5G technology will power SA into a digital future: Pandor

By Japhet Ncube Time of article published Sep 16, 2021

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INTERNATIONAL Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor says 5G technology is key to drive inclusive economic growth and bridge the digital divide in South Africa, one of the most unequal nations in the world.

Pandor was speaking in an interview after handing over a science laboratory to Siqongweni Secondary School in Imbali township in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, on Saturday.

"We have to take advantage of the technological developments that are underway in the world, and we must do so in full collaboration with the international community," said Pandor.

"We are members of ITU and other international bodies that oversee the telecoms industry. We have three very successful telecoms companies in our country, which have become global. So we must ensure we are part of the technology development of the world, because it is important for the economy of South Africa."

But the elephant in the room during the handover of the lab was the fallout between Huawei and US authorities over allegations of spying.

The allegations have not been proved and Huawei has denied this, saying it was a victim of a geopolitical spat.

Pandor believes global superpowers China and the US must resolve their differences to allow the tech giant to continue with its 5G rollout and help digitalize South Africa and drive economic recovery and growth.

"I think the United States and China must resolve the issue between them, they must do so in engagement with each other, and not by throwing spats publicly," said Pandor, who first visited the school with President Cyril Ramaphosa when she was Minister of Science and Technology in 2019.

It was this visit that resulted in the donation of the R500 000 science laboratory, the first of its kind in the sprawling township, in a public-private partnership that will equip this top school to further improve its science teaching.

Pandor added: "So the basis of that is an agreement between them. I think the two countries, the two big economies of the world must really help us the rest of the smaller economies by resolving those difficulties they have.

"I think a genuine discussion between two countries to arrive at an arrangement that suits both (is needed), because as big economies they gonna have to trade with each other. They can't avoid it."

Pandor believes working with ICT companies, the country can achieve greater results in plugging communities into the digital revolution.

"I think a lot of our telecoms rely on Huawei technology, so we can't deny them the opportunity to develop further. We do want to be companies of the first rank, and if 5G puts us at the top, we want that.

"Because countries always have their interests, we have our national interests. And our national interest is to be better and better."

The Siqongweni laboratory is one of such investments in the development of science in the country.

In January 2019, Ramaphosa visited the school, accompanied by then Science and Technology Minister Pandor and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshega, and promised to deliver a science lab and a library.

On Saturday Pandor also officially handed over the library to the school.

Pandor urged the school and the community to take care of the laboratory, which has twice been burgled and equipment stolen.

"The promotion of education excellence and access to science is important for our development and I am happy you will have the choice to freely pursue science studies," she said.

"I was saddened to learn that a few weeks ago, during violent riots, the computer laboratory was broken into and most of the critical infrastructure was stolen.

"This is not only a setback for the government but for the entire community the school serves. By breaking into a school, criminals aren’t only stealing the infrastructure but also the dreams of our children," said Pandor.

In an interview with Zambezi News, Pandor reiterated her call for the community to take ownership of the lab and protect it.

"Security is very costly, schools do have a minimum provision of static security, but it's not enough.

"You can't protect the school by having more and more security guards. What you need is the community to buy into the value of education. So what we must address is the consciousness of the local community, because every school is built in the community, it is not in isolation.

"I was horrified that with the latest theft from this school, a learner from the school was involved. And this is just disturbing. It means we have much more work to do in community engagement, in appreciation of the value of public infrastructure," said Pandor.

In 2018, the school obtained 84 percent matric pass rate despite not having any basic infrastructure, and has been performing consistently for the last six years, scoring between 83 and 95 percent pass rate.

Principal Bhekizizwe Dlamini attributes this to having the right teaching staff and hard-working pupils.

"We have very committed educators who like their work. It comes from within. But the parents play a much bigger role in the performance of the learners. When we involve them, they come and they help us.

His face beams with pride when he mentions last year's top learner, Andiswa Mzolo, who got a bursary to study medicine at University of Cape Town.

"She is one of those learners whose parents took the initiative to support their children," says Dlamini.

"She is from a neighbouring primary school. She moved from there, she didn't go to town, but came to this school from grade 8 to grade 12. She did very well, got As in all subjects, physical science, life sciences, mathematics and accounting in 2020, in the year of Covid.

She got a bursary to UCT even before the matric results came out. Because they looked at her performance throughout the year and previous years and they saw that this is a girl we can sponsor and let her do whatever she wants."

Life before the lab was tough for both teachers and pupils, says Dlamini. "The teachers used to teach the pupils to imagine things, imagine a chemical. They used drawings on the board to show how things looked.

"Even the measurements, how big 5ml is, we taught them to imagine. But now they can see the real 5ml, how big it is. The science lab is going to help us a lot, because it is now a reality, no more imagining things," he said. - ZambeziNews24

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