Speech Delivered by Communications Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana at the Microsoft Annual Digital Summit in Sun City

Ms. Lillian Barnard Managing Director at Microsoft South Africa;

Mr. David Kramer Deputy Director General at the Gauteng Provincial Government E-governance division

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I am immensely honored to be with you today, as we celebrate a historic moment in this continents trajectory. Microsoft’s decision to invest in Africa through South Africa by building not one but two data centers in Cape Town and Johannesburg is arguably one of the biggest 4IR investments on the continent to date.

Not only is it a remarkable display of confidence in the South African government, it is also an illustration that the clarion call of Thuma Mina did not just end in Cape Town or around our borders, it also reached Silicon Valley with great speed.

Ladies and Gentlemen, South Africa has historically understood the importance of innovation and scientific inventions. In fact it was South Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize Laurette, Chief Albert Luthuli, who said in his acceptance speech, scientific inventions, at all conceivable levels should enrich human life, not threaten existence.

These data centers by Microsoft are an invention and an investment that will not only jolt South Africa into a new era, but also enrich the lived experience of many South Africans. It is an affirmation to South Africans, that the impossible is achievable if we all come together, as the government, the private sector and civil society.

It is important to note that these data centers contribute to our economy in job terms, approximately one hundred thousand new jobs will accrue as a result of this investment.

Program Director, let me also take this moment to advance a very important argument in relation to jobs. Many have raised concerns that the rise of Artificial Intelligence in particular may result in the elimination of jobs, worsen inequality and or erode incomes. Whilst the concerns are valid I want to point out that throughout history new technologies have always been accompanied with warnings about human redundancy.

And on the contrary what we saw in reality is that new technologies have created more meaningful and specialized skilled jobs. The fact of the matter is that technology brings about efficiencies on a greater scale.

I have no doubt that Artificial intelligence in South Africa will certainly create new areas of economic opportunity and to some extent it will create new categories of employment, this includes but it is not limited to software developers, networking and cyber-security experts.

Ladies and gentlemen, it really goes without saying that investments of this nature need to be complimented with initiatives from government which ensure that basic infrastructure such as the provision of electricity is not compromised in any shape or form.

But, it is not only basic infrastructure that we need to master, it is also advanced infrastructure that requires our urgent action, the provision of broadband, fibre and Wireless technologies to the most rural communities will be prioritized in the same way we prioritize the provision of water and electricity, access to internet connectivity is fast becoming a basic need.

The fourth industrial revolution presents itself as an opportunity for growth, development and democratization. Growth in the sense that our economy cannot remain stagnant with the innovations presented by the fourth industrial revolution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the looming trade war between various global powers, is a perfect illustration that wealth creation in the context of globalisation is a matter of human resource development. We have to exert a maximum effort to train the necessary numbers of our people in all the fields required for the development, running and management of modern economies. This must be a national effort in which we should consider the necessary expenditures not as a cost but as an investment in our future.

This will manifest itself if we ensure that every South African is able to master modern technologies and integrate them in their social activities, including education, delivery of services and economic activity. This will enable South Africa to exploit market opportunities in areas such as future wireless technologies, e-inclusion, green ICT, geospatial applications, biomedical sciences, smart infrastructure, mining, manufacturing, asset management, e-health, e-services, education, outsourcing and payment solutions.

If we devote the necessary resources to scientific and technological research and development, it may have the effect of encouraging innovation among South Africans, because ultimately, it is innovations amongst other things that make us more competitive within the dynamic world economy.

Whilst ensuring that we continue to develop a balanced economy, we must also identify and develop the lead sectors that will help us further to expand the base for creation of wealth.

At the heart of the National Development Plan lies the vision of creating a virtuous cycle of growth and development, and to this end success is measured by the degree to which the lives of the poorest South Africans are transformed in a sustainable manner.

The time has come for our country to focus and intensify research and development spending, emphasizing opportunities linked to existing industries. In many ways this cloud summit will help us direct our actions towards these opportunities. Part of this requires us to reimagine software services for the cloud and the digital world from not only a South African perspective but from a continental perspective as well.

Initiatives like Africa Code Week and #BornToCode are making strides in bringing digital literacy to Africa, which ultimately encourages young people to immerse themselves in technological solutions. Another way to close the gap in the market is by learning what skills are in demand, and by empowering oneself through education.

Program director as the government of the day, we understand very well that our regulatory and policy framework can be a powerful tool to promote innovation, technological development and investment. This is why the processes in place to ensure that the sixth administration, takes proactive steps to create AI conducive regulations; which can encourage an earlier adoption of AI tools.

So in essence we anticipate that the Presidential 4IR Commission and the Digital Economy Summit planned for June, will solicit policy contributions, on how we can:

improve Data privacy and security;

Promote a culture of generating Intellectual Property which responds directly to the country and continents needs;

Ensure that our standards are harmonized with international standards;

Through our public procurement policies invest in public sector innovation thus demonstrating deliberate support for local developers and;

Developing strategies to democratize the use of advanced technologies.

As long as we collectively agree that together the private sector, government and civil society can reimagine the solutions to the structural socio-economic imbalances in society. Together we can create a thriving ecosystem and unlock all the key ingredients to guarantee the future of the next generation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, now more than ever this nation needs us to grow South Africa’s economy together. This nation needs us to embrace technology true to Chief Albert Luthuli’s a statement technology at all conceivable levels should enrich human life. Let us ensure that it does.

I thank you.

Source: Department of Communication

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