Davos - Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel believes the World Economic Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution theme presents challenges and opportunities for the way in which South Africa approaches long-range economic planning.
It will have to look at the use of technology and innovation to deal with inequality, poverty and joblessness, he says.
While the National Development Plan remains the blueprint for dealing with economic growth, the impact and speed of disruptive technologies will force a rethink of how to implement the NDP.
Patel told Independent Media in Davos that disruptive technology meant, for example, that quality education could be accessed by anyone, if done properly.
“This cannot be done now, but we are told that the Fourth Industrial Revolution moves so fast that it will be cheap (to implement). But we need to redesign our schools and change what we think of what children expect from their education.”
This also requires retraining of teachers who will need to drive the use of technologies in institutions of learning.
“We must show young people there is hope and we must do it through skills and jobs and show there are opportunities in entrepreneurship.”
Patel said the government had begun to encourage the Industrial Development Corporation to see themselves as venture capitalists and to invest in technology.
“Technology is about risk. Some will succeed and some will fail. We need to have flexibility in terms of how we harness it.”
South Africa and other developing nations faced a double challenge: how to deal with the demands of 2016 and how the external environment – and technological advances in particular – was shaping the future, he said.
Another was getting buy-in from the private sector.
The government had begun the process by calling together businesses and engaging in discussions around opportunities and challenges.
Patel said in order to create an environment where technology can help transform the economy, state-owned enterprises needed to operate better and the government needed to inspire young people.
He said this would require the government to create a platform for a national discourse where these challenges could be addressed.
He urged that we continued to look toward Africa to drive demand for finished goods, given the great demand for our goods.
Patel said technological innovation also redefined the job market and changed the notion of empowerment. It forces, especially black business people, to become industrialists. This was a departure from the traditional approach to black economic empowerment. The key was to up- scale black people’s involvement in the productive sections of the economy.
Overall, South Africa must take a long-term view in terms of inclusive growth as “short-termism” is not an option for business or the government