Siya Xuza – a globally celebrated scientist, inventor, and now energy entrepreneur – kicked off the last part of the summit with his story about humble beginnings in Mthata in the Eastern Cape, and how he had dreamt of flying to Jupiter. Despite many failures, he eventually developed a cheaper and safer rocket fuel, as part of his own efforts to get to the stars. He urged young South Africans to persevere with their aspirations. Following his global acclaim and studying in the US, Xuza has established a company in South Africa to train other young innovators in advanced energy-storing capabilities in micro fuel cells.

Perspectives from Labour, Small Business, Civil Society, Big Business and Government

Cas Coovadia, who heads the Banking Council of SA, warned against seeing 4IR as a solution for South Africa’s current socioeconomic woes. While 4IR would create opportunities and help businesses to develop a competitive edge, inequality and poverty would need more focused attention.

Xolani Qhubeka, who is CEO of the Small Business Development Institute, spoke on spoke on behalf of Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs). He said small business was critical to transforming the economy, and they needed support to be brought into the mainstream economy.

Nick Binedell spoke on behalf of the Public-Private Growth Initiative (PPGI). He is currently the Chairperson of Strategic Management at Gordon Institute of Business Science. He said 22 sectors in the PPGI had produced or were currently crafting five-year investment and expansion plans to grow the economy and put a massive dent in the unemployment rate. But investment inhibitors needed to be addressed and this could only happen if there was a paradigm shift in how business, government, labour and civil society collaborated.

Stephen Malherbe, who is the founder of Genesis Analytics, spoke on behalf of the South Africa in the Digital Age (SADA) – an initiative between GIBS, Genesis and Pathways for Prosperity. He said there were big job opportunities in globally traded services, labour absorbing markets, and that South Africa needed to be a “translator” of new technologies and applications that would serve the region.

Busani Ngcaweni, who is the Deputy Director-General in the Presidency, told the gathering that government was focused on delivering evidence-based, responsive policy on 4IR within clearly defined and specified timeframes. By the end of November 2019, a social compact would be in place between all stakeholders.

Isobel Frye, who leads the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII), offered perspectives from civil society. She said those implementing 4IR in South Africa had to consider the ever-increasing number of poor people. Nearly 40% of the country’s working population was jobless and not contributing to productivity, which meant there would be no economic growth. She called for grants for the working-age population who are excluded from economic activity.

Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) President Zingiswa Losi, who spoke on behalf of labour, said that while her federation was not opposed to 4IR, upskilling and training were needed to ensure no job losses. She also warned that technology was not the silver bullet to build the economy if unemployment increased, as this would shrink the tax base. She called for a thorough look at what the strategic sectors were to fuel economic growth.