Affiliate Centre will prepare SA for Industry 4.0

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Science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.
Science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST), in partnership with the World Economic Forum's Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network (C4IR Network), has announced plans to establish an Affiliate Centre to prepare SA for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

The centre, announced today by science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane in Pretoria, will be a hub for global multi-stakeholder cooperation to develop policy frameworks and advance collaborations that accelerate the benefits of science and technology, while shaping the development and application of emerging technologies.

Kubayi-Ngubane explained the centre's objective is to bring together business leaders, governments, start-ups, civil society, academia and international organisations to co-design and pilot innovative new approaches to policy and governance in the 4IR.

"The 4IR is upon us. The technologies associated with the phenomenon of this revolution have already begun re-shaping the way we produce goods and services, and how we do many other things that determine how we live.

"Any effort we make as a country to grow our economy will now largely be shaped by how quickly we are able to embrace and master the technologies associated with the 4IR," she pointed out.

"Armed with this understanding, we will be able to wield these technologies to respond to our challenges. The establishment of the South African C4IR Affiliate Centre is aimed precisely at providing a platform for stakeholders to work together on the evolution of these new technologies."

The centre, which will officially open in September, will be based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). It will make use of artificial intelligence, blockchain, drone technology, big data, autonomous and urban mobility, and precision medicine to develop the necessary research projects, policies, ethical views and regulations around these technologies which can be applied on a global level.

"All of these areas will have application in the South African context, as well as relevance for other African countries. The governance of the South African centre will be optimally structured and capacitated to ensure we maximise the benefits of our affiliation and ensure the maximum participation of all our partners," added Kubayi-Ngubane.

The minister signed a host government accord today between the South African government and the World Economic Forum.

The DST says the centre will put SA on the 4IR map, as it joins other leading countries such as China, India, US and Japan that have similar centres.

The establishment of the facility at the CSIR coincides with the adoption of a new strategy that aims to reposition the CSIR for the future by working more closely with the private sector, notes the DST.

"The Affiliate Centre will focus on issues of local concern, but also contribute to the overall research and thought leadership processes of the C4IR Network. Processes are under way to expand the C4IR Network with Affiliate Centres in several other jurisdictions," continued Kubayi-Ngubane.

Industry 4.0 ready

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration have highlighted Industry 4.0 and the need to equip citizens and organisations with the necessary skills to thrive in a digital society.

Earlier this month, the Presidency announced a 30-member commission, which comprises representatives of a cross-section of stakeholders, including public sector, business, telecoms, academia and research institutions, finance and SMMEs.

The commission aims to ensure SA effectively harnesses rapid advances in ICT for inclusive growth and social development, through a comprehensive action plan to deal with Industry 4.0.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who is the coordinator of government's 4IR programme, is due to convene an induction session with appointed commissioners, after which the commission will have its inaugural meeting with the president,

Last month, Cabinet approved the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), which identifies the 4IR as a key focus, placing STI at the centre of the country's development agenda.

In a statement, Cabinet said the white paper seeks to position SA to take advantage of rapid technological advancements, with the advent of Industry 4.0.

"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," noted the statement.

The DST says it will 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.

Gauteng premier David Makhura, in his State of the Province Address, said Gauteng is determined to be a leader in the innovation, research and development sectors, as these will become major drivers of economic growth.

Makhura pointed out the move to become the first provincial government to set up a department of e-government in the country firmly positioned Gauteng to be an innovation-driven and knowledge-based economy.

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