President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state-of-the-nation address, delivered in parliament on Thursday evening, was the most technology-focused speech ever delivered by a South African head of state.
The speech was peppered with references to the impact of technology on the economy, the need to develop skills for the so-called “fourth Industrial Revolution” and a requirement for a major shake-up in education to prepare the country to compete in the digital global economy.
His address touched on everything from the allocation of radio frequency spectrum for mobile broadband, which he said will happen soon, to a plan to create digital hubs in townships to help develop tech businesses. He also spoke about the importance of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope and other astronomy projects in positioning the country as a leader in the field of science and technology.
Here is everything Ramaphosa said in his speech that touched on ICT and science.
On spectrum allocation
“We are pleased to report that significant progress has been made in restoring policy certainty on mining regulation and the visa regime, crafting the path towards mobile spectrum allocation, and reviewing port, rail and electricity prices. The telecommunications sector represents vast potential for boosting economic growth. The minister of communications will shortly be issuing a policy direction to Icasa for the licensing of the high-demand radio frequency spectrum.”
On business process outsourcing
“In line with Jobs Summit commitments, we will focus on the export of manufactured goods and trade in services such as business process outsourcing and the remote delivery of medical services.”
On business incubation
“Given the key role that small businesses play in stimulating economic activity and employment – and in advancing broad-based empowerment – we are focusing this year on significantly expanding our small business incubation programme.
“The incubation programme provides budding entrepreneurs with physical space, infrastructure and shared services, access to specialised knowledge, market linkages, training in the use of new technologies and access to finance.
“The incubation programme currently consists of a network of 51 technology business incubators, 10 enterprise supplier development incubators and 14 rapid youth incubators.
“As part of the expansion of this programme, township digital hubs will be established, initially in four provinces, with more to follow. We expect these hubs to provide most needed entrepreneurial service to small and medium enterprises in the rural areas and townships but more especially to young people who want to start their businesses. Our greatest challenge is to create jobs for the unemployed of today, while preparing workers for the jobs of tomorrow.”
On new jobs
“Progress is being made in the areas of installation, repair and maintenance jobs, digital and tech jobs like coding and data analytics, as well as global business services. These enable us to absorb more youth – especially those exiting schools and colleges, and those not in any education, training or employment – into productive economic activity and further work opportunities. As government, we have decided that the requirement for work experience at entry level in state institutions will be done away with. Our young people need to be given a real head start in the world of work. They should not face barriers and hindrances as they seek to find work.”
On basic education
“Over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device. We will start with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multi-grade, multiphase, farm and rural schools. Already, 90% of textbooks in high enrolment subjects across all grades and all workbooks have been digitised.
“In line with our Framework for Skills for a Changing World, we are expanding the training of both educators and learners to respond to emerging technologies including the Internet of things, robotics and artificial intelligence. Several new technology subjects and specialisations will be introduced, including technical mathematics and technical sciences, maritime sciences, aviation studies, mining sciences and aquaponics.
“To expand participation in the technical streams, several ordinary public schools will be transformed into technical high schools.”
On technological change and science
“As we grapple with the challenges of our recent past, and as we deepen our efforts to overcome the grave injustices of centuries, it is essential that we do so with our eyes firmly fixed on the future. The world we now inhabit is changing at a pace and in a manner that is unprecedented in human history. Revolutionary advances in technology are reshaping the way people work and live. They are transforming the way people relate to each other, the way societies function and the way they are governed.
“As a young nation, only 25 years into our democracy, we are faced with a stark choice. It is a choice between being overtaken by technological change or harnessing it to serve our developmental aspirations. It is a choice between entrenching inequality or creating shared prosperity through innovation.
“Unless we adapt, unless we understand the nature of the profound change that is reshaping our world, and unless we readily embrace the opportunities it presents, the promise of our nation’s birth will forever remain unfulfilled. Today, we choose to be a nation that is reaching into the future.
“In doing so, we are building on a platform of extraordinary scientific achievement. The successful construction in the Northern Cape of the MeerKAT telescope, the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, and the development of the Square Kilometre Array has enabled South Africa to develop capabilities in areas such as space observation, advanced engineering and supercomputing.
“These skills and capabilities are being used to build HERA, a radio telescope designed to detect, for the first time, the distinctive radio signal from the very first stars and galaxies that formed early in the life of the universe.
“This is not merely about advancing human understanding of the origins of the universe – it is about responding to the challenges that face South Africans now and into the future. It is about developing the technology and the capabilities that will build a dynamic and competitive economy that creates decent, sustainable jobs. It is about enhanced food security, better disease management, and cheaper, cleaner and more efficient energy. It is about smart human settlements and social development solutions built around people’s needs and preferences. It is about smarter, more responsive, more effective governance.
“To ensure that we effectively and with greater urgency harness technological change in pursuit of inclusive growth and social development, I have appointed a Presidential Commission on the 4th Industrial Revolution. Comprised of eminent persons drawn from different sectors of society, the commission will serve as a national overarching advisory mechanism on digital transformation. It will identify and recommend policies, strategies and plans that will position South Africa as a global competitive player within the digital revolution space.”
This article was published with the permission of TechCentral. The original publication can be viewed here.