Department of Science and Technology

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Maputo, Mozambique


Panel: “the impact of the digital economy on Africa”

General questions


1. Africa has shown that it can be highly innovative and lead the world as with Mobile Money (M-Pesa), but in terms of access and adoption to the digital world, it is trailing. What do you see as the main inhibitor to the growth of a digital economy in Africa?


Two key inhibitors are reach (roads and energy) and access (cost). Basic infrastructure is not as well developed and widely accessible as in Asia, Europe and North America. This increases the cost of deploying telecommunication infrastructure, which has adverse impact on cost of services.


Another inhibitor is content. Most of our government services are still not available online and even where they are available they are not available in all SA languages. The World Bank estimates that 80% of online content is available in only one language.


2. Would you share your Government plans and initiatives to maximise the benefits your country can gain from the digital world?


We have put together a number of policy interventions and associated implementation plans to extend infrastructure and to lower the cost of access to digital services.


The National Development Plan is our policy blueprint, while the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission has been put together to coordinate and monitor the implementation on the NDP. This includes basic infrastructure, such as roads and energy, that have impact on telecommunication infrastructure as well the extension of ICT infrastructure.


In ICT, government is implementing a broadband policy and has partnered with industry under the World Economic Forum Internet for all initiative. The main aim of the initiative is to connect the unconnected 22 million South Africans by 2020.


The ICT industry invested R28 billion in 2016 on general network improvements as well as fibre deployment in major urban areas. We know that South Africans believe that data prices must fall, and that data prices are lower in most African countries.


3. How do you ensure that you have adequately skilled people for the ever-evolving needs of business? Specifically should policymakers implement a national labour strategy to include skills development, capacity building and vocational training?


Clearly we need to do more in maths and science education. Doing well in maths and science at school makes it easier to do well in maths and science in tertiary education and that means a better chance of useful employment in our science-and-technology-driven world.


We need a better plan for improving our maths and science in schools. Our national maths strategy, called dinaledi, was designed in 2001 and although the World Bank has called it a success, we need to review the model so that we can improve this crucial component of our school system.


A couple of years ago US Professor Carnoy undertook a comparative study of maths teaching in schools in the North West and in Botswana. It was very revealing. The level of teachers’ maths knowledge in South Africa and Botswana is simply too low – worse in South Africa than in Botswana and both worse than in Kenya.


Labour shortages in ICT fields severely limit innovation. Increasing the supply of the highly skilled will take time, requiring strengthened primary and secondary education, and adult education, vocational training, and entrepreneurship programs that build skills and create employment.


A complementary way to improve the skills supply is to encourage highly skilled professionals to work in South Africa. This is what the government’s current migration white paper suggests.


Specific questions for South Africa


1. Youth employment is recognised as a major challenge. It is also recognised that a healthy SMB environment is the best way of growing employment opportunities. How do you see digital enablement for SMB working within your country?


The National Youth Development Agency helps create opportunities for youth employment and youth entrepreneurship by developing, funding and supporting effective programmes. The fund was established by the South African Government in response to the high youth unemployment in the country.


This is complemented by the industry working with a number of innovation hubs across the country such as the Mlab, The Innovation Hub in Pretoria, the University of Witwatersrand Tshimologong Precinct, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Cape Innovation and Technology initiative among others.


2. In May of this year, talking about South Africa’s need to finalise digital migration you stated: “We have been slow on the uptake of digital migration, but the government is fixing that up now. We cannot afford to be left behind.” Can you expand on that, in particular explain what your government has implement recently to deliver on this promise?


Finalisation of digital migration is one of the priorities of our government; a new deadline of December 2018 has been set to finalise this project. We have recently set up a multi stakeholder advisory committee, driven by government and industry, to accelerate the project.


The committee is tasked with responsibility to provide strategic guidance, advice and support to the Department of Communications and to facilitate resource mobilization and support from the industry to ensure swift and effective finalization of the project. The committee is also developing a holistic public education and awareness campaign programme.

The migration has already been completed at the SKA site in the Northern Cape and is currently working with Free State provincial government on the roll-out in that province.


3. Your department’s 2016/17 budget was the same as the previous year. Is South Africa investing enough in science, technology and innovation to ensure you have the capacity and knowledge resources to respond to the rapid-changing demands of the global digital economy?


South Africa sees research and development as an important catalyst for growth in the economy and has budgeted R13.6 billion over the medium term, with R1 billion set aside in 2018/2019 for innovation-oriented activities. This is not as high as our counterparts and we are working towards increasing this investment to about 1% of our GDP.


In ICT, the first step was to develop a 10-year ICT RDI roadmap which was approved in 2013. Government is making substantial investments in ICT research and development and infrastructure as part of this roadmap, and is continually engaging industry to match government investment so that we can develop globally competitive products and services together.