Minister of Digital Communications and Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams;

Executive Mayor of the OR Tambo District Municipality; Cllr Thokozile Sokhanyile;

Mayor of Nyandeni Local Municipality, Adv Mesuli Ngqodwana;

The traditional leadership of Mankosi and Zithulele villages;

 

Members of the media;

Ladies and gentlemen;

 

The National Development Plan (NDP) envisions a dynamic information society that is based on the knowledge economy. A society that is more inclusive, equitable and prosperous.

 

The NDP also envisions such a society to be a connected society that benefits all South Africans and is enabled by multiple stakeholders such as the private sector, academia and research institutions in the Information and communications technologies sector. 

 

As a Department we continue to work with our counterparts in all our spheres of government to achieve maximum convergence of all technologies - such as computing and information technology, telecommunications technology, audio and audio-visual content, the Internet and more traditional means for communication such as postal deliveries - as we further gravitate towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR).

 

As we may know, the 4IR will be driven largely by the convergence of digital, biological, and physical innovations.

 

Like the First Industrial Revolution’s steam-powered factories, the Second Industrial Revolution’s application of science to mass production and manufacturing, and the Third Industrial Revolution’s start into digitization, the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s technologies, such as artificial intelligence, genome editing, augmented reality, robotics, and 3-D printing, are rapidly changing the way we create, exchange, and distribute value.

 

As occurred in the previous revolutions, this will profoundly transform institutions, industries, and individuals. More importantly, this revolution will be guided by the choices that as people we make today. 

 

The world in 50 to 100 years from now will owe a lot of its character to how we think about, invest in, and deploy these powerful new technologies.

 

As a Department we committed ourselves to position science and technology as a catalyst towards faster economic growth, both in the immediate term and over the next 10 years.

 

We are also committed to broaden the participation and mainstream gender, youth, and people living with disabilities in science, technology and innovation.

 

We have further introduced the concept of a National System of Innovation (NSI), which is our approach in managing our Science, Technology and Innovation. 

 

It makes provision for a policy framework that seeks to harness the latent and explicit innovation capabilities of whole-of-government and whole-of-society in addressing the national development challenges of our nation.

 

As a department, we are paying attention, in particular, to expand our NSI to include a vibrant Social and Community based innovation system that can draw on the creative potential of all our people. This is the reason that we are here today to celebrate this historic achievement with you.

 

Our White Paper on Science and Innovation guarantees our commitment to ensure that digitisation remains an important component of our strategies moving forward.

 

Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, The Internet of Things, and data analytics are all very central in our White Paper.

 

As a matter of fact, I would like to position our Department of Science and Innovation to play a leading role in data analytics, especially within government, but also interacting with other sectors of South African society.

 

This is the reason we are also excited about the fact that sections of our higher education institutions are taking forward research and teaching on data analytics as exemplified by the research launch of the School of data engineering and computation by Stellenbosch university.

 

We have identified the need for long term investment in individuals and institutions to develop the knowledge, skills and resources required to address South Africa’s developmental needs.

 

Furthermore, the our White Paper emphasises the importance of exploiting the pivotal role of ICTs to strengthen competitiveness, generate youth employment and enable the quality of life through the digital advantage.

 

We are also of the view that the attainment of the digital advantage will be crucial for South Africa to respond creatively to challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

 

Our investment in ICT

 

Our own National Development Plan states that “South Africa belongs to all its people and the future of our country is our collective responsibility”.

 

Youth unemployment remains our utmost priority, as you aware that youth unemployment by the Fourth Quarter of 2019, as released by the StatsSA (“Quarterly Labour Force Survey”) on 11 February 2020, remains at 58.1% for those between the ages of 15-24 years, whilst for those not in Employment, Education and Training (“NEET”) for the same cohort remains at 3.3 million.

 

It is precisely during challenging and difficult times like this that we must not answer to our economic challenges through austerity measures, but by carefully identifying and investing in those areas of our economy that are likely to contribute to sustained economic growth and development.

 

Yes, we need to be financially prudent, but at the same time we must not cut our nose to spite our face, by responding through measures that may having the potential of stifling any prospects for economic recovery.

 

One of the areas to invest in during this time is that of education, training and science and innovation.

 

One of my priorities is to work closely with the private sector, including community development projects, such as Zenzeleni, in a partnership for skills development and innovation.

