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.