Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at induction session of Presidential Commission on the 4IR

Overview and Perspective on government 4IR programme and the Presidential Commission on 4IR

Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana
Commissioners
Representatives from the Presidency
Senior Government Officials

I extend warm greetings to you this morning and commence by expressing our sincere gratitude for your presence at this important session – the induction of men and women who have been appointed to serve on the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

As witnessed from your inspiring biographies, this commission indeed comprises of sector specialists who are representative of the targeted sectors of manufacturing, mining, banking and financial services, agriculture, labour and academia.  

In its 54th National Conference, the governing party resolved to ensure that innovation is at the heart of the country’s growth agenda. We further made a promise to the South African electorate that in terms of 4IR, we would do the following:

Scale-up skills development for the youth in data analytics, coding, the internet of things, blockchain and machine learning;

Design a social plan to address retraining and support for workers that could potentially be displaced by new technologies;

Open up opportunities for young people to develop new software and applications, devices and equipment through specialised start-up support programmes; and

Give enhanced support to existing innovation centres and hubs over the next three years.

We have been given a renewed mandate by South Africans as the ANC government and we do not take this responsibility lightly. We were clear in our election manifesto that the digital economy represents a new development that we cannot afford to ignore as a nation. 

Having said that, the question is how we as the government of the day steer the nation in responding to this new technological development that has far-reaching implications on government itself, on business and society.

Invariably, our response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution must be linked to our struggle against poverty, unemployment and inequality.

It is therefore my fervent belief that this Commission established by President Cyril Ramaphosa will play an integral role in achieving these imperatives that we have promised our electorate and the broader society. 

Deputy Chairperson, 

This commission is mandated to advise government on policies, develop a framework for implementation of a multi-sectoral 4IR strategy; and coordinate, monitor and evaluate multi-sectoral initiatives that will position South Africa as a globally competitive player in 4IR.

Commissioners,

The 4IR era amongst other factors is defined by the exponential pace at which technologies are fundamentally changing the way we do things. It will therefore be imperative that our responses and interventions follow suite.  In this context analytical tools in the form of data for the 4IR commission will be critical.  Proper analysis will require current data from public sources, business and government.  

Similarly, the fast-paced changing nature of the 4IR innovations implies that in coming up with a country strategy we shift from traditional views of ten to fifteen year long term horizons and rather focus on highly targeted immediate and four to five year timeframes.

It is clear that the 4IR ecosystem is highly knowledge dependent, therefore readiness to even join the starting block will demand unprecedented efforts in learning, skills and talent development. This phenomenon is obvious, you only have to look at the race by global powers to protect intellectual property rights that are vital to 4IR competitive advantage.

It will also be important to look into the ethical issues that arise because of these new technologies through the lens of the South African Constitution.

Commissioners,

It is notable that narratives about the 4IR are predominantly about disruptions. This is not necessarily a misnomer, because 4IR is having a significant impact in the way that we live our lives today. 

There are robots that perform many tasks that human beings do, and we should ordinarily be concerned about the impact of that on the job security of many of our citizens, as that is all they have to sustain their families and ensure better living conditions for their children.

The metered-taxi and short-term accommodation industries, through Uber and Airbnb respectively, have become one of the early casualties of how digital transformation not only disrupts traditional value chains but also disintermediates, partially or completely, conventional businesses and human beings in the process.     

Having noted this, our premise as government is that as we develop initiatives to position South Africa for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, no one must be left behind. That means that we must ensure in earnest that we do not widen the digital gap between the have and have-nots, the urban and rural communities. 

One of our most urgent and pressing challenges is youth unemployment. In 2018, President Ramaphosa convened a Jobs Summit to address youth unemployment with practical solutions to ensure economic growth, better equipped workers and the expansion of economic infrastructure.

From this summit, the Youth Employment Service (YES) was conceptualised as an initiative to partner with business to create one million internships in the next three years.

Further, in 2018, as the then Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, I announced that we will embark on an elaborate programme to build a capable 4IR army by training one million young people on data science and related skills by 2030. 

This goal cannot be achieved by government alone, it indeed requires collaboration with various players and as a pilot, we have partnered with MICT SETA to train 1000 young people on data science, Cloud computing, 3D printing, Cybersecurity, digital content creation, drone piloting and software development. Recruitment of the students is currently underway and we intend to commence the training on 1 June. 

I therefore look forward to gaining insight from the Commission on further skills development interventions in areas such as data analytics, IoTs, blockchain and machine learning; as this will enable training of young people to develop and operate new technologies. 

As earlier mentioned, one of the most important priorities for government is to grow the economy, and in the process of doing so, ensure that there is inclusive growth that not only creates jobs for our citizens, but also ensures that the majority of citizens are active participants in the economy, specifically in research, innovation and production.

