Programme Director;

Dr Murat Sönmez, Head of C4IR Global Network, World Economic Forum;

Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor, University of Johannesburg and Deputy Chairperson, Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution;

Members of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution;

Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research;

Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General, Department of Science and Technology;

Business leaders;

Deputy directors-general;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:

 

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome all of you to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).  Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to join us this morning for this business breakfast consultation.  I would also like to thank Dr Murat Sönmez and his team from the World Economic Forum (WEF) for the good working relationship that we have developed, and for affording us the opportunity to partner with the WEF to host an affiliate centre of the WEF Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR).

 

We are very delighted today to sign the Host Government Accord between the South African government and the WEF on South Africa's hosting of a C4IR affiliate centre.  This signing is the culmination of extensive negotiations that started a year ago, and marks a very important milestone in our partnership.  This marks the beginning of a long and exciting journey together.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us.  The technologies associated with the phenomenon of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have already begun reshaping the way we produce goods and services; how we communicate and interact; how we administer health; how we educate the young; and how we do many other things that determine how we live.  It is no longer possible to discuss economic development without factoring in the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the economy as whole.  Any effort we make as a country to grow our economy will now largely be shaped by how quickly we are able to embrace and master the technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 

This irreversible global transformation is taking place in the context of a South Africa that is faced with the triple developmental challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment.  This means that our approach to the Fourth Industrial Revolution has to be responsive to these challenges.

 

As a country we have a responsibility to ensure that we not only become active participants in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but also come to a better understanding of the impact that this revolution will have on the pursuit of our priorities.  Armed with this understanding, we will able to wield these technologies to respond to our challenges.  The establishment of the South African C4IR affiliate centre is aimed precisely at providing a platform for stakeholders in South Africa to work together on the evolution of these new technologies.

 

The South African C4IR affiliate centre will be hosted by the CSIR and is intended to be a southern African hub for global, multi-stakeholder cooperation to develop policy frameworks and advance collaborations that accelerate the benefits of science and technology.  We live in a world that is globalised and globalising, making it important for humanity to find a common approach to achieving ethical governance frameworks for technological development.  This will ensure that the benefits of the new technologies are equitably distributed among the many.

 

In preparation for the launch of the centre, which will take place during the WEF Africa meeting scheduled for September 2019, we have convened this breakfast consultation today to formally invite you, the business sector, to come on board and partner with us in the centre.  The centre will provide a platform for cooperation between government and business.

 

While government is eager for tools to inform policies and the regulatory framework around new technology applications, business is eager to accelerate the benefits and mitigate the negative consequence of these technologies on society.

 

A collaborative approach between government and industry is important to ensure that 4IR interventions and business models are closely aligned to regulatory reform efforts, and that private sector developments do not undermine the role of the state in dealing with critical challenges such as deepening democracy, protecting human rights, and addressing the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

 

In anticipation of the launch of the centre at the WEF Africa meeting, the DST will also be engaging with other African governments and bodies such as the African Union Development Agency, which have a specific interest in the science, technology and innovation interface with industry, to secure their support for the work of the affiliate centre.

 

After extensive engagements with the WEF C4IR portfolio managers, the CSIR has decided to explore specific projects which could be undertaken by the South African affiliate centre.  These are related to –

·           artificial intelligence and machine learning;

·           the Internet of things;

·           blockchain and distributed ledger technology; and

·           precision medicine.

 

All of these areas will have application in the South African context as well as relevance for other African countries.  The governance of the South African centre will be optimally structured and capacitated to ensure that we maximise the benefits of our affiliation and ensure the maximum participation of all our partners.

 

The establishment of this centre at the CSIR coincides with the adoption of a new strategy that aims to reposition the CSIR for the future by working more closely with the private sector.  This strategy will be formally launched in the coming weeks.

 

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the names of the people who will form part of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  The Deputy Chair, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, and other members of the commission have joined us this morning.  Among other things, the commission will identify and recommend policies, strategies and plans that are needed to position South Africa as one of the leading countries in the evolution and development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 

In addition, the White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation was approved by Cabinet last month and is now officially our new long-term policy framework.  Among other things, the White Paper identifies the Fourth Industrial Revolution as an area to which we should pay close attention.  This means that the national system of innovation will be geared to have a coordinated response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 

Taken together, these initiatives demonstrate the seriousness with which government is treating the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  However, government alone, without societal stakeholders, will not be able to realise the benefits of the 4IR.  We are calling on all of you to work with us.  Our future depends on it.

 

Once again, I thank you all for joining us today.