What kind of future we can build with the advent of the hyper-connected world: Minister Cwele

Speech delivered by Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister, Siyabonga Cwele at the 2016 Southern African Telecommunications Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) in George, Western Cape on 5 September 2016.

It is a great pleasure to be meeting all of you in what may be called our annual spring gathering, SATNAC. This conference has become an unrivalled platform for knowledge output, peer learning and networking for people in the Information and Communication Technologies sector. We therefore look forward to the fresh ideas that you are bringing.

The theme for this year, “Broadband Evolution – Unlocking the ‘Internet of Things’ ” offers us an opportunity to review how far we have travelled on the broadband journey and what kind of future we can build with the advent of the hyper-connected world that is fast becoming a reality.

The Internet of Things (IOT) is the main driver of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution will bring enormous benefits to those who will harness and actively participate in it, while punishing or disciplining those who choose to ignore or resist it. We hope this conference will prepare us as a nation to fully exploit the IOT for the benefit to government, business, civil society and indeed all our people.

As Prof. Klaus Schwab warns, “the Fourth Industrial Revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another”. It calls for business, government and society to adapt as it will be disruptive to the current practices.

The people must adapt. This revolution will not only change what we do but also what we are. It will change consumer patterns and change our notions of privacy and ownership.

Governments must adapt as the convergence of physical, digital and biological world converge and new technology platforms enable citizens to engage rather than being mere recipients. This will require governments to adopt softer regulation and adopt technology to improve service delivery.

Business must also adapt or die. The demand side will be affected by transparency and new consumer preferences. The the supply side will get efficiency and productivity gains. It will yield safe an rewarding jobs but there could be a risk of greater inequality and unemployement. It’s is believed that in future talent more than capital will be a critical factor in production.

All these dictates that we must shape a future that will work for South Africa. This conference is part of that process of shaping of the future. In doing this, we as a young nation coming out of years of colonial and apartheid inequality, must always put the people first and empowering them to adapt to the new reality of the IOT and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I believe this conference is one of the tools of empowering our young scientists and technicians to help us to embrace this revolution.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an UN specialised agency in our sector, describes the Internet of Things as infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting physical and virtual things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies. International Data Corporation (IDC), a global provider of market intelligence and advisory services on information technology telecommunication and consumer technology markets, estimates that devices connected to the Internet will generate R131 ($8.9) trillion in annual sales by 2020.

The Internet of Things is undoubtedly an exciting new dawn that is already enjoyed by some. The buzz word being, “smart”, we have seen the rise of smart cities, networks, security, cars and houses.

The Internet of Things is an open platform that offers the same opportunities to all people in the world. Access to meaningful participation in this world is through high level technical education, imagination and hard work.

Therefore, this year’s theme focuses us on the present while we create pathways to a more inclusive digital future for all South Africans. It is clear that we need strong coalitions or let me say collaborations between Government, academia, labour and civil society to make the most out of this future. It is only when we work together that we can prosper and move South Africa forward.

We meet a few days after the government launched a logo and an app to enable us as a nation to promote the National Development Plan. The NDP underscores the importance of infrastructure investment in meeting our developmental objectives as a country, as showcased by this paragraph; “South Africa needs to invest in a strong network of economic infrastructure designed to support the country’s medium and long-term economic and social objectives. This economic infrastructure is a precondition for providing basic services such as electricity, water, sanitation, telecommunications and public transport, and it needs to be robust and extensive enough to meet industrial, commercial and households needs.”

Government has identified the Information and Communication Technologies and broadband rollout as one of the enablers for faster and more equitable economic growth as evidenced by its inclusion in the Nine-Point Plan.

The Department is seized with implementing the NDP by focusing on the goal of “creating a seamless information infrastructure by 2030 that will underpin a dynamic and connected vibrant information society and a knowledge economy that is more inclusive, equitable and prosperous”.

