SA’s digital revolution gets under way in Johannesburg

Jabulile Mbatha

At the Digital Economy Summit in Midrand today University of Witwatersrand Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib spelled out the objectives of Fourth Industrial Revolution South Africa (4IRSA) and the summit. 

In June 2018 the 4IRSA partnership began between the Department of Communications and Telecommunications, the Universities of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, Deloitte and Vodacom.

Habib highlighted the importance of opening the conversation about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He said: “We want to develop a comprehensive partnership with South Africa so that we can respond to the challenges emerging and the opportunities that provide themselves.”

He acknowledged that the Fourth Industrial Revolution was a challenge, but it was the response to the challenge that mattered. 

He said the digital global economy was quickly emerging and South Africa’s response would determine whether it was suitable to compete with other developing countries in the global economy. The risk of not taking on the revolution could result in South Africa being an alienated society. 

It was fundamental to recognize and address the disparities. 

“We recognize that there are multiple conversations and opportunities in multiple sectors of societies, but the problem with these conversations is that they are fragmented and divergent”, Habib said.

A suggested solution to these challenges was the creation of a platform to bring different sectors of society together to engage in multiple conversations and have a national response. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution was primarily about technology, yet the human, social, political, business and economic aspects of it and how they responded to the revolution were important.

“Our end goal is not technology, our end goal is how to create a more inclusive, fair and just society and how we are going to create this opportunity as a mechanism to achieve that,” Habib said.

The approach the partnership would take to achieve this goal was primarily to create an inclusive dialogue that would speak to the national response, Habib said.

“We aim to complement other initiatives that have emerged; we want a coherent response; we want our different sectorial responses to come together and we want to make sure that coherence is national.” 

This was an implementation strategy that would take the response, make a plan of it and implement and measure and revise the process. 

The Vice-Chancellor highlighted that the partnership would focus on five themes.

The first was competitiveness, concentration and inequality. “We need to create competition among our firms, we need to create super firms which will be able to compete globally, and opportunities for small and medium enterprises which will join the conversation in the global supply chain.” 

Employment was the second theme and a huge concern for many people as the Fourth Industrial Revolution meant there woud be many job losses due to the digitalization process, yet with that there would be many jobs created. The solution to this problem would be educating and training individuals to be better equipped with these news jobs. 

The third theme was the relationships between society, state and citizen in the digital world, which would also affect the relationships between businesses and employees.

“There are questions around ethics: are legal systems appropriate to manage ethical challenges that are emerging with digitized technology?”

The fourth theme was how opportunities could be used to lead in a digital economy, through access and the use of technology transformation in different sectors. 

The last theme was critical success factors. “We need innovative policies which are certain, capable regulation, policy effectiveness and digital productivity growth,” Habib said.