Govt outlines tech hub aspirations
The South African government wants to make the country a leading ICT player in Africa, and is considering developing the continent's largest tech hub on home soil.
This was the word from small business development minister, Lindiwe Zulu, speaking at an engagement session with the creative industry in Johannesburg, under the theme: "Leveraging digital platforms for 4IR creatives".
According to Zulu, government is also exploring setting up a coding and programming academy, as well as co-working and co-creation spaces for the youth and start-ups in particular.
Although details about the development of the tech hub are still vague, Zulu said through the Small Enterprise Development Agency, her department, in partnership with the Department of Telecommunication and Postal Services, has started a conversation to develop the tech hub.
The minister noted the technological revolution must improve and advance the lives of South Africans.
"It also becomes important that small, medium and micro enterprises (SMEs) and cooperatives embrace this radical reshaping of the relationship between technology capabilities and business opportunities.
"Incubators must focus on creating a new generation of South African start-ups that will drive the creation of disruptive technologies in the creative industry," she said.
Local is lekker
Government's ambitions to establish the continent's largest tech hub comes amid calls from various ministers, as well as president Cyril Ramaphosa, for SA to focus on producing localised technologies as a way to stimulate economic growth and job creation.
Former telecoms and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele previously said government must support the production of smartphones that compete with the likes of Samsung or Apple, but are much more affordable for South Africans.
Last December, Ramaphosa unveiled a manufacturing hub for green and renewable technologies in the Western Cape's Atlantis industrial area, after its designation as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
SEZes are geographically designated areas of a country that are set aside for specifically targeted economic activities. The designation of Atlantis makes the area a special green-tech economic zone.
Zulu said if SA wants to build on its existing strengths, it must not wait any longer before making meaningful, bold changes. "It [South Africa] must overcome its current complacency, political complexity, and inertia to act," the minister pointed out.
"South African initiatives are likely to be successful only if they happen in an integrated manner and, importantly, create more scale and scope for growth across Africa, and create the conditions that allow a greater role for consumers and businesses to drive the impact of new technologies through their effective use."
Commenting on the government announcement Mark Walker, IDC associate VP for sub-Saharan Africa, says it signals urgency by government to give traction to the fourth industrial revolution statements over the last while.
"There are already numerous tech hubs in South Africa, mostly led by private commercial enterprises and which are successful in their own right," Walker said. "Furthermore, tech hubs across Africa also exist (iHub Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria), so this is not a new play. SA has significant catching up to do in this regard. It would be good if these planned hubs incorporate financial incentives (tax relief, funding) and business support services for SMEs that participate."
Meanwhile, Moneyweb reported that Mara Group's South African-based smartphone manufacturing facility will be located at Dube TradePort SEZ in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
At last year's Africa Investment Forum, Mara Group founder Ashish Thakkar announced his company was planning to establish manufacturing plants in SA and Rwanda to produce the Mara smartphone (Maraphone).
At the time, Thakkar pointed to affordability and high quality as the key selling points of the Maraphone.
A few smartphones are assembled in Africa, but nothing is truly being manufactured on the continent, said Thakkar. "China has Huawei and Xiaomi, the US has iPhone and, finally, Africa has Maraphone."