Pupils at the lab during the launch and opening of Anton Lembede Mathematics, Science and Technology academy in La Mercy, Durban.Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency(ANA)
Pupils at the lab during the launch and opening of Anton Lembede Mathematics, Science and Technology academy in La Mercy, Durban.Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency(ANA)

4IR to boost NDP’s job creation targets

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published Apr 5, 2021

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Johannesburg - Given the centrality of information technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in South Africa’s development path, the combined techno-scepticism and geo-political effort to prevent the roll-out of 5G as critical infrastructure, may be a threat to the goals of the National Development Plan (NDP).

The warning was highlighted by several speakers at last week’s webinar hosted by the Moja Research Institute and Progressive Blacks in ICT, which said it brought together a panel of experts to dispel the untruths and reflect on what 5G means for the country.

Far from the doom and gloom, the institute and speakers reckon that 5G can benefit South Africa by helping to create a more just and equal society by creating jobs, and also ensuring that the masses in rural parts of the country are not left out of the digital revolution from.

5G is currently being rolled out only in urban areas, including Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban meaning that rural masses of South Africa are yet to see any tangible benefits of the technology.

But 5G was highlighted by President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his last two State of the Nation Addresses, as key to reviving economic fortunes, during the roll-out of a massive infrastructure-centric job creation and development programme.

The construction of smart cities, such as ‘Lanseria Smart City’, the first new city to be built in a democratic South Africa, is beginning to take shape. The draft master plan for this smart city – which will become home to between 350,000 to 500,000 people within the next decade – was completed in November 2020 and is out for public comment."

Therefore, the need for 5G technology becomes a critical imperative.

Panelist Jak Koseff told participants during the webinar the government’s Operation Vulindlela initiative aims to speed up licensing of spectrum, fastrack digital migration roll-out, and enabling rapid deployment of Broadband, which include finalising national policy and developing standardised regulations with the rapid deployment of broadband infrastructure in Gauteng, as a test case for national rollout.

As part of the digital economy master plan, according to Koseff, there are five critical enablers: digital inclusion, skills for work, responsive governance, innovation & competitiveness and government digitisation to achieve economic growth, job creation and transformation.

Speeding up broadband deployment (in a cost-effective manner), and increasing infrastructure to targeted under-serviced townships in Gauteng is a key priority and forerunner to the national priority programme for connectivity, adds Koseff.

Gauteng and the North-West Province are both under mandate by the national government to promote regional economic development, acts as convener of the parties including municipal authorities, private sector landholders and potential funders to integrate and influence master plan through private sector developments, driving economic initiatives, particularly in townships.

The Broadband Access Fund is being developed as part of SA Connect – which has had a slow start – to accelerate access for low-income households. Earlier this month, Gauteng Premier David Makhura, said the province has responded to the rapid global technological change by taking the lead in the fourth industrial revolution in Africa. “We want Gauteng to be the hub of Artificial Intelligence in Africa.”

Gauteng was the first provincial government in South Africa to establish the Department of e-Government in 2014 and has adopted a comprehensive Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Growth and Digitalisation Strategy, with four pillars: Digital Infrastructure, Enabling Environment, Enabling Technologies and Human Capital Development.

Following on the example set by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who established the 4IR Presidential Commission, Gauteng appointed the 4IR and Digital Transformation panel to roll-out several initiatives to achieve among others, following reliable connectivity that provides inclusive access, supports new business, creates new players and markets, and improves government services and to develop skills for the future of work.

But it is not an easy road. According to a report by the National Development Plan, the composition of employment is a concern as de-industrialisation accelerated between 2008 and 2019, resulting in a loss of 313 000 manufacturing jobs and stagnant manufacturing output. In the same period, youth under the age of 35 fared poorly.

Between 2008 and 2019, employment of people over the age of 35 rose by 1.57 million, while that for those in the age group 18–24 fell by over 335 000, and in the age group 25–34 grew by only 37 000. Unemployment continues to be far more heavily felt by black Africans.

An estimated one million jobs have been lost during the Covid-19 pandemic but the report says South Africa must create jobs, not lose them, by urgently adopting sustainable strategies to contain the outbreaks, while implementing policies to promote inclusive growth on a path towards the NDP Vision 2030.

But panellists warn that techno-sceptics have aligned with the geopolitical agenda of pushing an anti-China agenda, and by implication, an anti-Huawei agenda, which would become more intense over the next few months as the Chinese Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary, and by implication its success in lifting people out of extreme poverty. The World Bank has stated that China has lifted 850 million citizens out of extreme poverty.

“It can, therefore, be concluded that the centrality of Information technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa’s development trajectory is so important, that it is critical to dispel these notions and engage in an active knowledge-sharing campaign to counter the disinformation,” notes the institute.

The NDP states that by 2030 South Africa should have a higher global share of dynamic products, and greater depth and breadth of domestic linkages with a fund dedicated to accelerating internet access for under-served communities – and 5G can play a pivotal role in helping eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030.

* Edwin Naidu is a freelancer who writes for the Wits Justice Project, among other publications.

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