Moderator: Ms Vinolia Chindane, from SAMDDRA;
Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Communications & Digital Technologies;
Mr Muzi Makhaye, SAMDDRA  Board Chairperson and other Board Members;
Dr Mark Mpasa, SAMDDRA Managing Director;
Mr Simphiwe Thobela, MICT SETA Chairman of the Board;
ICT SMME Chamber Board Member, Ms Joy Sebenzile;
Other Chairpersons and CEOs of our state entities;
SAMDDRA Members and Partners;
My Advisors and Ministry staff;
Officials from both my Departments of Science and Innovation and Higher Education and Training;
SAMDDRA Sponsors;
Members of the media;
Invited guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Afternoon

We gather here at an extremely difficult and challenging time in the life of our relatively young democracy. Yet, we are also at a moment in our history that holds great hope and promise.

One of my admired German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary Karl Marx’s important observation about history and its struggles is that “Men make history but under circumstances not of their own choosing,” yet this must be no reason to succumb and shy away from the task of seeking to change those very conditions in favour of the majority of our people!

This observation is particularly true when it relates to science, technology, innovation and training which is amongst the fundamental contributing factors towards economic growth in both advanced and developing economies.

But this observation is also relevant as our country and the world is making strides towards responding to the COVID-119 deadly pandemic. 

As a country we continue to  celebrate our receipt of the first
consignment, consisting of one million doses of the Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute in India. This consignment brings hope to the majority of our people, who at some stage were facing a bleak future.

Like so many people around the world, we have suffered tremendous loss and endured great sacrifices. But in all these, we remain resilient.

It indeed gives me great pleasure and honour to be joining you today as you launch the South African Mobiles Devices Distributors Repairers Associations (SAMDDRA) under the theme “ A Partnership for SMMEs Development and Growth from Manufacturing to Distribution and Usage of Electronic Communication Devices”.

This launch comes at a point in which in 2020, I launched the National List of Occupations in High Demand (OIHD) in South Africa. The list identified that 345 occupations are in high demand out of a total of 1 500 registered in our Organising Framework for Occupations. These occupations are at both high as well as intermediate skills levels.

What is more critical is that many of these occupations on the list can be associated with key areas and sectors identified as crucial for the Reconstruction and Recovery Plan such as the digital economy, energy, infrastructure development, manufacturing, tourism and agriculture, requiring data scientists, web developers, computer network technicians, electrical engineers, concentrated solar power process controllers, mechatronic technicians, toolmakers, gaming workers, crop produce analysts, agricultural scientists,  just to name a few.

It is for this reason that SAMDDRA must take keen interest on this list and skills sets, which in the majority are in the ICT sector.

In launching this list,  I called upon our universities, our TVET Colleges, our SETAs and private education and training institutions as well as other training providers to use the list to inform their selection of programme offerings, their resource allocations and enrolment planning processes as well as the identification and development of new qualifications and programmes that are more responsive to the needs of the economy and society as a whole.

It is therefore important that SAMDDRA establish a relationship with our Higher Education, Science and Innovation institutions and sector. This will ensure that SAMDDRA is in a better position to support its prospective membership to get practical skills, training, certification and accreditation of companies and SMMEs as outlined in its founding mission.

This intervention will ensure that SAMDDRA participates in the realisation of the  call by the Cabinet during the Cabinet Lekgotla which was held last week which emphasised the need to enrol young people in a massively expanded range of skills development initiatives directly linked to the national Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.

With the level of youth unemployment, as reported in the third quarter of 2020, standing at 61.3%, for the cohort of ages between 15 and 24 years old, and for those not in employment, education and/or training standing at 3.2 million, SAMDDRA can play an important role in the realisation of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan as espoused by the President.


Ladies and gentlemen

The South African National Development Plan (“the NDP) outlines Government’s commitment to building a more inclusive society in order to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality in the country by 2030.

It sets out specific steps and targets to achieve an inclusive and prosperous society where opportunity is determined not by birth but by ability, education and hard work.

As government, we believe that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) plays a key role in facilitating all the objectives of the NDP and those of our National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, which further sets out how government will realise this potential.

Furthermore, in response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its disruption effects, my department of science and innovation has developed a new policy framework for science and technology which is contained in the new White Paper on Science and Technology and Innovation.

To realise the objectives of the new White Paper, we are in the final stages of developing a Decadal Plan on STI, which will serve as an initial ten-year implementation plan towards the year 2030.

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 of Things and more traditional means for communication such as postal deliveries - as we further gravitate towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR).

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

It is for this reason that I remain grateful for President Ramaphosa’s visionary leadership for realigning the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Department of Science and Innovation under a single Ministry.

The core reason is not simply to ensure greater administrative efficiency or bureaucratic streamlining, but to drive the post-school knowledge and skills development imperative more decisively, more effectively and with greater transformational impact in society.

It therefore becomes critical that SAMDDRA should always maintain close relations with our Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), which are currently undergoing a “due diligence”, project which are looking at redirecting surplus resources to support COVID-19 interventions.

This is a very important project originating from the call made by the President to harness government efforts in order to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 to the economy.