Key to this is access to ensuring that all citizens have access to modern communications infrastructure, tools and services that include access to broadband or fast, reliable and secure internet. We are doing this in line with the Constitutional principle that precludes the State from unfairly discriminating against any citizen, including discrimination on the basis of social origin.

We have established a Broadband War Room that will fast track the rollout of South Africa Connect, the country’s broadband policy. The broadband war room brings together all the departments that are responsible for the broadband. It is a product of the government’s coordinated implementation plan through the cluster system. We are also practicing this coordination at the implementation level through Provincial Broadband Steering Committees that seek to align all broadband activities to the South Africa Connect and remove bottlenecks that impede an accelerated rollout.

Our efforts to re-imagine the future include modernising policies that govern the ICT sector that will among others guide how we will participate in an inclusive growth and digital economy. After following a process of consultations throughout the country with all stakeholders, we now have a draft National Integrated Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy White Paper that is before the cabinet for consideration and finalisation. We would like to thank all the stakeholders who contributed in this process that started in 2012.

It seeks to create an environment that, amongst others, enables universal access to modern communications tools and services, opens up opportunities for new and smaller businesses and facilitates more competition in the sector in a manner that ultimately reduces the costs. We want these policies to create an enabling environment for small businesses to use technology to unlock their job creation potential and also address localise the internet by using the internet to come up with local solutions to some of our challenges.

The Internet of Things also poses some significant challenges, especially those that are linked to internet governance. Our country position in the Internet governance is that we supports the multi-stakeholder approach, in their respective roles, that is coordinated within the framework of multilateral structures of global governance. We want governments to lead these multi-stakeholder in the policy arena. Our Government’s commitment to this is demonstrated by the Cabinet approval to partner with the African Union Commission to host the Fifth African Internet Governance Forum.

We are partnering with the KwaZulu-Natal Province and the City of eThekwini to host African Ministers responsible for ICT in Durban on the 16 to 18 October 2016.

In preparation for this and to develop a South Africa position, we shall host a National Internet Governance Forum. These forums will deliberate on the following areas:

  1. South African digital economy and e-commerce.
  2. Open data government
  3. Inclusive development and the digital transformation in SA
  4. Internet and human rights/freedom of expression
  5. The impact of cyber security on SA economy
  6. Net neutrality in South Africa
  7. Shaping the future of IGF

The outcomes of the African IGF will form the basis of the Africa position at the IGF tentatively scheduled for Mexico in December 2016.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The partnerships between Telkom and various universities across South Africa through its Centre of Excellence Programme are commendable. They have the potential to unlock the Internet of Things by enabling students to embark on cutting edge research and development. Of cause, Telkom benefits by having first access to this cutting edge research.

Such partnership will help us realise the goals of the National Youth Policy 2020 which aims to “produce empowered young people who are able to realise their full potential and understand their roles and responsibilities in making a meaningful contribution to the development of a non-racial, equal, democratic and prosperous South Africa.”

I encourage the sector to pursue similar partnerships with institutions of higher learning and target mostly young women.

As a country, we are not benefitting sufficiently from the influence of women in the sector because there are so few of them. We all need to do more to create an environment that enables women to fully participate in the sector – across the entire value chain. I believe this can be a powerful catalyst for radical transformation and open up new opportunities for women and the country.

Telkom advises me that some of learners who have gone through the Centre of Excellence Programme have progressed through the company to leadership positions.

To the students, especially female students, who will be presenting their research papers at this conference you are our stars and reminders that our best and brightest come from everywhere. Engaging in research can be a long and often, lonely path. Only a few have had the courage to venture into this space. You are spending these many hours researching your work because you believe that one day, you will come up with a solution that changes lives and put South Africa on the global research map. I encourage you to continue taking pride in your work and to continue to challenge stereotypes. You must refuse to allow gender stereotypes to limit your ambitions.

In conclusion

I wish you all a productive conference. As you present and deliberate, remember the following observation that was made by Albert Einstein “The intuitive mind is sacred gift and a rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and forgot the gift”.

Our country needs both intuitive and rational minds.

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