Political parties make tech a key feature in manifestos

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 26 Feb 2024
Political party leaders: The DA’s John Steenhuisen, the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa and the EFF’s Julius Malema.
Political party leaders: The DA’s John Steenhuisen, the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa and the EFF’s Julius Malema.

All three of South Africa’s biggest political parties are betting big on technology, in an effort to attract voters.

South African political parties go to battle in national and provincial elections on 29 May, when the public will elect the political party that will lead the country in the seventh administration.

Over the last few weeks, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have released their election manifestos, with the ruling ANC party the latest to unveil its strategy, in KwaZulu-Natal, at the weekend.

The ANC, DA and EFF have indicated their plans to create millions of jobs, prevent crime, end load-shedding, improve ailing state-owned entities, as well as tackle the high cost of living.

With technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) dominating on all fronts, the three parties are staking their commitments on bolstering ICT and critical skills development, noting a number of areas where technology can be deployed to improve service delivery.

ANC manifesto

In its 2024 elections manifesto, the ANC says it aims to expand skills development programmes in emerging fields, like data analytics and AI. It also aims to leverage new technologies, like telemedicine and AI in healthcare.

The party says it will: “Increase research and development spending and prioritise areas like industrialisation, climate change and technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain, artificial intelligence and the internet of things.

“Over the next five years, the ANC will ensure greater accountability and prevent corruption through rigorous lifestyle audits and improved vetting procedures, real-time audits of critical projects, using AI to improve accountability and transparency, and strengthen discipline management.”

The ANC says it will prioritise green technologies, energy-efficiency, waste management, climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure, and eco-friendly production processes to ensure long-term sustainability. This includes developing and executing a plan to become a world player in green hydrogen, battery and electric vehicle production.

Its manifesto also says it will:

  • Mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, technological changes and other trends in the context of a just transition and ensure SA’s transition to a low-carbon economy supports communities and workers in affected areas, particularly Mpumalanga.
  • Develop and expand the local digital sector through universal access to broadband, including at schools, making internet access affordable, investing in infrastructure, skills development, small enterprises and entrepreneurs, and promote future industries, platforms and applications of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies.
  • Promote entrepreneurship, innovation and investment in emerging industries, like renewable energy, sustainable tourism, e-commerce and agri-technology.
  • Foster a culture of reading, numeracy and technological skills.
  • Foster development of new and existing industries, increase patent development and strengthen local innovation systems, including green energy technologies.
  • Contribute to the African Union’s goal of producing 100 000 PhD graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the next decade.
  • Strengthen the justice system by introducing technology to make court procedures more efficient and accessible, and strengthen the protection of whistleblowers.
  • Use technology to modernise systems to prevent fraud and bogus documents.

“No society can prosper without investing in the capabilities of all its citizens. Education, health, science and technology therefore remain key areas through which the ANC pledges to continuously transform society for the better,” it states.

DA manifesto

The official opposition says its government will move away from reliance on Eskom and increase the usage of renewable energy sources.

The DA will do this by building local manufacturing capacity for renewable energy technologies without resorting to protectionist trade practices and incentivising the training and development of skills capacity in the renewable energy sector.

It also states its intention to reduce high tariffs on imports of renewable energy technologies (such as PV panels and other goods) to ensure these technologies are more affordable and accessible.

Turning to capacitating the South African Police Service (SAPS), the DA notes the police service suffers from “severe” capacity constraints, as evidenced by a reduction in its staff complement from 199 345 in 2011/12 to 182 126 in 2021/22.

The party notes there has been a failure to utilise modern technology or keep abreast of international trends in crime-fighting.

“The DA will combat crime and improve our criminal justice system by moving towards evidence-based policing and increase the use of proven technologies to prevent, combat and investigate crime.”

It also aims to: “Address the under-capacity of SAPS by reducing bloated senior management. This will free up resources for actual boots on the ground, increase procurement of equipment, and increase the utilisation of modern technologies.”

The DA adds that it plans to take cyber crime seriously, using sophisticated technology such as data analytics, AI and digital forensics to protect the state and the South African public.

The party says it will embrace modern technological solutions to service delivery challenges.

On the education front, it wants to promote science, technology, engineering and maths education, and implement a plan to ensure all schools have internet access and free digital content.

EFF manifesto

The ‘red berets’ do not hold back on the current government’s failures, saying SA has trivialised science and technology, and is not maximising the potential to improve people’s lives.

The party says SA’s education system is not well-positioned to respond to the 4IR due to a lack of high-tech infrastructure, and post-secondary education and training institutions cannot absorb all learners from secondary schools.

The EFF lists several areas where ICT improvements will be made, ranging from basic and higher education, to policing. It also notes its jobs strategy takes into account advancements in the era of the 4IR and AI.

Its manifesto states it will:

  • Require each university in the country to offer degrees and courses in coding, computer hardware development, AI, robotics, the internet and biotechnology by 2026.
  • Require each TVET to offer courses focused on computer hardware and coding by 2026.
  • Subsidise the production of ICT hardware, ICT software, robots, AI and biotechnologies.
  • Improve the capacity of crime intelligence to include the usage of technology to solve crimes, such as the installation of CCTV cameras with AI and face recognition.
  • Develop a regulatory environment for digital health governance to ensure equality, non-discrimination, participation, transparency and accountability in design, AI adoption in health and overall digital tools implementation.
  • Connect all schools to high-speed fibre by 2025.
  • Sponsor a minimum of 1 000 students on exchange programmes with AI-advanced universities by 2025.
  • Build AI laboratories in all universities and TVET colleges by 2028.
  • Build and upgrade computer and science labs and provide all necessary equipment to every school, creating 5 000 jobs, 2 500 of which will be reserved for women, by 2025.
  • Integrate the use of AI technology across the curriculum, and into teaching methods, by 2025.
  • Include robotics and coding in the curricula at all schools by 2025.

To read the EFF’s full manifesto, click here.