The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Presidential Commission has kicked off with an official induction at the Department of Communications.

Deputy Minister of Communications Pinky Kekana at welcomed inductees. “We are grateful to yourselves for answering this call to be in a room which consists of the best amongst equals to drive our 4IR agenda as a country.

“I need not tell you how important this era is to our nation. It is our time to set the world alight but also and perhaps most importantly it is our best shot at truly transforming this nation’s economy and the lives of all South Africans for the better.

“It is also our chance to change the continent for the better, as we sit and develop the nations 4IR blueprint, I urge you to think beyond the borders of South Africa, because, truly speaking, the 4IR doesn’t know any borders. Let us use this moment to leverage on the 1, 3-billion plus Africans as catalysts of new markets, new solutions and, to some extent, let’s use this moment in history to break the shackles of colonialism for all of us.”

Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams points out that governments commitments in terms of 4IR include:

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

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

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

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

The 4IR 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.

“The 4IR era amongst other factors is defined by the exponential pace at which technologies are fundamentally changing the way we do things,” Ndabeni-Abrahams says. “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 10- to 15-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.”

She adds this it is important that no South African be left behind in the fourth industrial revolution. “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.”

Youth unemployment is another massive challenge. “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 1 000 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.”

She adds 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.
Ndabeni-Abrahams adds that the Department of Communication needs to ensure there are critical enablers, including:

* 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 advice 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 World Economic Forum (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.”