With the rapid development of technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR), the government is making sure that South Africa is prepared to respond and participate effectively in this new age.


The Department of Science and Technology (DST) views the FIR as an opportunity to tap into new sources of growth.  The Department's Director-General, Dr Phil Mjwara, addressed the inaugural Africa Tech Week that took place in Cape Town this week.


Dr Mjwara said the DST's approach to the FIR is premised on new technologies in manufacturing, bioinnovation and digitalisation of the ICT sector, adding that the Department is also focusing on converging technology platforms.


In his address, the DG highlighted nine technologies that are transforming industrial production, including big data and analytics, autonomous robots, additive manufacturing and the industrial Internet of Things.


He said the Department had invested heavily in the Centre for High Performance Computing, which currently houses Africa's fastest supercomputer. He noted, however, that the work done with this computer had almost reached its physical limit.


"We are now looking at investing in the next generation of computing, which is quantum computing, and already the capability exists locally, at universities like Wits and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where these new technologies are being looked at.  The Department is looking to partner with the private sector in order stay within the curve."


The Director-General said the Department's work in the FIR is also focusing on the convergence of the digital with the physical and biological.  He mentioned work being done in additive manufacturing, saying that since 2010 there has been rapid growth in the application of 3D printers in the aerospace, medical and research fields, among others.


Dr Mjwara highlighted the 3D production of parts for the aerospace industry, through research being done at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in partnership with an aerospace company.


"The 3D production of aerospace parts is going to be incorporated in a global value chain," he said.  "Already, aerospace companies have begun testing the parts that are being manufactured at the CSIR.  We are also going to commercialise these 3D machines to export to the rest of the world."


These and several other initiatives are part of the necessary investments the government is making in technologies to position South Africa favourably for the FIR.


The Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, speaking on the second day of Africa Tech Week, said the country has made substantial investments in cyberinfrastructure, as well as in the acquisition and generation of data across various domains.


The Minister said that data would become the fuel of the FIR.  It was for this reason that data-intensive initiatives such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) were so important, as they positioned the country uniquely to derive substantial benefits from big data.  The Minister hastened to point out, however, that South Africa should not just be a collector of data.  "Rather, the economic, social, scientific and industrial beneficiation potential of big data for the country must be realised."


The Minister noted that the Internet of Things – a key pillar of the FIR – required certain infrastructure to be in place to be fully effective.


"Technologies such as 5G, Internet of Things sensors and platforms, edge computing, artificial intelligence and analytics, robotics, blockchain, additive manufacturing and virtual reality are coalescing into a fertile environment for the industrial Internet of Things."


According to Minister Kubayi-Ngubane, enabling the Internet of Things "will lead to an exponential increase in sensors capable of collecting vast amounts of data from every piece of equipment."


The Minister told the audience that the government was taking the FIR very seriously.  The Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, recently established by President Cyril Ramaphosa, would help South Africa to respond comprehensively to the new environment.


"Together with all stakeholders – business, labour and civil society – we will work to develop policies and regulations that will assist us to reap the benefits of the new technologies, while averting the risks and dangers that may arise because of these technologies.  We invite all of you to work with us to create a better future for all," the Minister concluded.


Issued by the Department of Science and Technology