The launch of South Africa’s first digital economy summit, endorsed by Cabinet, was announced on Thursday at the University of the Witwatersrand's (Wits') Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub by Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
The summit is due to take place at the end of June.
“As we unpack the critical components of [the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)], it is important that people are placed at the centre of the conversation,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.
“As government, this is woven into all our 4IR interventions and, as such, we have been deliberate in seeking collaborative efforts that build a capable 4IR army. In the same breath, we must ensure that we create and own solutions that respond to our unique requirements as a country. Lastly, it is imperative that all sectors find expression in the 4IR conversation.”
Wits is a founding partner of 4IRSA, a partnership that aims to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to 4IR in South Africa.
It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on 4IR.
“We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality and, in so doing, create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power,” said Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib.
The 4IRSA partnership was founded by the universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, with Deloitte Africa joining as a facilitation and knowledge partner and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services as the public sector partner.
As the initiative grows, it will include greater participation from government, labour, business, civil society and researchers.
On show at the launch announcement were some of the technologies associated with 4IR, such as a three-dimensional printer printing the 4IRSA logo, a robot crane made from drone recycled material and a hydroponic garden.
Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko hailed 4IRSA as a potential economic and developmental game-changer for the country.
The universities of Johannesburg and Fort Hare are also focusing research attention on 4IR, with a number of different projects and courses.
‘’Industry 4.0, as the 4IR is also known, is changing the world of work, because artificially intelligent machines now perform tasks that were traditionally performed by human beings,” said University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor and principal Professor Tshilidzi Marwala.
“The consequence of this change is that the world of work is shrinking. Economic inequality will also increase, which will result in social instability. This will, in turn, undermine democracy.”
The University of Fort Hare believes the 4IRSA collaboration is central to the way we reimagine higher education and its purpose.
Deloitte, which has played a pivotal role in workshops with different sectors of the economy in the lead up to the summit, says it is proud to be a part of the initiative.