CAPE TOWN - South Africa is to establish a Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) to identify strategies to put the country at the forefront of technological change and to grow its economy.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni this week told the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF) conference in Cape Town in a speech delivered on behalf of President Cyril Ramaphosa, that the government was also working with the development of a contiinental strategy on 4IR, which was being led by the African Telecommunication Union.
“”The free flow of data lies at the heart of the revolution…we must be prepared to take risk, or risk being left behind,” Mboweni said.
“We need to ensure broadband access is available to all. If we do not, we run the risk of perpetuating economic inequality and exclusivity of our people.”.
UN deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed said innovations through 4IR could benefit wealth distribution and provide substitutes for capital and labour, but it could also add to social divisions: those who were digitally empowered and those who are digitally derived.
Mohammed said the latest UN data showed that half of Africa’s people would have cell phones by next year.
WEF Head of Africa Elsie Kanza said 4IR had become the most fundamental disruptor around the world
“Africa cannot afford to be left behind,” Kanza said. “We need to renew our frameworks of cooperation so that we can create a sustainable future for Africa.”
Mboweni said the Africa Free Trade Agreement was a fundamental pillar to the growth in intra-regional trade, and economic growth.
“The fact that most African leaders have signed the agreement is a good start. I hope that the leaders in every African country let every editor, truck driver and border post official know about this agreement. It is the biggest thing in Africa since the post -colonial period,” Mboweni said.
Addressng the recent xenophobic violence that has claimed the lives of seven people in Gauteng, Mboweni said that for the free movement of goods to improve in Africa, the free movement of people in Africa needed to improve.
“You cannot allow one person and disallow another. As an African, I should be allowed to settle anywhere I like in Africa. Africa solidarity is key. The majority of South African’s are appalled at what is happening. We shall overcome,”” he said.
Mohammed appealed to African leaders to speak to their people about the free trade agreement…”the fear among (ordinary people) is real,” she said.
She said it was going to be very difficult for African leaders to implement the free trade agreement operationally, but the agreement would create the biggest free trade area in the world at a time where other free trade agreements were facing political strains.
Mboweni said businesses needed to work with government to upskill the youth.
“We need to prepare our young people for jobs that haven’t yet been created,” he said.