SA readies for digital economy summit

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Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Government will host the country's first digital economy summit, endorsed by Cabinet, at the end of June, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams confirmed at the launch event today.

The minister's department has been mandated by president Cyril Ramaphosa to lead SA's fourth industrial revolution (4IR) efforts.

"As we unpack the critical components of 4IR, it is important that people are placed at the centre of the conversation. As government, this is woven into all our 4IR interventions, and as such, we have been deliberate in seeking collaborative efforts that build a capable 4IR army," says Ndabeni-Abrahams.

"In the same breath, we must ensure that we create and own solutions that respond to our unique requirements as a country. Lastly, it is imperative that all sectors find expression in the 4IR conversation."

The digital economy summit announcement coincided with the launch of the 4IRSA partnership between the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Telkom, Deloitte Africa and the Universities of Witwatersrand, Fort Hare and Johannesburg.

The partnership aims to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to Industry 4.0 in SA. Further, it aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

"We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power," says Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib. "Whilst it is important to address the challenges of our past, it is equally important that we prepare for a collective and common digital and technological future so that we can determine how it will impact on us as a society."

As the initiative grows, it will include more participation from government, labour, business, civil society and researchers, a statement notes.

"The 4IRSA partnership is really important because it is a spontaneous and growing alliance between enthusiastic and concerned partners in industry, academia and government, together with social actors and citizens, who are committed to working together to develop a coherent, inclusive national response to the fourth industrial revolution in South Africa," says professor Brian Armstrong, who is the secretary to 4IRSA and professor of digital business at the Wits Business School.

Telkom group CEO Sipho Maseko hailed 4IRSA as a potential economic and developmental game-changer for the country. "The 4IRSA partnership may be the most important collaboration between the government, public institutions and the private sector in South Africa right now. Its potential impacts are transformative both economically and politically."

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