South Africa is rapidly establishing technologically advanced infrastructure to respond to the needs of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).  For instance, the country is already home to the world's largest 3D printer.  Housed at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the printer uses titanium powder to create complex components with potential application in a range of industrial sectors.

 

Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of the DSI, commented on the CSIR's work in the 4IR space during his address at the sixth edition of the South Africa-UNESCO Engineering Conference.

 

Held at North-West University's (NWU's) Mahikeng campus from 23 to 27 September 2019, the week-long conference brought together role players from various engineering fields to discuss opportunities and challenges and propose strategies South Africa can adopt to develop relevant and future-oriented capacity and capabilities.

 

Citing the global importance of engineering, Dr Mjwara said there was a growing understanding that many of the problems facing the world were engineering challenges.  These included providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation, redesigning cities to function as smart cities, safeguarding against cyberattacks, and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

 

"There is no doubt that engineering is a key enabler for addressing some of humanity's most urgent challenges, and can also serve as a critical enabler for developing countries to benefit from the opportunities of the 4IR."

 

Noting the commitment to investing in the training of engineers for the Southern African Development Community and Africa as a whole, Dr Mjwara said that this should be geared not only at enhancing productivity in key sectors of the economy, but also at positioning the region and the continent for the opportunities of the 4IR.

 

Also addressing the conference, Prof. Marilyn Setlalentoa, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Community Engagement and Operations at NWU, said that one of the university's core focuses was engaged scholarship.

 

"Our desire is to prepare students for the future by offering quality and relevant education and to conduct research that is responsive to our communities and the country."

 

Prof. Job Mokgoro, Premier of the North West, told delegates that government urgently needed skills to improve the delivery of services to the people.  He said the skills deficit experienced in various economic sectors was due to a growing mismatch between the skills demanded by industry and those that were in supply.

 

To address this skills deficit and help grow the province, the North West Provincial Government and NWU had signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in various fields and disciplines of common interest.

 

"We therefore commit ourselves to closely monitor the discussions of this conference, because central to our development as the sixth provincial administration is the massification of our infrastructure development programme", the Premier said.

 

Mr Christopher Tsatsawane, Executive for Strategic Services at the Engineering Council of South Africa, called on the government, academia and industry to work together in responding to the challenges and opportunities of the 4IR.

 

"We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to shoot ahead across times of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing to create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power," Mr Tsatsawane said.

 

"This translates to ensuring that the school curriculum reflects the pace of development and the huge range of technologies presented by the fourth industrial revolution, which is not part of the gradual technological trends that we've experienced in the past."

 

The event also featured an engaging exhibition, geared at learners and students alike, that showcased 4IR trends and technologies ranging from high performance computing to space weather.