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ANC promises to bolster tech innovation

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

A legal and regulatory framework will be created to promote innovation in SA. This is one of the promises made by the African National Congress (ANC) at the launch of its election manifesto at the weekend.

Framed under the theme: "Let's grow South Africa together", the manifesto details steps the party promises to take in order to move the country forward in the face of the fourth industrial revolution.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the manifesto is informed by the 54th National Conference of the ANC, in December 2017, where the party resolved to ensure innovation is at the heart of the country's growth agenda.

In the manifesto, the ANC says it will increase spending on innovation and aim for more technological breakthroughs critical to the country's development through support for research.

SA's governing party believes the rise of new technologies in robotics, artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of things (IOT) will all have a profound impact on the country.

"We see a country that has embraced the benefits of technology for economic growth, social development and for more effective governance. We are producers of knowledge and drivers of technological progress," Ramaphosa said in his speech.

Skills revolution

The ANC is of the view that by opening up the doors of learning to all, and focusing on quality and innovation, this will equip young South Africans for the world of tomorrow.

In the past, the South African government has drawn criticism for not dedicating enough resources to upskill the country's future workforce. Across the industry, there have been calls for a comprehensive plan to develop more appropriate education programmes to meet the skills requirements of Industry 4.0.

Therefore, the party says it will scale up skills development for the youth in areas such as data analytics, IOT, blockchain and machine learning. This, it adds, is to enable training of young people to develop and operate new technologies.

"[We will] work with partners to train workers and unleash their talents and creativity. A just transition framework will be developed with all stakeholders to address re-skilling and support for workers displaced by new technologies.

"Open opportunities for young people to develop new software and applications, devices and equipment through specialised start-up support programmes, for use by all spheres of government and society. A digital innovation centre will be established for this purpose within the next three years."

Lowering data costs

The ANC's manifesto also turns its attention to the hotly contested debate of lowering data prices.

Last year, the ruling party called for action on the cost to communicate in SA. According to the ANC, high data costs mean the majority of citizens are unable to enjoy the benefits of the digital economy, and further stifles the growth and development of small businesses.

With this in mind, the party promises to reduce the cost of data through the work of competition authorities and the communication regulator, ICASA. "Lowering the cost of data will be one of the major requirements in the licensing of the much-needed radio frequency spectrum this year."

Dating back to 2016, South Africans have been vocal about their displeasure in regard to the cost to communicate. Citizens took to social media to complain about high mobile data costs under the banner #DataMustFall.

The campaign resulted in Parliament's portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services spending two days, in September 2016, hearing submissions from government, civil society organisations, telecoms operators and the public on the cost to communicate using mobile data.

In July 2017, ICASA announced its intention to conduct an inquiry to determine the priority markets in the electronic communications sector. Last year, the regulator held public hearings on the cost to communicate in SA. It said this was part two of the cost to communicate programme, including the reduction of data prices in SA.

The Competition Commission also joined the list of local authorities to probe the high price of data services in SA by initiating its own inquiry in August 2017.

Industry 4.0 commission

Since taking office in February 2018, Ramaphosa and his administration have been dedicated to ensuring the country is in a position to seize the opportunities of rapid ICT advancement.

In the State of the Nation Address 2018, Ramaphosa announced plans to establish a Presidential Digital Industrial Revolution Commission. Pundits described the move as a sign that government is taking steps to ensure capabilities in science, technology and innovation are developed.

Although members are yet to be announced, the commission is expected to co-ordinate the development of SA's national response through a comprehensive action plan to deal with the fourth industrial revolution.

In his speech on Saturday, Ramaphosa reiterated the ANC will "work with stakeholders through the Presidential Digital Industrial Revolution Commission to shape a common digital future that places people at the centre of digital transformation and ensures that its benefits are spread across society".

Promises for the future

The ANC also promises to extend free WiFi to more sites across the country.

Furthermore, Ramaphosa said the ruling party will:

  • Ensure there is significant localisation of new technologies and ensure SMEs and co-operatives are drawn into the digital economy.
  • Support e-commerce, which will enable SMEs and co-operatives, including rural producers, to sell their products online, allowing them access to national, regional and global markets. This will include access to data centres and cloud computing.
  • Strengthen and consolidate efforts to digitalise government, utilise big data in planning and execution, and expedite the implementation of e-government so that citizens can access public services from any location as they become connected. Priority will be given to effective use of new technologies for smart public schools, smart health facilities and smart community policing.
  • Create rules to ensure safety and enforce constitutional values on the Web, especially that of women and children.

"We firmly believe that the coherent and achievable plan set out in this manifesto is in accord with the needs and aspirations of the South African people and the goodwill of the progressive people around the world," said Ramaphosa.

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