Boon for SA's blockchain community
South African blockchain projects are set to receive funding following the commitment to support the South African National Blockchain Alliance (SANBA) by the Department of Science and Technology's (DST's) Office of Digital Advantage (ODA).
This as there has been immense growth in interest of the applications of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.
Blockchain technology has been recognised for its ability to drive productivity, and offer transparency, security and validity.
Science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane recently told Parliament the DST supports blockchain through research and human capital development.
She said the total funding for blockchain made available by the department this year is R550 000, with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research spending over R4 million of its parliamentary grant on the applications and understanding of blockchain as well as distributed ledger technologies.
She noted the department recently conducted a study on blockchain involving social grants to assess how blockchain functions in that space. The study also assessed other blockchain functions on electronic voting, smart contracts and intellectual property rights.
Before committing to support SANBA, the ODA, which is the DST's ICT research, development and innovation roadmap's implementing and support programme, initially hosted a workshop titled "Blockchain beyond the crypto-currencies: Creating opportunities for socio-economic development" as well as multi-stakeholder consultative workshops last month.
The SANBA concept was designed in collaboration with the South African blockchain community, consisting of input from government, academia, business, start-ups and civil society.
It aims to connect players in the blockchain ecosystem in SA, in order to create a pre-competitive space for research, development and innovation in order to catalyse blockchain adoption.
The responsibility of the DST within SANBA will be to drive a strong focus on academic research and accelerated skills development. Under the agreement, the ODA will be the secretariat for SANBA.
The DST has a partnership agreement with the Global Innovation Fund (GIF) and GIF members will visit SA from 5 to 14 December.
As one of the first SANBA initiatives, the SA blockchain community is invited to submit project ideas for potential funding by GIF. The fund invests in social innovations that aim to improve the lives and opportunities of millions of people in the developing world.
Interested parties may submit the list of initiatives for funding consideration to ODA@csir.co.za and SANationalBlockchainAlliance@gmail.com.
Marius Reitz, country manager of Luno in SA, comments that blockchain is an exciting technology that holds potential in the long run.
"Bitcoin is the first (and largest) digital currency that has been built on blockchain technology. There is, however, a lot of hype and misunderstanding about what blockchain is and what it will do one day," Reitz says.
"A lot of people are over-valuing blockchain and perhaps under-valuing Bitcoin. There are many blockchain proof of concept projects under way in many companies and banks; most of them have not yet come to fruition. That said, Bitcoin is the best example of blockchain technology being put in use, all over the world."
He notes there are some interesting blockchain projects, especially in payments, ownership, prediction markets, decentralised markets and identity, but "I think we are still a while away from seeing large-scale adoption".
Ben Roberts, Liquid Telecom group chief technology and innovation officer, notes the rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of SA's software developers.
"At Liquid Telecom, we're excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging technologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses."