Prof Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman and Founder of the World Economic Forum

Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO of the CSIR

Ladies and Gentlemen – young and emerging researchers – the future lifeblood of science and technology in South Africa


I am delighted to be able to join in the proceedings this morning as investment in, and support for, the next generation of South African researchers is one of the strategic priorities for our Government and of my Department specifically.   Indeed, events such as the CSIR Emerging Researcher Symposium play a crucial role in developing the human capital, South Africa needs, in order to achieve our mission of defeating poverty, unemployment and inequality.  I therefore value the opportunity to personally bring my message of encouragement and support to the emerging researchers gathered here.


More specifically, however, I am honoured to welcome to the campus of the CSIR, one of the entities, which report to my Department, Prof Klaus Schwab, a trusted friend and partner of our Government.   Later today, I will have the privilege to participate with Prof Schwab in a special round table convened by President Ramaphosa to discuss how in cooperation with the World Economic Forum, our Government should best promote international investment partnerships, which will accelerate growth and development in our country.  


Prof Schwab – our government is truly grateful for the hand of friendship extended by the WEF.   I am also honoured to be invited and look forward to participate in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of New Champions to be held in China in September this afternoon.  Later this afternoon, at the Presidential Round Table we will be discussing among other topics how South Africa should best prepare to respond to the opportunities and challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  We could of course not have wished for better advisers than the Forum and Prof Schwab personally, on this strategic imperative.


As stated by the Forum in one of its seminal reports on the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before."  In order to respond to these dynamics, President Ramaphosa had announced earlier this year the establishment of a Digital Revolution Commission to coordinate and align South Africa’s efforts, in which institutions like the CSIR, with regard to research and innovation will have a crucial role to play.


One of the key disruptive technologies of the Fourth Industrial Technology will be big data.  It an area South Africa is already significantly investing in, notably through our hosting of the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array or SKA, which will collect and analyse volumes of data of a much bigger scale than any other scientific project.  The CSIR is at the forefront of our efforts to invest in and develop capacities in associated technology domains such as sensor technology, high-performance computing, data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (including robotics.)


Our holistic perspective of how to harness disruptive technologies across a broad spectrum for the improvement of quality of life of South Africans, include programmes, again with the participation of the CSIR, in areas such as: genome analysis and genetic manipulation / engineering, nanotechnology, new materials, 3D printing, Earth observation and drone development.  We need to invest in these in order to ensure South Africa is not marginalised in the disruption of existing and creation of new global industries.


The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be fundamental across almost all economic sectors and societal benefit areas.  From a South African perspective, our efforts should be focused on priorities such as enhancing the competitiveness of our economy through smart manufacturing, including the enhancement of supply chains and logistics and infrastructure development; as well as the improvement of service delivery, for example through investment in smart city development and the delivery of health services.  Smart agriculture, drug development and testing as well as precision medicine, and energy generation and storage should be other priorities for technology investments.


Of course, any interrogation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution should include a priority focus of the impact on employment, specifically with regard to the possible loss of semi-skilled jobs and increasing inequality.   That is indeed a crucial challenge to which we should respond, given our advantage of few legacy systems, by leapfrogging directly to the latest technology, but within a strategic framework, which addresses our triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.   In this regard, I should recall that President Ramaphosa is currently serving as Co-Chair of the International Labour Organisation’s Global Commission on the Future of Work, which is reflecting on this challenge.


Our Government’s efforts in responding to the Fourth Industrial Revolution will include a concerted focus on digital infrastructure development, including with regard to broadband technologies and cloud computing, and of course, crucially, investment in education.   Our investments will be guided by criteria such as how best to achieve optimal socio-economic impact; strengthen our economy’s competitive advantages; and maximize learning and the development of skills and expertise of all South Africans.  


In all of this international partnership will be crucial – including with the Members of the World Economic Forum – and of course the sharing of experience and expertise.   I therefore very much look forward to be listening to Prof Schwab and am confident he will be inspired and impressed by his visit of the CSIR.


I thank you.