Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams delivers the opening remarks at the GovTech 2019 conference in Durban. Photo: Supplied.
Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams delivers the opening remarks at the GovTech 2019 conference in Durban. Photo: Supplied.
Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on stage with humanoid robot Sophia. Photo: Supplied.
Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on stage with humanoid robot Sophia. Photo: Supplied.

DURBAN – South African communications’ minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has told delegates at this year’s government technology (GovTech) conference that laws inhibiting innovation and economic advancement should be amended.

“[We have identified] 127 laws that have to be changed to leverage the economic growth in the country,” said the minister, adding that South Africa had not focused enough on driving growth through innovation.

Ndabeni-Abrahams was speaking at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban on Monday during the opening plenary of GovTech 2019, where she was part of a panel discussion.

GovTech focuses on improving services and procurement systems in the public sector using information and communications technology (ICT).

In his state of the nation address in 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that he wanted the country to take advantage of rapid technological changes. This led to the proposal of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is led by Ndabeni-Abrahams and her department.

The minister told GovTech that it was important to “go where the innovators are” instead of just focusing on “professional hawkers”. Innovators were not interested in talk shops, she said but were fascinated with what they were working on.

The United States was driven by innovation, she said and invested heavily in it. “That’s why people go there”.

“Investing in research and innovation is key for South Africa, and we need to build on that by providing access to markets," said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

“The technologies being driven today are different to those from last year. Innovators must show us what they are good at and disrupt the system. People are comfortable with the status quo, innovators aren’t. If government wants to drive ICT, space must be given to innovators and we must change laws that inhabit them.”

During her opening remarks before the panel discussion, the minister told attendants they should be “disruptive” in their search for innovative ways to package data to drive smarter decisions, faster responses and better services in the public sector.

She also interacted on stage with humanoid robot “Sophia”, the creation of Hanson Robotics, about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4ID).

“Digital transformation presents an opportunity to grow the economy and productive efficiency. At the same time it can bring negative externalities if not managed properly,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

"Our ways of working, living, learning and playing have been redefined by technological evolution. Therein lies the business rationale for digital government and digital society," she said.

When the session was opened to questions from the floor, an Eastern Cape delegate asked how government intended to close the technological gap in the country. There was talk now about 5G spectrum, said the woman, while some deep rural areas did not have access to basic connectivity. 

“This is why we launched SA Connect, broadband rollout that complements the work done by the private sector,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

SA Connect aims to deliver broadband access to 90 percent of the South African population by 2020 and 100 percent access by 2030, but parliament heard earlier this year that connectivity targets had not been met.  

“The piloting is being done in eight districts. Two weeks back we had engagements with fibre companies so that we could focus on rural areas to connect the 20 million unconnected South Africans,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

She said government was incentivising fibre companies, but role players were still working in silos. 

“How do we make sure when services are delivered, they are done in an integrated manner? We need a clear digital strategy.”

The conference and exhibition end on Wednesday.

African News Agency (ANA)