“The world is changing. We are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution; the question that faces the leaders of the world both politically and economically, is how do we meet this kind of new challenge, what do we do?” Zuma said.
Speaking at the Durban ICC during a walkabout at the venue hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa, Zuma said the mindset had to change for Africa not to be left behind.
“People talk today about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It says our thinking must change. I’m saying Africa is placed in a situation where we can stretch our imagination given the fact that it is a developing region.”
Zuma said the mere fact that this year’s WEF on Africa had recorded unprecedented attendance figures was a sign that Africa was the place to be for global decision-makers.
He was pleased, however, that Africans are the centre of seeking solutions for their own continent, he said.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a hot topic at the WEF on Africa gathering being held in Durban until tomorrow.
WEF describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution as building on the digital revolution. It “is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”.
Speaking on the sidelines of the gathering, Sdumo Dlamini, the president of labour federation Cosatu, said the digital revolution required a new approach to doing things including a constant reskilling of workers.
With continual advancement of technology there was a dire need to develop the skills to catch up. “The plumber of today is not the plumber of two years from now by that time that technology would have changed, so you need to be re-training, re-skilling, it’s a moving target. We are following a moving target and that’s a crisis.”
This poses a challenge for workers who might lose jobs to robots unless ways in which workers can benefit were explored, he said.
Dlamini added that while it could be argued that there is an economic crisis, such a challenge also presents an opportunity to take radical steps to grow the economy and get more people employed.
This would also mean training with skills that fit the requirements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Lindiwe Mazibuko, the former leader of the opposition DA in Parliament and now WEF Young Global Leader, said she was concerned about Africa’s preparedness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Mazibuko believes one of the big challenges on the continent is that young people are not educated, prepared or amply skilled for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“They don’t have the skills to learn sometimes you have to teach people to be able to learn because careers will change so fast in the future. We don’t just need to equip young people with skills but with the ability to acquire new ones as time moves on.”
Mazibuko also said leaders need a new way of thinking, adding that she feared that because most current leaders were from a different generation, “from the past”, not enough of them were capable of moving into the future and grappling with these questions.
“Instead they are having old debates about unions, about labour legislation when we are fast coming upon a time when labour legislation won’t apply because labour will be done by machines. What will our people do in order to feed themselves? We need to be having new debates about the global economy, about mechanisation, about artificial intelligence.”
She said even the type of education that is provided had to be in line with the digital revolution.
“Are we thinking about what’s going to happen when mechanisation takes shape on the continent, what kind of skills will be valuable? Skills to do with intuition, with leadership with emotional intelligence. Are we preparing our young children for this or are we preparing them to be unemployed?” said Mazibuko.
Meanwhile, the South African government, in partnership with WEF, will this week launch the South Africa Internet for All project. This project “aims to bring millions of South Africans, including those in rural areas, on to the internet for the first time through new models of public-private collaboration”.
In a statement released on Wednesday WEF said figures from the International Telecommunications Union, show that 52 percent of South Africans use the internet.