SA's new sci-tech roadmap speaks to Industry 4.0

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 18 Mar 2019
Science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.
Science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

South Africa will now follow a new roadmap for science and technology, after Cabinet approved the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI).

Last September, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) put out the draft policy document for public comment, noting it sets out a long-term direction for government to ensure a growing role for science, tech and innovation.

This new roadmap, according to the DST, identifies the fourth industrial revolution as a key focus, placing STI at the centre of the country's development agenda.

Furthermore, the white paper replaces the 1996 White Paper on Science and Technology, and aligns with the objectives of government's National Development Plan.

In a statement, Cabinet says with the advent of Industry 4.0, the 2019 White Paper on STI will position the country to take advantage of rapid technological advancements.

"The proposals in this white paper seek to address policy coherence, development of human capabilities, knowledge expansion, innovation, performance and increased investment. These policy proposals will form the basis of the development of the decadal plans involving all the relevant stakeholders."

Science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane believes the new policy will help unleash SA's full potential and grow the role of STI in a prosperous and inclusive society over the next 15 years.

"The approval by Cabinet positions the country to stand ready to reap the benefits of global developments such as rapid technological advancement and geopolitical and demographic shifts, while responding to the threats associated with some of these global trends.

"Of all the technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution, artificial intelligence is poised to have the most disruptive impact on the place of humans in economic production. As such, this new policy gives us an opportunity to better prepare for what lies ahead and ensure South Africa becomes one of the global centres of science, technology and innovation.

"Our strategic priority is to invest in and leverage science and technology as instruments for growth that can be sustained in the long run to defeat poverty."

In terms of the new white paper, the policy aims to raise the profile of STI in SA by instilling an innovation culture and integrating STI into cross-cutting government planning at the highest levels.

According to Kubayi-Ngubane, reviews of the country's national system of innovation show the system is not inclusive. For example, the number of women, particularly black women, in research, science, technology and innovation is very low.

"This is one of the most pressing issues this policy seeks to deal with," notes the minister. "Society as a whole needs to embrace scientific research as an important element of creating a better world characterised by low unemployment and reduced poverty and inequality."

The new white paper strengthens partnerships between business, government, academia and civil society, and creates a more enabling environment for science, tech and innovation, notes the DST.

In addition, it focuses on innovation for social benefit and fundamental economic transformation, as well as expanding and transforming the human resource base of the national system of innovation.

Increasing STI investment in public and private sectors is also a priority in the new roadmap.

"The Department of Science and Technology will now embark on a process to develop a decadal plan for STI, which will serve as an implementation plan for the white paper over the period 2019 to 2029.

"The decadal plan will take into consideration not only the white paper, but also a review of the Ten-Year Innovation Plan (2008-2018), which has seen the attainment of significant milestones, as well as the results of a foresight exercise conducted in 2018 by the National Advisory Council on Innovation," she concludes.