Northern Cape MEC for Education, Ms Grizelda Cjiekella-Lecholo;

Head of Development Cooperation in the EU Delegation to South Africa, Mr Richard Young;

Acting Executive Director of the CSIR Defence, Peace, Safety and Security Unit, Mr Laurens Cloete;

Leaders of Industry;

Members of the education fraternity;

Members of the media;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:

 

It is a great pleasure to participate in the launch of the Northern Cape phase of the Wireless Mesh Network technology demonstrator project, also known as Broadband For All, and to be in the presence of such an interesting group of educators, learners, researchers, and traditional and local government leaders.

 

This year we are celebrating South Africa's twentieth year of democracy, and the launch today appropriately draws public attention to some potent technological tools for inclusive socio-economic development, without which our democracy will be unable to flourish.

 

The information and communication technologies project that we are launching here today will do much to help rural and marginalised communities, which currently face challenges such as –

·                   a lack of access to information and communications technologies, hampering economic development;

·                   suboptimal government services because government offices are not linked to the systems of their head offices or do not have telephones; and

·                   a lack of support and maintenance of ICT infrastructure.

 

These days it is common knowledge that information and communication technologies have a positive impact on society and the economy, both as an industrial production sector and through the demand effect they have on other economic sectors and society.

 

Since 2002, when ICT was identified in the National Research and Development Strategy as one of four technology missions that should receive attention, my department has championed ICT research, development and innovation, and has developed strategies and established programmes and institutional mechanisms to maximise returns on investments in ICT research and development.

 

One of these institutional mechanisms is the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Meraka Institute, which prides itself on having the largest concentration of ICT researchers in the country. Meraka has programmes looking into prototypes, large scale technology demonstrators and packaged solutions to address key government priorities such as education, health and enhanced citizen interaction with government.

 

Let me mention some of the programmes that being implemented by the Meraka Institute with the support of my department.

 

The large scale technology demonstrator in wireless mesh networks to support the rural broadband connectivity initiative of government. The project is currently implemented in rural district municipalities of Nkangala in Mpumalanga, Sekhukhune in Limpopo, and here in the JT Gaetsewe District Municipality.

 

In Cofimvaba, the DST is supporting a pilot project called ICT for Rural Education Development, which has been introduced in the area as a means of supporting traditional teaching and learning with digital content on tablets.  This is part of the larger Technology for Rural Education Development project, a collaborative effort between the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Basic Education, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and the Eastern Cape Department of Education.  This is aimed at contributing to the improvement of rural education through technology led innovation.

 

Then there is the human language technology research programme, which addresses South Africa's language diversity and supports the inclusive use of ICT to enhance government service delivery.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, we must take control of our own destiny and leverage ICT to benefit our citizens and make South Africa more competitive internationally.  To do this, we will have to significantly increase and sustain levels of public and private investment in ICT research, development and innovation.  We also need a clearly articulated vision and strategic direction.

 

In this regard, my department, in partnership with the Meraka Institute and relevant stakeholders, developed a 10 year ICT Research, Development and Innovation Implementation Roadmap.

 

The Roadmap provides a framework for the planning and coordination of technology developments, and serves as an anchor point for attracting increased public and private investment in ICT research, development and innovation.  The Roadmap will guide the choices we make by focusing on the areas that offer the greatest opportunity for the ICT industry, for the economy and for South African society.

 

Opportunities for the application of ICT in response to socioeconomic needs were identified and grouped into six clusters.  The clusters represent areas of significant and attractive market need, in which we can feasibly build on existing capability in order to affect wealth, society and national advantage.  The six clusters are broadband Infrastructure and Services, ICT for Development, Sustainability and the Environment, Industry Applications, Grand Science and the Service Economy.

 

Today, I am going to concentrate on the Broadband Infrastructure and Services cluster, which is most relevant to the project we are launching. The work of this cluster will entail research and innovation in future means of providing access through wireless technologies and broadband services infrastructure. We have already partnered with the private sector on limited television white-space technology pilots, and we are in advanced discussions about establishing and supporting a university-based research laboratory on fibre optic networks and technology.

 

The result of our investments should be visibly increased broadband access, as well as improved government service delivery.

 

The Department of Science and Technology supports other government initiatives such as the Strategic Integrated Project 15, which is concerned with expanding access to communications technology. Meraka is the lead agency coordinating the development of the implementation plan for this.

 

The Department also continues to influence government policy such as the Department of Communications' National Broadband Policy, called South Africa Connect, which was approved by Cabinet at the end of last year.  South Africa Connect envisages that by 2030 South Africa will have a seamless network of networks that will make broadband universally accessible at a cost and quality that meets the needs of the citizens, formal and informal business, and the public sector.

 

The Broadband Policy gives recognition to the ICT RDI Implementation Roadmap as the guiding document for investment in research and development.  It also encourages line departments such as the Department of Communications to collaborate closely with the DST to achieve the objectives of the Broadband Policy.

 

Projects such the Wireless Mesh Network are geared towards influencing policy in terms of the selection of technologies employed and business models used to deploy and provide services, especially in rural areas.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to urge all the role players in this project to ensure that the interventions and models implemented are aligned with government's key priorities and socio-economic development imperatives like job creation, skills development, poverty eradication and the creation of vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities.

 

In this context, it is important to consider the following questions

How can government take advantage of access to ICT services and devices to enhance service delivery in education and health care, among others? How can people meaningfully use broadband connectivity to access information, services, products and opportunities? What would be the most appropriate business models to use to ensure the sustainability of these innovations? To all of us, what is our role in making sure that the schools that have benefited from the project have adequate and modern access devices? Lastly, which of the socio-economic opportunities presented by the project, including drivers and spillovers, can be leveraged or supported by local government?

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sure that if all role players respond adequately to these questions, we shall have set in motion our quest to nurture future generations of knowledge developers, who will ensure the building of vibrant and sustainable knowledge-based South African economy, as well as addressing developmental challenges.

 

In closing, Programme Director, I would like to reiterate the importance we put on ICT research, development and innovation in empowering communities.

 

The Department of Science and Technology attaches high value to the partnerships that make our work in this regard possible.  I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the European Union, whose Sector Budget Support allocation has supported various DST interventions using science, technology and innovation to reduce poverty through job creation, develop small and medium enterprises, grow the economy and improve South Africans' quality of life.  We are also very grateful to Kumba Iron Ore, which is supporting the Northern Cape phase of the Wireless Mesh Network project. 

 

I hope that this project will be of great benefit to the learners and communities involved, and that it will inspire many other organisations and corporations to support ICT innovations for development, making our country and our continent a better place in which to live.

 

Thank you.