Lost in Transition: South Africa’s urgent need to catch up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Lost in Transition: South Africa's urgent need to catch up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Lost in Transition: South Africa's urgent need to catch up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Durban — Globalisation has ensured that counties’ economies are interconnected while engaging in global competition. Technologically advanced countries tend to do better than none technologically advanced countries, and this is worth reflecting on due to the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The 4IR brings transformative technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics and many more. The question we must wrestle with now is whether South Africa is prepared for the 4IR. It is essential that South Africa must adopt these technologies and apply them well to suit our unique national context.

They are plenty 4IR technologies that can assist with fixing South Africa’s immediate problems. The first one worth mentioning is corruption around the tender procurement process, as seen in Ukraine. Ukraine adopted artificial intelligence programs such as ProZorro and DoZorro, which drastically reduce corruption. These programs act as vigilant watchdogs that immediately identifies and reports irregular tender contracts that stray from the principles of meritocracy. Additionally, their transparent nature allows all citizens of the country to go online and see where, why, and how the tenders were distributed, thus diminishing corruption.

Furthermore, 4IR can assist in South Africa’s food security problems by leveraging biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and robotics. This allows farmers to practice precision farming, which enables them to increase crop yields while minimising resource input. The South African citrus industry is an excellent example of this, as they use precision farming to consistently stand as one of the top five citrus exporters globally. These technologies not only increase agricultural productivity but can assist the country in battling food security issues.

President Cyril Ramaphosa championed these technologies in his keynote address at the 2019 4IR digital summit in Johannesburg. He believes these technologies can extract trillions of rands and shelter the country from economic recession.

Unfortunately, a solid case can be made that South Africa is not ready to adopt these technologies. A large portion of the labour market is unskilled, with their jobs at risk of displacement. Senior Lecturer Daniel le Roux at Stellenbosch University said research demonstrates that an estimated 35 percent of South African workers (4.5 million people) jobs may be automated in the near future.

The absence of skilled workers to understand and use 4IR technologies in order for South Africa to compete in the global market is concerning. Unless the government takes steps to retrain, up-skill, and transform the workforce, only a few digitally skilled workers may benefit from the 4IR. Consequently, emerging technologies may increase unemployment and widen the income gap.

Students in higher education should be trained in futuristic educational curricula to continue to possess relevant skills.

The re-training towards a digital economy should include high-profile jobs, such as managers, directors, and CEOs. Leaders of companies are also ill-prepared for the 4IR, as illustrated in a Deloitte (2019) study aimed at assessing the preparedness of South African executives for these emerging technologies. Within this study, 96 percent of respondents thought their companies needed more time to prepare for the 4IR.

The above point is also supported by Molly and Ronnie’s (2021) study of the South African life insurance companies’ preparedness for the 4IR. These authors concluded that the firms studied needed more competent leaders, skill sets, and agility to embrace the 4IR.

Moreover, the digital economy requires a strong internet backbone. South Africa had 43.48 million internet users (72 percent of the total population) at the start of the year. South Africa has made strides in making internet services more accessible and faster, as seen in the increase of 357 thousand new internet users between January 2022 and 2023. Additionally, the increase of mobile internet connection speed in South Africa increased by 20.2 percent between January and November 2022.

Despite these advances, we still have a long way to go, as 16.66 million people remain off-line as of January 2023. These people will likely be left behind the 4IR and have limited to no options to partake in the digital economy.

There is a urgent call to get all South Africans on the internet to participate in the digital economy. The government should look at building digital infrastructure such as fixed broadband, communications satellite, mobile telecommunications, cloud computing, and data centres. Lastly, data prices within the country should be cheapened to make connectivity accessible.

To continue to be globally competitive, South Africa must adopt these emerging technologies across industries and implement them appropriately within our context. Though currently unprepared for the 4IR, educating workers and improving network infrastructure can pave the way for a winning economy.

James Maisiri

The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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Source: https://www.iol.co.za/dailynews/opinion/lost-in-transition-south-africas-urgent-need-to-catch-up-with-the-fourth-industrial-revolution-b3c5360c-f3c9-4c2b-9623-19e313141012