Competitiveness, Concentration and Inequality

One of the key objectives of a response to the 4IR is to clearly ensure that South Africa enhances its competitiveness in the global digital economy. However, evidence suggests that digitalisation is also associated with increased concentration, which consequently also threatens to manifest in increased inequality. The dialogue and our response, therefore, pursues simultaneous goals of enhancing South Africa’s national and industrial competitiveness, in a fair and inclusive manner which also addresses high levels of inequality already present in our society. It is imperative that the opportunities inherent in the 4IR are fully grasped by government and industry, but also benefit society as a whole.

Employment and the Future of Work

Flowing from the above, a particular opportunity and challenge associated with technological disruption, is the impact on the nature of work, changing skills required, and transforming employment patterns and models. Our response to the 4IR needs to be based on a better understanding of the potential (positive and negative) impacts of automation in South Africa, to frame relevant skills development and migration strategies, focus on job creating segments, and inform mechanisms to mitigate possible negative employment impacts.

Society, State and Citizen

The 4IR, with the blurring of so-called cyber-physical boundaries, has the potential to radically reshape the way society, state and citizen interact. This applies equally to the businesses within that society and their employees (their “business citizens”). Early signals of increased polarisation, alienation and digital anti-social behaviour can already be seen globally. New frontiers in ethics, legal frameworks and regulation are being exposed. It is vital that the South African response acknowledges these shifts and proactively positions South Africa “ahead of the game”, rather than being reactive and lethargic.


The 4IR holds the promise of enabling emerging economies to accelerate development. It is critical that this promise is realised through identifying credible high impact opportunities for South Arica and developing ambitious, but realistic responses to these. Sub-themes here include export growth opportunities; competitiveness and productivity enhancement; emerging future global growth segments; platforms to include SMEs in national and global value chains; transforming healthcare; transforming education; and increasing domestic contribution to 4IR markets and ecosystems.

It is noteworthy that technology per se does not feature directly in the above themes. This reflects the 4IRSA Partnership view that the 4IR is enabled by pervasive, increasingly rapid and transformative technological development, but the outcomes and responses are not defined by it. The impacts are social, economic and political, and hence the South African response needs to be framed by those perspectives.