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Comms minister reflects on first 100 days in office

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Minister of communications and digital technologies, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni (Image source: Twitter).
Minister of communications and digital technologies, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni (Image source: Twitter).

Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has highlighted the completion of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Framework for South Africa among the achievements made by the department in her first 100 days in office.

Speaking in a video clip released by DCDT, the minister highlighted several milestones achieved by her department since she took office on 6 August 2021.

She replaced Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was shipped to the Department of Small Business Development after serving in the DCDT since her appointment in November 2018.

According to Ntshavheni, the AI Framework for South Africa was completed as part of the AI Blueprint for Africa, which seeks to ensure that all African countries build national capacity and capabilities through the generic AI toolkit to address the states’ current problems and challenges.

It proposes the African continent must set up regional centres of excellence for AI specialising in different fields of AI to ensure strong focus and collaboration, which would foster the needed co-operation, among other goals.

She reflected on other achievements, including: Expediting the digital migration process, the launch of Digitech – SA’s online marketplace for locally produced digital solutions, and the completion of the revised SA Connect implementation plan.

“We’ve completed the AI Blueprint for Africa, through the Smart Africa Alliance. And through that we have also completed the AI framework for South Africa, which will enable us to launch the AI Hub that will spread across the various institutions of higher learning, but anchored at the University of Johannesburg,” she explained.

The AI hub will also serve as an innovation think-tank to assess and recommend projects to collaborate on, in line with Agenda 2063 that is seeking to promote cutting-edge research in AI, among other emerging technologies.

“Africa cannot afford to trail behind in economic development opportunities brought about by the fourth industrial revolution – cloud platforms and digital technologies such as quantum computing, machine learning, AI, cyber security and related technologies have a great potential of increasing the production in raw materials that are in abundance in Africa and leapfrog key productions on the continent.”

100 days – accomplishments

  • Fast-tracking digital migration

The DCDT reactivated and switched off the Northern Cape, Free State and North West analogue transmitters. The last analogue transmitter was switched off in November to make way for the continued implementation of the digital migration process, notes Ntshavheni.

In October, Ntshavheni presented SA’s new expedited digital migration approach to Cabinet and outlined government’s plan on how the country will cover lost ground in transitioning from analogue transmission to digital across all areas by March 2022.

  • Launch of Digitech

In November, the department announced Digitech, an online platform showcasing South African technologies. The online marketplace will list products from South African companies, including from SMEs and entrepreneurs.

  • Spectrum allocation

Ntshavheni says the DCDT played a key role in stabilising the route to introduce provisional spectrum by 31 March. In November, the minister threw her weight behind Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s spectrum plans, backing the move and the timelines established for telcos to apply for the spectrum.

The high-demand spectrum is expected to fulfil government’s social obligations that will enable telcos to connect over 18 000 schools, over 3 000 clinics, over 1 000 hospitals and over 8 000 traditional authority offices and centres, according to the minister.

However, the auction process has once again stalled, after Telkom filed an application asking the Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the invitations to apply for spectrum published by ICASA on 10 December 2021.

  • Revised SA Connect strategy

Over the past three months, the DCDT completed the revision of the SA Connect implementation strategy, which seeks to make sure all citizens have access to internet connectivity within the next 36 months.

The initiative was first announced in 2013 to meet the technology goals of the National Development Plan of creating an inclusive information society.

Due to the magnitude of the project, government determined it should be implemented in two stages: Phase one and phase two.

  • E-learning initiatives

The DCDT has completed a plan to refurbish and distribute notebooks and tablets to learners in public schools, starting with grade 12 learners in 2022.

This refurbishment will be conducted through the hiring of unemployed graduates with the aim to offer them employment, while ensuring the initiative is spread across the country.

SA’s education system is undergoing a digital revamp, as government looks to equip every school child with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device by 2026.

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