process it takes to legislate, formulate policy, the time it takes to consult and regulate the impatient demands of our people and the need for the country to stay apace.

“I think forums like this are supposed to deal with that and begin to answer the question: how do we reorganise our legislative processes? Even digital technology that has no policy and is not legislated has got its own risks.

“For example, China is 99% ahead in terms of artificial intelligence (AI) strategies. Around 2020, no less than 20 countries had AI strategies, including South Africa. The difference between SA and others is that our strategy is at a nascent phase. In other words, we are very behind as compared to other countries.

“If you go to the United States, you would hear there are policy interventions on ethics and other things, to deal with matters of public policy, so that AI is not unleashed in an autonomous and pilot-free approach.

“We need to discuss here; you must critique us, review our interventions, look at the aspects of AI and ask where SA is and advise us.”

The minister stated that in future, GovTech needs to analyse the ground covered and difference made. “We want you to be candid, in as far as government is concerned, but be candid in a manner that helps us to find solutions.”

GovTech is on at the Durban International Convention Centre in KwaZulu-Natal until 14 September.