Currently, as a country our economy is not growing at a rate that  stimulates rapid job creation. We have reduced fiscal revenue, higher borrowing costs as a result of the country’s credit risk.

Furthermore, we have had to redirect most of government spending to deal with COVID-19 challenges.

All these further exacerbate an already difficult economic period for the country, which makes the SETAs role in the revival of the economy all the more important. 

This is the reason I am emphasising continuous collaboration between yourselves and the SETAs, particularly, the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA), which is a skills development institution established in terms of the Skills Development Act of 1998 to generate, facilitate and accelerate the processes of quality skills development at all levels in the MICT sector in South Africa.

Furthermore, government welcomes the relief announced on the 8th  December 2020 by the Statistician-General on the results of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the third quarter of 2020, revealing that the South African economy grew by an annualised rate of 66.1% in the third quarter – or 13.5% quarter on quarter.

This announcement brings with it the necessary hope and relief that will assist us to invest more resources in training and job creation initiatives. This therefore makes this launch not only strategic but critical.

SAMDDRA must also look at how it can support our initiative of providing laptops to our students both at our universities and colleges. Through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) we will be supplying approximately 69% of students with these devices and SAMDDRA could support students and universities by providing maintenance and parts services. It will be critical that SAMDDRA establish working relations service providers approved by the NSFAS to supply these devices.

This opportunity will add into existing opportunities available in the South African mobile device industry of which in terms of the StatsSA, 2019 RSA Population estimates of 58 Million in 2019: 1.5 Mobile Devices average ownership was recorded. According to the report most Internet access happens through Cellphones, which make up over 80% of Internet Traffic. (Statista.com, 2020)

According to Statista.com, 2020, there are 103.5 million mobile connections that happened in SA in January 2020, which is  178% of the total population.

This information further confirms that there are lots of opportunities for SAMDDRA and its partners in this market segment.

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.

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.

I would like to persuade SAMDDRA to be also seek relations with the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR) programme and the Data Science for Impact and Decision Enhancement (DSIDE) programme for capacity building.  These are projects that we are funding as a department of science and technology to harness technological convergence and drive the advancement of the South African economy in response to the 4IR.  

I will also be important that SAMDDRA establish relations with our 14 centres of excellence hosted by various public universities. These  are all centres that my departments continue to support and fund.

These centres have concentrated expertise and resources of researchers to collaborate across disciplines on long-term projects that are locally relevant and internationally competitive.

In this context, it is crucial that we ensure that the nation’s future science, technology and innovation paradigm is intimately connected with the principles of promoting public good, equality and inclusion.

This is the reason that our White Paper on Science and Innovation emphasise 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 recently launched School of data engineering and computation by Stellenbosch university. However, we need to see data analytical capabilities built across the entire higher education system and all parts of the data value chain.

In this regard, we are also looking forward for more of our institutions to offer such studies, particularly given the importance of data analytics to inform decision making.

In 2018, we established the Medical Devices and Diagnostic Technology Innovation Cluster to exploit the country's high concentration of skills, expertise and infrastructure in the field of medical devices and diagnostics. 

The initiative is aimed at stimulating and intensifying technology innovation within the sector as well as creating an enabling environment for increased competitiveness. It might be worthwhile for SAMDDRA to consider expanding its scope to include this part of  ICTs.

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.

I remain firmly committed to forging a dynamic relationship between both my departments and the private sector companies, both generally and in specific sectors such as your Electronic Communication Devices Distribution and Repairs industry.

We have put in place a range of interventions to enhance the technological capabilities of firms and companies with a major focus on SMEs. We will continue to fund these interventions and, where possible, facilitate their expansion.

We are also working with the Department of Small Business Development and National Treasury, to finalise the mandate and funding mechanisms of the Small Business and Innovation Fund. 

The fund is designed to largely de-risk the early stages of technology commercialisation and/or business development for SMEs. 

An injection of R1 billion per year for five years  is expected to injected in order to make a significant impact in making these businesses more attractive to investors for significant scale-up.

We will also scale up our Grassroots Innovation Programme (GIP) which is aimed at transforming and ensuring the equitable access to the science, technology and innovation infrastructure for all innovators, particularly the previously marginalised innovators in townships and in rural areas.

All these opportunities are available to SAMDDRA and its membership.

In conclusion

I would like to indicate that on Friday, the 29th January 2021, I presented two important strategies of my departments to the Cabinet Lekgotla (the Innovation Strategy and the Skills Strategy) which were warmly welcomed by the meeting.

We will be making these strategies public soon. You therefore might need to familiarise yourself with both these strategies so that you locate the opportunities that might apply to your sector.

Of course, we also need your support in the implementation of these strategies as part of our Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan interventions.

It is important that all you understand the opportunities presented by the new Higher Education Science and Innovation (HESI) landscape and its potential to tackle the triple structural challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. 

What this will also mean is that if our economy is to recover after Covid- 19 and its lockdowns, as well as grow and develop in the current and future contexts new innovation led industries will have to emerge, and bringing with it, new skills requirements.

Lastly, it is up to us not to let down our guard and to prevent a third wave of covid-19 infections.

It is up to us to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. Let us all keep on keeping safe.

I thank you