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ICT can turn around SA’s fortunes, says IITPSA president

Read time 4min 30sec
Thabo Mashegoane, president of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa.
Thabo Mashegoane, president of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa.

The South African ICT industry has the key to turn around the economy which has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is according to Thabo Mashegoane, president of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), who notes that despite a supremely challenging year, signs of hope are emerging for SA.

Mashegoane was speaking at the 2020 IITPSA President's Awards, which were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and held virtually last week.

The annual awards celebrate IT professionals who have excelled and this year the awards were themed “Excellence in Adversity”.

Ntuthuko Shezi, founder of livestock crowd farming platform Livestock Wealth, scooped the coveted 2020 IT Personality of the Year award; while Nomthi Nelwamondo, chief information officer (CIO) of Assupol; and Dr Stanley Mpofu, CIO of the University of the Witwatersrand, were the joint winners of the Visionary CIO of the Year award.

Pointing to reasons to be encouraged, Mashegoane noted the country's vaccination programme is starting to make progress; analysts are cautiously predicting growth; efforts to crack down on corruption are being seen; the South African Revenue Service managed to exceed its expected revenue collections this year; and South Africans are adapting to the new normal with “sheer grit and determination to carry on, as we always do when times get tough”.

Nevertheless, he noted the country still faces huge challenges – unemployment, poverty and ageing infrastructure.

“This is a big ship to turn around, and the growth and prosperity we all hope for cannot happen overnight. But we as ICT professionals hold some of the keys to driving the change. Our skills and solutions can help turn this ship. Without our technologies, public service would remain slow and error-prone; evidence of corruption could remain buried beneath mountains of paperwork; and cost-effective services could not be delivered at scale,” he stated.

Levelling the playing fields

Looking back at 2020, Mashegoane noted there can be no doubt ICT is critical for business and society.

“Across industries, digital transformation was fast-tracked due to the lockdown, and ICT helped mitigate the disruption to almost all sectors – education, work and general society. Large enterprises and tiny retailers alike were able to pivot to digital in order to survive. They discovered that they not only survived – some of them managed to thrive by being able to scale their offerings and reach new markets.

“Our public sector used digital channels to inform and engage with the nation on life-saving initiatives and general service delivery. Children and students were able to continue their education, thanks to remote learning. Unemployed youths discovered new opportunities for remote work using digital platforms. We proved during the pandemic that ICTs are the key to convenience, opportunity and even safer lives,” he stated.

However, as the country experienced the myriad ways in which ICTs could make its people's lives safer, simpler and better, it also became “painfully aware of how millions of our countrymen and women were not able to enjoy the benefits of remote work, home schooling, online shopping, digital public services and streamed entertainment”.

He pointed out that just one hour of video calling can use up over 1GB of mobile data, which for many is more than a month’s supply.

“How can poorer communities participate in remote work meetings, or full days of video schooling, when they are limited to mobile data priced beyond their reach? We know that technologies exist to compress video, reduce the cost of data, and lower the barriers to digital participation. We need to make these solutions more visible and available,” he urged.

The playing fields need to be levelled, he added, and the industry needs to ensure ICTs – as critical infrastructure – are put into the hands of every South African so that everyone has equal access.

Minding the majority

Mashegoane proposed the ICT industry needs to advocate for policy that’s more favourable for the majority.

“We need to work together to give all people access to the Internet they need. Now, more than ever, ICT needs to be talking to government and forming partnerships across policy and implementation. We need to be working together to create digital education platforms that are free or low cost, coordinated and transparent,” he advocated.

The pandemic has proved ICT is in fact critical infrastructure, said Mashegoane −as important as roads, sanitation and healthcare.

“ICT access is becoming a human right, and without it, millions of people cannot access education, jobs, vital information and services. We must create infrastructure and policies that give all communities and all South Africans equal access so they too may benefit from information, education, opportunities and convenience. This will help upskill our youth and grow small businesses. Ultimately, this will prove to be an investment in our economic growth, which would help address our biggest challenges and be good news for all of us,” he concluded.

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