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Lost decade curtails SA’s digital economy ambitions

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South Africa is 10 years behind global counterparts in the implementation of innovative digital initiatives that could contribute significantly to the county’s digital economy.

This was the word from communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, speaking at the recent Africa Data Centres conference in Johannesburg.

Discussing the important role of data centres in the digital economy, Ntshavheni saluted data centre players for their local investments. The minister noted the data centre sector has grown into an entire industry of great economic significance, through job creation, supporting SMEs and enabling the creation of the internet highway.

However, she expressed disappointment at SA lagging behind global counterparts in the introduction and implementation of crucial policies − such as the Draft National Policy on Data and Cloud − to propel the country into the next revolution.

“South Africa is 10 years behind global counterparts in the implementation of digital initiatives. We currently have a data policy that was out for public consultation, yet we are not even setting a target for the amount of the data packages that we are going to deliver to communities through this policy.

“Europe has set a target that by 2025, they will deliver 100Mbps connections to every household. In order for Europe to meet this target, it needs hyperscale data centres, and this means the processing speed of data centres by 2025 should be 163 zettabytes. So I’m interested in finding out how we are going to orchestrate the data centre players to make them provide us with 163 zettabytes in SA – in three years from now.”

IDC forecasts that by 2025, the global data sphere will grow to 163 zettabytes (one trillion gigabytes). This number is tenfold the 16.1ZB of data generated in 2016.

Ntshavheni highlighted the important role of this data in unlocking innovation, business opportunities and innovative user experiences – enabled mainly by the data centre market.

Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.


Hive of data centre activity

As data demand and cloud adoption continue to cause a surge in traffic, data centres are becoming increasingly important on the continent.

The African data centre market by investment was valued at $2 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach a compound annual growth rate of 15% between 2020 and 2026, according to Reportlinker.

Contributing factors to this growth include renewable power availability, smart city initiatives and increased support for the digital economy, notes the report.

During the conference, representatives from Africa Data Centres announced the company has set aside $500 million towards major expansion plans in SA and across the continent.

Ntshavheni hailed the investment, noting that such commitments from data centre players will enable SA to meet its vision to make high-demand 4G spectrum available to every household in the country.

“I have committed that we are not only going to make available the high-demand 4G spectrum, that everyone is fighting about, but I’m committing that by 2025, we are going to have fully embedded 5G in this country.

“By 2025, we are going to have every South African, irrespective of where they reside, having internet access. Because if we can’t build the internet superhighway that we want, we will miss out on the digital opportunities. And it’s not just up to government and politicians; it’s up to all of us as citizens, companies and the data centre companies, because we need to build that internet highway, the data warehouses and the distribution centres.”

The comms minister explained that since her appointment, she has been locked in negotiations with cloud computing giants Microsoft and Amazon. Ntshavheni has requested the companies to make provision for young entrepreneurs and agile SMEs to build innovative digital products and services at affordable rates, in order for them to contribute to building a healthy digital ecosystem and grow the economy.

“There is a notion that data centres are going to grow adoption of technology, but they are actually going to grow the economy by making connectivity the superhighway for the economy.

“In SA, we have innovative apps and digital products created by SMEs, but they do not have full capability. We are asking innovative companies and data centre providers to partner with them and government as we deliver the country to our next industrial revolution,” she concluded.

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