Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams: Department’s State of readiness to lead 4IR

19 Dec 2019

Statement by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies on the Department’s State of readiness to lead 4IR

Acting Director General of the Department of Communications,
Senior government officials,
Members of the Media,

Good Morning.

South Africa, just like the rest of the world, finds itself in the middle of a new revolution, it is coined the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The Presidential Commission on the 4IR appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa defines this revolution as being “… characterised by a fusion of Smart Technologies that is blurring the lines between the Physical, Digital and Biological Spheres - collectively referred to as Cyber-Physical Systems that has a direct impact on Smart Business Models.”

Colleagues,

4IR creates opportunities to assist communities, business, policy-makers and citizens from all walks of life to harness converging technologies to design an all-inclusive, human-centric future. The actual opportunities for us are in looking beyond the technological advancements and come up with innovative ways to give citizens the ability to positively impact their families, communities and organisations.

In order to empower all citizens of our country, it is essential for the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies to bridge the digital divide between the digitally empowered on the one side and the digitally deprived on the other. This challenge means there must be no room for complacency and that we have to veer off into a territory of business unusual.

Colleagues,

Invariably, our efforts must be geared towards ensuring that there is an all-inclusive growth, mainly in sectors such as economic development, trade and industry, agriculture, infrastructure, labour, science and technology, higher education, basic education, health and communications.

To this end, the Ministry is tasked with the critical role of leading the country’s response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and developing policies and legislations that create an enabling environment. We have therefore embarked on the process of improving operational efficiency in our entities informed by the fact that 4IR is not a prediction of an imagined future but an urgent call to action. The vision of the department is one premised on developing, spreading, and governing digital technologies such that we advance a collaborative, empowering and sustainable foundation for socio-economic development. Accomplishing this vision remains the core challenge and great responsibility not only for the department but all entities tasked with operational responsibility.

We are therefore in the process of designing an optimal structural and institutional framework that will respond to our new mandate. Further, we have reviewed the portfolio capabilities and are taking the necessary steps to strategically align it with the overall digital technology strategy.

Digital Transformation Plan

We have therefore identified the following as the key drivers of digital transformation.

Licencing of the High Demand Spectrum

In July, we issued the Policy on unassigned High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction on Licencing of a Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN).

In response, ICASA has issued an Information Memorandum on the licencing process for International Mobile Telecommunications (“IMT”) Spectrum, which gives an opportunity for submissions to be made by 31 January 2020.

Following the release of the Competition Commission market inquiry report into mobile data services, we are engaging with mobile operators on the best ways to reduce the high cost of data without interfering with the work of the regulators.

Fast-tracking the rollout of Broadcasting Digital Migration

Cabinet approved the delivery model that encompasses direct appointment of local decoder installers, that are qualified and accredited. The second phase thereof will include the roll out of IDTVs, in order to ensure the success of the project the department is exploring alternative funding options.  For the successful implementation of the revised BDM model, an administrator has been appointed at USAASA Mr Newyear Niniva Ntuli for a period of 24 months.

Digital Government

The Digital Transformation Plan requires an audit of current Government IT spend and interventions in order to identify champions and priorities related to the ease of doing business and provision of crucial services to the citizens. In this respect, we will be repurposing SITA as a new digital transformation agency to drive digitalization, innovation, localization and supporting a capable state. We have appointed an Administrator - Mr Luvuyo Keyise to lead the process for a 24-month period.

Building a Big Data Economy

In this regard, we are in the process of finalising a Data Policy for South Africa. We will further finalise the Smart Communities Framework, consolidate Sectoral Masterplans and finalise the Digital Industrial Strategy.

Skilling the nation

We will further bolster efforts to build a capable 4IR Army that has the requisite skills to respond to the 4IR. To this end, the department has developed a Digital Skills Strategy which will be presented to Cabinet for approval. A pilot programme has commenced with 1000 students who are being trained on data science, software development, cybersecurity, 3D printing, drone piloting and digital content production.

Institutional reforms

The department is currently finalising the business case and awaiting certification from the State Law Advisor and DPME with regards to repurposing SITA to create a State IT Company; as well as merging Sentech and Broadband Infraco (BBI) to form the State Digital Infrastructure Company.

We are further engaging our counterparts to ensure that non-broadband SOEs that self-provide broadband such as Sanral, Prasa, Eskom and Transnet are prohibited from entering the commercial broadband market as to avoid the state distorting a well-functioning liberalised market.

We will also accelerate the repurposing of the Universal Service Fund into a 4IR Fund. The department will also develop a model for smart regulation which will include the amalgamation of ICASA, Film and Publication Board and .ZADNA; and explore new funding mechanisms for the new regulator.

Further, NEMISA will be positioned to be a digital skills institute that will train government employees and members of the public.

The Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The 34-member commission was established by President Ramaphosa to develop South Africa’s blueprint on the 4IR. The commission has eight workstreams which are led as follows:

  • Science, Technology and Innovation – Mr Thulani Dlamini
  • Infrastructure and resources – Dr Andile Ngcaba
  • Human Capital and Future World of Work – Ms Beth Arendse
  • Capital Markets and Financing – Prof Chris Adendorf
  • Commercialisation and Industralisation – Ms Lindiwe Mkhonza
  • Policy and Legal – Ms Charmaine Houvet
  • Socio-economic impact – Mr Rob Shutter
  • Integration, Programme Management & Communication – Ms S’onqoba Vuba
     

Following extensive research and engagement with key stakeholders, the commission presented is draft report to the president in November and is on track to submit the final report in January 2020 for publication in February.

To support the commission, the department is finalising the appointment of the Project Management Office which will comprise of a team of research experts in various fields such as data science, digital transformation, telecommunications and internet policy, law and economics; amongst others.

Sentech

We have further appointed the following members to fill in vacancies in the SENTECH Board pending the finalisation of its merger with BBI:

  • Ms Malande Tonjeni
  • Ms Lisa Tele
  • Mr Mxolisi Tsika
  • Mr Malizole Diko
     

Building an informed, educated and entertained nation

In order to ensure that the SABC is responsive to its current and future mandate a sum of R 3.2 billion was approved of which R 2,1 billion was transferred in October, after it met some of the conditions. Working together with the SABC we agreed documents must be submitted by 15 January 2020 in order for remaining balance of R1,1 billion to be transferred.

South African Post Office

In terms of repurposing SAPO to take advantage of the thriving e-Commerce and financial services environments, the organisation is in the process of implementing its turnaround strategy which focuses on several key interventions including the launch of its e-commerce platform. Further, SAPO is in the process of finalising MoUs with Post Bank in terms of the operational relationship going forward, following the separation of the two entities.

Conclusion

It is worth emphasising that one of the critical drivers in delivering better services as government is technology. The current and very fast shifts in digital technologies means South Africans’ expectations for technology-enabled government services have risen.

This unprecedented shift in expectations which is linked to the financial pressure on government to transform and do more with less, introduces new opportunities to deliver improved results for our citizens, business and even public servants.

We will, as guided by legislation, be bringing more changes in a number of our agencies in order to unearth opportunities presented by the 4IR for benefit of the citizens of South Africa.

I take this opportunity to wish you a blessed festive period and a safe passage into the New Year. Let us all be safe on the roads, buckle-up, don’t text and drive; and #LiveBeyondDezemba.

Thank you.

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