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The First South African 4IR Summit, 5 July

In last month’s Newsletter I promised to give a report on the 1st 4IR Summit which was attended by President Ramaphosa, the Minister for the  Dept of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, and a bevy of other ministers and foreign guests. Originally planned for one and a half days, it was cut to one day with no notice. Although there was plenty of overspill facilities, the auditorium was not full. After presentations by some of the President’s Commission on 4IR, senior academics and the American writer George Friedman, the President gave an upbeat speech about the opportunities for SA in the era of the 4IR and the importance of education for the future. There were then 6 break-out sessions, with large panels but no opportunity to contribute from the floor. Despite the President’s stress that this would be the first summit to gather views from an expert audience, the lack of dialogue meant that interaction did not happen. To conclude the President said – “We want to be the state willing to take risks. An entrepreneurial state with a strong capital venture spirit”

It was disappointing that ecommerce was not figured at all.

From the 4IR Commission, the point was made that there were 5 major themes which had to be addressed:

  • Competitiveness, concentration and inequality – this topic covered all aspects from the access to the internet to the use of the techniques that make up 4IR;
  • Employment and skills;
  • How 4IR will touch society, the citizen and the state;
  • Opportunities, specifically how to use 4IR to leapfrog and start to lead.
  • The critical success factors, such as skills, infrastructures, lessons from other developing nations

An interesting point was made by Tshilidzi Marwala of the Presidential 4IR Commission, who said that African governments and the AU should expand projects such as the Deep Learning Indaba and other institutions to  develop maths, machine learning and artificial intelligence expertise in Africa in order to encourage more skills development for young people. Region organizations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should create regional data banks that collect, protect and store regional data on skills development.

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