4IR revolution ‘must not ignore the poor’

Ntombi Mkandhla

Labour and civil society told the Digital Economy Summit today, Friday, July 5, that while they are not opposed to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is critical that workers and the poor not be left behind. 

Speaking during a panel discussion, Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi and Isobel Frye, who heads up the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, both said for the digital revolution to be a success, South Africa would have to introduce a basic income grant (BIG). 

Calls for a grant are gaining momentum across the world to cushion job losses because of 4IR. Organisations such as the World Economic Forum and developmental economists say, however, that if 4IR is implemented correctly, more jobs will be created.  

“If we are to embrace 4IR, we need to deal with the reduction of people in the workforce and paying tax… also, the upscaling of workers is essential… and comprehensive social security,” Losi said. 

Frye told the summit that due to an explosion in poverty and inequality, poor South Africans needed to know that 4IR was inclusive. 

“We are asking people to adapt to the 4IR, but people are going to bed hungry. Poor people are not stupid. [How can we expect] people to spend R10 to catch a taxi and find work when they need to buy bread?” 

Professor Nick Binedell, speaking on behalf of the Public-Private Growth Initiative (PPGI), said that given South Africa’s history, “economic growth is the oxygen of our democracy”. 

Binedell, who was also on the panel, said no society would grow unless all partners worked together, including civil society, government, labour and business.