They say “better late than never,”
and an interview on SAFM’s breakfast
show on Friday had me wondering
if we should speed up the use of
drones or unmanned aerial vehicles
to fight most of the ills we face.
Traffic violations, cable-theft,
poaching, human trafficking and
non-compliance with lockdown
regulations are among problems we
could address with little resources.
Stephen Grootes interviewed Irvin Phenyane, the chairperson of the Drone Council of SA NPC, which was launched in a webinar on July 15. Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams attended the launch.
Two years ago, my hosts in Rwanda took me on a drive to the control centre of Zipline, a US company that designs, builds and operates drones. Zipline, which also participated in the July 15 webinar, operates distribution centres in Rwanda and Ghana. In less than an hour, the team at Zipline can pack, load and dispatch emergency medical supplies to more than 25 clinics all over hilly Rwanda with the help of drones. A road trip that could take up to four hours, was reduced to under 30 minutes.
“Our sluggish response to global drone technology trends has put us at an economic disadvantage resulting in many lost opportunities. South Africa was the first country in Africa to approve drone regulations, but subsequent international investment has gone elsewhere in Africa”, Phenyane says.
Rwanda, Malawi, Kenya and Ghana are among the beneficiaries of the investment he is referring to.
They have positioned themselves to not only deliver medical supplies during the Covid-19 crisis, but to monitor compliance, deliver important messages and enhance overall safety and security for a fraction of the cost.
Here in South Africa, known for excellent policies that hardly get implemented, we spend millions on media campaigns to encourage citizens to stop the theft of electricity cables, report crime, counter poaching and so on. We deploy human resources, with guns, dogs and other expensive amenities to fight the ills. Yet we are not that effective. For instance, we have organised crime syndicates following tourists to their hotels from our airports, something drones could eradicate and boost tourism.
South African National Parks, as far back as 2016, has been experimenting with drones to stop poaching, but not on the scale that it should or could have. How about tracking stolen vehicles, monitoring the movement of unsavoury characters in places where children gather to reduce the peddling of drugs? There is nothing a drone cannot help to combat; all we need is the resolve.
Perhaps the pandemic will spur us into action. The Drone Council of SA, Phenyane said, undertook to implement their Operation Catch-Up 2023, which includes speeding up the licensing, introducing new players and aligning with the rest of the continent.
Of the 73 holders of the remote operators’ certificates, 99% are white men. There will be about 20 new operators who will be incubated in the next 12 months, with 50 more to be added, if the plan succeeds.
For now, let me unreservedly add my voice to that of the Drone Council of SA to accelerate the adoption of this overdue limitless innovation. We can only win.
* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.