 

Our task is not merely to return our old economy to growth and development, but to take it onto higher value chains through provision of skills and innovation that will respond to the direct needs of our communities. As you are aware education and skills development is one of the seven (7) priorities of this 6th administration.

 

Our White Paper on STI also commits us to the creation of an Innovation Fund. This is indeed very important given the huge challenge we have to double our investment into research, development and innovation, from the current, and clearly inadequate, level of 0,8 percent as a percentage of our GDP, to at least 1,5 percent by 2030.

 

Programme Director

 

In line with the objectives of the NDP, the National Integrated ICT Policy and our White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, my Department, its agency the Technology Innovation Agency and the University of the Western Cape, decided to invest in this community network ecosystem called Zenzeleni Networks.

 

As some of you may be aware, the Zenzeleni Networks initiative is a social innovation model that was developed to address the techno-economic-legal and social barriers to connectivity experienced in the remote rural settings.

 

This model provides Wi-Fi connectivity to the rural communities through solar-powered, community-owned, Wifi telecommunications networks which provide affordable communications to remote and underserved rural areas of Mankosi and Zithulele.

 

The Zenzeleni networks model represents an alternative for rural South Africa, offering access to high quality, truly affordable connectivity through social cooperative entrepreneurship in which communities are empowered to own and operate telecommunications cooperative businesses. We see this model as helping us address the challenge of the digital divide.

 

The benefits to community

 

To date, the Zenzeleni Networks NPC has supported the incorporation of two rural telecommunication cooperatives: Zenzeleni Networks Mankosi Cooperative, and Zenzeleni Networks Zithulele Cooperative. These are South Africa’s first telecommunications cooperatives, both 100% owned and managed by historically disadvantaged communities, and fully sanctioned by ICASA with ECS and ECNS exemptions.

 

Together they comprise a region with 7,000 inhabitants as well as thousands of tourists who visit the area throughout the year. Since then, many other communities throughout rural South Africa have expressed interest in adopting the Zenzeleni model.

 

From a technical perspective, the cooperatives use a shared 5GHz WiFi backbone consisting of more than 40 point to point radios, which can carry above 200 Mbps. This wireless backbone interconnects the two communities together with a data centre hosted by Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha. The Zenzeleni Networks connects to Openserve’s national fibre backbone, through a wholesale agreement with Easttel.

 

Furthermore, Zenzeleni commercial sales have contracted and paid for almost one million Rand worth of broadband capacity since its initial connection in November 2017.

 

This is an ample demonstration of the robustness of its billing and revenue collecting system. It is also a reflection of the competitiveness of the rates that Zenzeleni cooperatives offer. These are just some of the many benefits of these model.

 

Our financial investment

 

I am pleased to announce that, since 2018, my Department has invested 2 million rands (R2 000 000.00) in the Zenzeleni Networks. We will make a further investment of 2 million rands (R2 000 000.00) in the financial year 2020/21.

 

The further financial investment will be aimed the development of Zenzeleni Digital Hubs in the communities of Mankosi and Zithulele.

 

This investment is also aimed at bringing innovation at the disposal of SMMEs and young innovators. In order to maximise and spread innovation across the country, there is a need for the development of technology hubs across the country.

 

The other objective of this financial injection is to help the development of materials to define the Zenzeleni model and processes for possible replication to other communities, national and international stakeholders.

 

It would also please you to know that, based on the data collected since the inception of this project, some of the further policy interventions we are looking at are the development of licensing community networks, licenced spectrum for mobile services, public funding for SMMEs targeting universal access, a Universal Service and Access Fund and Grassroots innovation.

 

All of these will form part of the key focus areas for the future roll-out and implementing of this project in this and other villages.

 

Ladies and gentlemen

 

All of this would not have possible without the contribution of our partners, our entity the Technology Innovation Agency and the university of the Western Cape.

 

We appreciate their contribution and hope that our intension to expand this project, will not just strengthen our existing relationship, but that it will also attract new partners to come on board.

 

I also wish to also thank the leadership of the provincial and local government and that of the traditional authorities, for supporting this project. Without their support much of what were able to achieve would not have been possible. Most importantly,

 

I would like to thank the communities of Mankosi and Zithulele communities for embracing our intervention. We are confident that we will experience more positive developments and achieve greater benefits for the community through the Zenzeleni Networks project.

 

Thank you.