Summit takes SA ‘dreamers’ into the digital future

Amy Musgrave

South Africa’s future as a digitally savvy economy got off to a rocketing start on Friday.

The inaugural Digital Economy Summit, hosted by the newly established 4IRSA initiative, was praised by government and academia.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told more than 500 delegates at the summit that they and the initiative “are part of taking charge… of leading a capable 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) “army”.

The 4IRSA partnership was set up after Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko made a public call for  the country to urgently discuss the digital economy, in order to develop and distribute resources that will benefit South Africans. Ramaphosa then challenged Maseko to take the process forward.

He told delegates he was pleased they had attended, as they were the dreamers of a different future for South Africa.

“We are here because of the exceptional work done by the Fourth Industrial Revolution Partnership for SA… I would like to acknowledge that this is indeed the foundation on which the Presidential Commission (on 4IR) will also be able to build. But more importantly, build the dialogue on our digital future,” the president said.

4IRSA is a partnership between the universities of Fort Hare, Johannesburg and Witwatersrand. It is sponsored by Telkom. Deloitte has since come on board as a partner and there is additional sponsorship from Vodacom and Huawei. Its aim is to help shape a coherent national response to 4IR in South Africa. Before the summit, several workshops were held with various sectors. They were attended by labour, government, civil society, business and researchers.

Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib told the conference 4IR was a critical conversation for the country. 

He said there were several unconnected and divergent conversations on the digital economy. 

An aim of 4IRSA is to try help break down the current silo approach, which the state has admitted is a concern for South Africa.

“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.

Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has also endorsed 4IRSA.

“For the first time, guided by research from universities and other national institutions, South Africa convenes to stimulate and curate a coherent national action plan that galvanises industry, labour, academia, the public sector and society at large,” she said.

The one-day summit is the start of this process. Its aim is to get an undertaking from stakeholders to continue with engagements and discuss new possibilities for the country.

Next year there will be a Summit of Declarations, which will consolidate workstreams and agree on monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for 4IR.