Opening remarks

Leaders of government;

Leaders of business;

Leaders of academia;

Leaders of research institutions;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:


Thank you for the invitation to come and speak at this important gathering- the 5th Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba.


Our conception of the Fourth Industrial Revolution


The chosen focus of this conference, which is metals and engineering, forms part of the key growth sectors that have been identified by South Africa’s 6th administration, under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa.  We are also of the view that these two sectors are going play a key role in preparing South Africa for the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR).


Before I share with you our own efforts and initiatives as a Department, in helping prepare our country for the FIR, it is perhaps important that I start by clarifying our understanding for the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Much of the current focus and understanding of the 4IR is focused on digital technologies, specifically issues such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things.


As you know, digital technology development is a major driving force but the 4IR is about the convergence of digital, biological and physical technologies that force us to rethink every known human endeavour whether this is about mobility, communication, nutrition, health, education, or leisure. In a nutshell, is the speed of development of technologies across all 3 fronts and the ability to combine these technologies towards specific ends which countries all over the world are grappling with.


Preparing South Africa for the Fourth Industrial Revolution


As the Department responsible for the coordination of South Africa’s National System of Innovation (NSI), we recognise that we live in a world that is increasingly experiencing rapid technological changes and these changes compel us to position our country for a future that will be significantly defined by the fourth industrial revolution.


In practice, this means that we have to prepare the South African public sector to increasingly change its approach to public engagement and policy development. This will entail among others, increasing government’s policy response and intelligence through the use of real live data and investment in digital infrastructure. This will obviously also require new approaches to how we train our public servants.


On the basis of the above, I would like to reflect on the different dimensions of readiness from a science, technology and innovation perspective and look at how we are doing as South Africa and further identify opportunities for doing more.


Technology governance


At a policy level, we are of the view that, one of the factors that will shape how technologies are ultimately deployed, the speed and direction of deployment and whether such deployment creates new risk and challenges- is the issue of technology governance.


Technology governance is not simply about how government enables and regulates new technologies, but also about issues like industry-wide standards and protocols. The cross-border nature of technologies means that no individual country or company has managed to effectively deal with technology governance. Technology governance is also happening in many different places and is not as effectively coordinated as it should be.  


Furthermore, a key development in maturing technology governance is the effort by the World Economic Forum through its Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This Centre with hubs and affiliates across the globe is intended to accelerate the development, piloting and adoption of technology governance frameworks and protocols so that new and emerging technologies can help created a human-centric 4IR world.


Through the Department of Science and Innovation, our country has agreed to establish an affiliate centre. We are currently in the process of mobilising a wide range of partners (especially the private sector) to work together on technology governance issues that will enable South Africa to take advantage of the 4IR technologies.


Platforms for new research and the development of new technologies


In the creation of new research areas and technologies, even though we have a relatively small science system, we have notable effort and activity across the university sector and science councils in the full range of technology areas that underpin the 4IR. This includes data analytics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, connectivity (including 5G), nanotechnology, robotics, additive manufacturing, biotechnology, quantum computing, etc.


With respect to publicly funded research efforts, we have commissioned a baseline and literature survey study of the 4IR in South Africa. The findings of this study are expected to be presented by the HSRC during the first part of the next fiscal year.  


We are also building a platform called the converging technologies platform that we hope will enable this. We hope that the private sector would engage with the platform and look at how various technological capabilities can be used to address specific industry challenges.


Further concepts such as the Converging Technologies Platform and Inclusive Development Platform, both of which are directed at enhancing the country’s ability to take advantage of the 4IR, are currently being refined. The Converging Technologies Platform (CTP) will provide a platform to develop deep capabilities in niche areas across a variety of technology areas.


This will integrate various capabilities within the National System of Innovation to support competitiveness and service delivery.  The CTP, once finalised will enable better deployment of resources based on need and evidence and greater partnership between industry and government.


Them there is the Inclusive Development Platform (IDP) which is envisaged to provide policy, advisory and decision support.  It will have a strong international orientation but with a bias for a developing country.  It will be constituted of experts that provide a critical analysis of the both advantages and unintended consequences of the FIR.


