South Africans must become digitally-enabled or they will be left behind economically, and this will exacerbate inequality in the country.
This is the view of Dr Miriam Altman, commissioner of the National Planning Commission in the SA Presidency, who says the negative implications of digital exclusion are far reaching and require urgent action.
“[Digital] inclusion] has to be delivered urgently,” she says. “Either it can help us drive a new source of competitive advantage for industrial development and job creation, or Africa can be consumers of foreign technology and foreign capability.”
Dr Altman was speaking at AfricaCom 2016, where the necessity for all levels of the population to be able to access, utilise, communicate and transact over the internet to fully partake in the new economy was highlighted
Skills development and education are some of the key drivers to achieving these goals, according to Charles Murito, Google country manager for Kenya.
“Education is a critical component for us,” he says. “What holds Africans back is the lack of digital skills.
“Earlier this year we announced a commitment to train 1-million Africans in digital skills. As of two weeks ago we struck the half-a-million mark of people trained and we’ve also launched portals in three different languages, which are accessible for people all across Africa to receive these basic digital skills.”
Mckinsey last year reported that, by 2020, Africa could benefit to the tune of $340-billion of GDP value, due to the growth of the e-commerce and digital ecosystem and the equivalent of an additional $340-billion in productivity gains.
For this to happen, online and mobile transactions must be secure, simple and inclusive. Karen Nadasen, CEO of PayU South Africa, believes that accessing digital platforms to buy and sell goods and services offers the biggest opportunity in South Africa and across the continent.
“Real grassroots upliftment can occur once people are able to transact easily and securely,” she says. “As long as companies are making it easy for users to buy and sell online we will see the ecosystem grow and communities flourish. This will lead to higher levels of innovation and real utility that will lead to improved living standards in all areas.”
Dr Altman believes there needs to be a firmer push towards broadening the scope of digital uptake, something likened to a roadmap to digital rollout.
“Government is going to have to step in, not on the back of universal service obligations, but to roll it out the way they roll out other infrastructure. Government is going to have to drive demand. The countries that have successfully embraced digital have done it that way.”
She proposes implementing measures to compel people to get online and get familiar with the digital world. Enforcing the use of digital material in, for example, schools, at home affairs and health services registration will drive the transition at the required levels.