Speaking at the launch of the ANC elections manifesto, President Ramaphosa said that the ANC-led government will:

Ensure that there is significant localisation of new technologies;

Ensure that SMMEs and co-operatives are drawn into the digital economy;

Support e-commerce; and

Strengthen and consolidate efforts to digitise government and expedite the implementation of e-government amongst others

It is therefore our intention as government to accelerate implementation of these interventions and move towards a forward trajectory that will facilitate a Country Plan for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in a manner that enables government to ensure a better life for all South Africans by reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Drawing from the 2019 State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned that township digital hubs will be established with the initial phase being in four provinces. These hubs are expected to provide entrepreneurial service to tech start-ups in rural areas and townships.

We further seek to develop digital infrastructure, to create a conductive regulatory environment to attract major cloud providers and to build a robust broadband network. 

Commissioners, 

The department has indeed commenced some of the groundwork towards preparing South Africa for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We began engagements with stakeholders to identify various enablers that could help us derive the benefits that come with technological innovations and developments relating to 4IR. That is how we were alerted to the Value-at-Stake Framework, which was developed in partnership with the World Economic Forum. 

Without going deeply into the Framework, its key finding is that digital technologies can generate more than R5 Trillion in value for industry, consumers and society in South Africa. 

This is made up of R3 Trillion that can be derived across industry sectors through the utilisation of technologies, as well as the R2 Trillion that can be derived from digital transformation across five government services, with primary focus on the digitisation of public infrastructure maintenance, public administration and healthcare which is capable of creating R1,2 Trillion in value and the rest by safety and security as well as social services. 

The industry sectors identified are Financial Services, Agriculture, manufacturing, consumer industries, metals and mining, utilities, oil and gas, telecommunications and media. Once again, it is indeed befitting that the Presidential Commission on the 4IR is reflective of these sectors. 

Commissioners,

We further recognise the need for a government-wide framework that not only focuses on migration towards digital technologies or digitising government services, but creating an enabling environment for government in its entirety to open up itself for technological innovations and digital solutions that not only enhance service delivery in all sectors, but ensure continuous endeavours to improve service offerings. 

The work that is currently underway uses the term of Regulatory Remodelling for a 4IR economy. We are making concerted efforts to assist government to gravitate towards certain obligatory steps, standards and principles that should provide guidelines for every government department to function within the realm of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Central to all that will be a department that ensures that there are critical enablers, amongst which would be the following:

Digital Infrastructure, implying the type of infrastructure that is necessary to enable government to navigate various digital platforms to develop digital solutions. These include, among others, high speed connectivity, competitive connectivity networks, ubiquitous access and high-speed multi-channel connectivity.

Integrated Digital Technology enablement through interoperability standards, Data and Cloud Policies, Digital Trusts and Secure Digital Identities and digitisation support across all sectors of society.

The enablement of an Innovation Society through, amongst others, focused investment capital sources, focused skills interventions, localisation and investment in research and development, 4IR testing and demonstration centres, incentivisation of local production through tax incentives and other offerings and establishing innovation partnership networks with local and international partners.

Introducing economic and social impact enablers in the form of encouraging higher internet usage levels, revision of transformation policies to encourage the inclusion of 4IR economy and physical infrastructure networks.

Policy and Regulatory regime which recognises the need to change government’s approach to lengthy and overdrawn legislative and policy development to ensure that the country is not left behind by technological developments, regulatory remodelling across the sectors to align with 4IR as well as competition enablement for a 4IR economy.

The Department, with the advise of the Commission, will develop a strategy and framework for government, which will enable every government department and organ of state, to develop their own plans to integrate 4IR in everything they do, and ensure that the sectors in which they function align accordingly. 

The envisaged department responsible for 4IR will prescribe legislative, policy and regulatory instruments to ensure that government in its entirety is leap-frogged into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and is able to unlock value that is likely to exceed the projections of WEF.

As government, we will also set basic rules of the game through these instruments to manage the externalities of 4IR, distribute the benefits thereof and address structural issues of the markets such as curbing monopolies and making infrastructure rollout pervasive. 

It is also worth noting that South Africa is due to chair the African Union in 2020, and it will be important to influence the direction of 4IR at both the regional – SADC and continental – AU level.  This move is highly strategic given the plans for the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

In ending, 

We have witnessed that technological developments are introducing new possibilities, opportunities and technologies at a whirlwind pace. However, it is important to acknowledge that South Africa is not starting from a zero base, as various elements of 4IR are already being implemented across the country.  

Within this understanding Government is working with Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare to host a Digital Economy Summit in July 2019 to enable the different sectors to start engaging on some of the critical issues as we consolidate our vision of maximising the opportunities arising from the new technology and market context.

There is no doubt that the Digital Economy Summit will also lay a foundation for the work of the Commission. It is in our interest to ensure synergies.

Commissioners,

Allow me to once again reiterate that government looks upon you to provide the requisite advise, guidance and leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Working together with your good selves, ours is to develop interventions that harness the potential of these technological developments to address the country’s social and economic imperatives. 

I take this opportunity to assure you that the Ministry of Communications and the secretariat coordinated by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services is committed to working with the Commission to position South Africa as a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Let us inclusively grow South Africa, together.

I thank you.

Year: 
2019
Speech date:: 
Tuesday, May 14, 2019