Another important aspect of readiness is our ability to convert technological capabilities into application.  We have made important progress in this regard over the last few years. This included the establishment of the Technology Innovation Agency and the creation of specific funding instruments. However, the scale of these are sub-optimal and government continues to strengthen this policy area. We are also making good progress with industry and business in terms of partnerships.


Technology enterprise development


In the area of technology enterprise development, an important and urgent requirement is for companies, especially small and medium enterprises, to get a better sense of the opportunities from the 4IR technologies and approaches. In this regard, we have plans to introduce a stronger focus in this regard through the network of technology stations that it funds at universities of technology. In addition, organisations like CSIR have package their offerings in this regard and creating new facilities and offerings.


This include the establishment of a Smart Factory Demonstration facility. I am confident that Dr. Dlamini as a member of this panel will provide more details and information in this regard.


Human capital development


Another a key aspect of readiness is the issue of skills and capabilities. We have been experimenting with approaches that strengthen skills and capabilities in specific areas. Similarly, the DHET is looking at a range of ways of strengthening skills and capabilities. It is blessing that the DSI and DHET are now under one Minister. This will enable us to look at the issue of skills and capabilities in a more coordinated manner.


Youth involvement and public awareness


We also recognise the importance of youth and community involvement in all that we do. For this reason, we are also partnering with companies, other government departments, NGO’s and developmental institutions to create a network of centres where young people, particularly the youth in rural and townships, can be in a position to access the IR technologies, training, and support. We would welcome a strong partnership with industry in this regard.


Related to this, of the several Science Centres that we will roll out over the next year have been designed to have a greater service offering for youth and technopreneurs beyond STEMI awareness.  This includes the installation of technologies that demonstrate 4IR in the local community and transfer of knowledge by top experts using virtual systems.


There is also a parliamentary process, which is underway, that includes the CSIR and is aimed at orientating legislators about the FIR.  This will ensure that Members of Parliament are better equipped to deal with the variety of new and often overlapping legislation that will presented to them as a result of the advent of the FIR.


Related to this, is the establishment of an Information and Sharing and Coordination Committee consisting of DSI and its entities in order to better coordinate and co-leverage on 4IR initiatives taking place throughout the national system of innovation.


International collaboration


In the area of international collaboration, in addition to the DSl’s participation in government structures around 4IR policy, through the Human Sciences Research Council, we have initiated a South Africa - European Union 4IR Policy Dialogue in December 2018.  It is expected that the information disseminated from this dialogue will be fed into the broader government 4IR policy development process. 


A study tour has been scheduled in the next two weeks, during which the delegation will engage with several meso-level institutions in the EU who have made significant strides in understanding and embracing the 4IR.  This will be done with the aim of transferring and adapting these learnings for the South African context.


Challenges to be addressed


By all accounts, these are extremely exciting sets of activities, which is pursued properly, can yield meaningful results for our country. However, to be in position to take full advantage of these new and exciting growth areas, there are at least three challenges that we have identified that need to be addressed by our national system of innovation, together with the private sector. 


Firstly, we have not yet fully identified targeted niche areas where South Africa can emerge as world leaders.  Part of the reason for this is the weak links between the research community and business. We believe that with stronger links where business prioritises locally developed technologies, we will be in a much better position to target high-potential niche areas.


An example of this is the Nelson Mandela Mining Precinct. This as some of you know is a government-industry partnership, where South Africa can become a world leader in underground internet of things, communication and connectivity solutions. Similarly, our meerKAT project has also helped to champion high-potential niche areas.


The second challenge is that the available capacity is too small when compared to global efforts. We need to continue growing our high-level research capabilities in niche opportunity areas.


Thirdly, unlike other countries, we do not yet have an effective way of bringing together various technological capabilities to support particular areas of application. For example, mining, health, manufacturing, etc.


Concluding remarks


As stated earlier, we have undertaken all these initiatives with the aim of preparing our country for the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, it is important to also state that, as the Department of Science and Innovation, we don’t just aim to position South Africa as a global leader in the areas of science, technology and innovation.


We also undertake all these initiatives with the full knowledge that we have a moral and political obligation to use science, technology and innovation to usher in a more equal and humane society. We believe an increasingly socially conscious approach to the application of science, technology and innovation can bring us closer to this noble goal.


Thank you.