Gauteng hopes to become a major player in the knowledge economy, with a number of projects underway to build both infrastructure and skills to achieve this goal.

During the budget vote speed on Friday (8 June) MEC for Economic Development Qedani Mahlangu told the Gauteng Provincial Legislature  that 57% of South Africa’s ICT companies are based in Gauteng.

“Taking advantage of the ICT dominance, together with the four universities and research institutions, Gauteng province has started developing a Smart City that will be based at Nasrec. The Gauteng Smart Citym together with the Innovation Hub, will form part of the Gauteng ICT cluster which will position Gauteng as a leader in the knowledge economy.”
She explains that the Gauteng Smart City will be a geographic concentration of interconnected companies and institutions in the ICT sector who will co-operate to strengthen innovation.

“This cluster will unlock new ways of creating wealth in Gauteng and open ne avenues for constructive action by the industry in partnership with government.”

Mahlangu says planning for the Smart City is in advanced stages, scheduled for completion and stakeholder consultation by August this year.

Key focus are for the project are the establishment of:

* An electronics assembly and manufacturing centre;

* ICT research and development centres, media and content production centres;

* ICT knowledge centre to be built in partnership with international ICT knowledge experts like ICT Education Services of Singapore and MIT of the US;

* ICT connectivity and transaction switching centre; and

* Business process outsourcing facility with the capacity to host 5 000 seats as well as logistics and distribution.

Recognising that skills are a major part of the project, Mahlangu says programmes such as the “Thousand jobs strategy” and “CoachLab” in partnership with the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineers, as well as skills-driven initiatives with private sector players like MTN and Microsoft are in place.

She says that ICT currently contributes about 7% to the Gauteng economy, which should increase as the Smart City programme gets underway

Broadband access is a major challenge, and Mahlangu acknowledges that Gauteng has some serious gaps in this regard.

“Gauteng has a high mobile penetration, which is sitting at 100%,” she says. “Fixed line connectivity is, however, low and on the decline especially for households.

“The reason for the low broadband Internet connection is the lack of infrastructure for access and the high cost of broadband connectivity. Household with Internet access is only 11,7%; and only 29% of all Internet users have access to broadband.”

Mahlangu points out that the World Bank estimates a 1,3% percentage point growth in GDP for every 10% increase in broadband penetration

“We have also taken the lead in bridging the digital divide through bringing broadband connectivity to townships such as the Alexandra Wimax pilot project.

“The project aims to provide Internet connectivity, e-content distribution and storage as well as subsidised voice communication services tp0 SMMEs and c-operatives as well as non-profit organisations.

“This project, and similar projects to be piloted throughout the province, will create new business opportunities for SMMEs through broadband service provision, technical support services, product distribution services, Internet broadband servers as well as training services.