South Africans need to reshape their thinking and take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution as it will determine the future of humankind, said South Africa's Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe at a World Economic Forum Africa debrief session hosted by the Wits Business School.
The Minister in the Presidency - Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation (DPME) engaged in a panel discussion with Nicolaas Kruger, CEO of MMI Holdings, Cas Coovadia, Managing Director of the Banking Association of South Africa and Deputy Chairman of the SADC Banking Association and Zeblon Vilakazi‚ Wits deputy-vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs. The panel was led by Wits Business School's Executive in Residence, Euvin Naidoo.
The aim of the session was to open up the conversation in light of WEF and provide the public with some of the key findings “team South Africa” made at the recently hosted WEF 2016 in Kigali.
"If we fear this, we are going to be falling behind like the first, second and third revolution - so what I take from Kigali is that, let's be prepared as South Africans for this forth industrial revolution, all policymakers, government, business, labour, let's sit together and see how we can be participant in this great revolution that is determining the future of mankind," said Radebe.
At the World Economic Forum, Radebe says he was told that in about 20 years’ time, 60 per cent of the jobs that will be occupied do not yet exist.
“This is the reality we have to contend with, that is why I am saying, let's reshape our thinking, let's not be fixated about what we believe is the most important challenge that we face today - but let us look to the future.”
Using the example of the ongoing dispute between Uber and metered taxis, Radebe says that goes to the heart of what this fourth industrial revolution is about and will result in conflict.
"The confluence of all this technology, imagine technology's breakthrough, covering artificial intelligence, internet-of-things, robotics and 3D printing.
After giving a historical breakdown of how borders were created, the minister explained why South Africa appears to be less inclined to open up its borders to other African countries in the East and the West regions.
"In our own consciousness, we always believe that the goal is to have a unified Africa, so all the steps we take are aimed at ensuring that this agenda 2063 can only be attained if we remove all these artificial boundaries by having free movement of people,” Radebe said.
He adds: “There are steps that are being taken by the African Union among others - infrastructure, making sure that we interconnect Africa by rail, road, communication, by air and so on - those programmes of action are there.”
Some focus was put on basic education but the panellists agreed that it was not enough, however the minister did highlight that there is a programme which came about through the National Development Plan, and 300 billion rand so far is an indication that the plan is being implemented.
“It is true that we spend a lot of money as a percentage of our national budget on education is the apex of our priorities but I think the challenge is the quality of the spending," said Radebe.
The minister referred to the report in 2014 where inspectors tested matric maths teachers and some of them failed, when they are tasked with overseeing them.
"Our problems are very deep-seated in South Africa, I believe it will take some time but I think we need to do more in order to accelerate that problem - one of the things I think we need to emphasise is early childhood development (ECD).
The minister added: “That is why the government is rejigging its strategy of pumping more resources in early childhood development in order for us to get these outcomes that we desire.”
Despite all the optimism and willingness to be part of this revolution, Zeblon Vilakazi‚ Wits deputy-vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs, gave a breakdown of the statistics and how far the country has yet to go to catch up with regards to STEM sectors (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).
"Brazil has one engineer per 300 people, South Africa which has ten times the number of engineers per people is one in 3 500 - that speaks about the kind of talent that we still have yet untapped in this country,” said Vilakazi.
Radebe said the estimate is that by the year 2020, 250 million Africans will be between the ages of 15 and 24, and the challenge is not only creating jobs fast enough to keep pace with the growing population growth, but to also equip the youth with the skills to join productive force.
“The aim is to bring about growth that is not just environmentally sustainable but also economically empowering."
The minister emphasised the usefulness of the WEF as two projects have come from the forum, the Urban Water Alliance, which emanated from WEF Davos in January 2015 and the relationship between the presidency, DPME, Boston Consulting Group and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) was cemented in Cape Town.
"In summary this revolution is characterised by a range of new technologies that infuse physical digital and biological webs impacting on all disciplines, economies and industries.”
“WEF Africa agreed that our continent should use the opportunities presented by this fourth industrial revolution to transform itself into a full partner on a global stage,” said Minister Radebe.