Remarks by the Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, at the Fourth Industrial Revolution Workshop, Johannesburg, 7 March 2019

Programme director;

Chris Yaluma, Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Zambia;

Stergomena Tax, Executive Secretary, Southern African Development Community;

Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum;

Theo Sibiya, Partner and Head of Africa, AT Kearney, and Co-Chair, Africa Regional Business Council;

Kapil Kapoor, Director-General, Southern Africa Regional Development and Business Delivery Office;

Said Adejumobi, Director: Southern Africa, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa;

Tshokolo Nchocho, Chief Executive Officer, Industrial Development Corporation;

Peter Varndell, Chief Executive Officer, NEPAD Business Foundation;

Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of the Witwatersrand;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:

I would like to thank the organisers of this important workshop for inviting us to make an input and, most importantly, to participate. The participants in this workshop have a very important question to answer, which is: What kind of investments, policy reforms and partnerships will enable countries to advance their industrialisation agendas in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)?

Indeed, technological advancements have given the concept of industrialisation a new meaning. It is no longer possible to speak about industrialisation without taking into account the disruptive impact of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and the level of automation that will be achieved on the production floor. The introduction of these technologies is a source of anxiety, as many fear the risk of the destruction of jobs. At the same time, it is vital to consider the risks of not adopting these technologies while others adopt them. It is also important to bear in mind that automation is not new; what will be new is the level of automation. The question is: In what way will the new systems differ from existing systems, such that they will bring about a paradigm shift in industrial production?

Industries of the future will build on the technologies of the third industrial revolution, weaving industrial processes with breakthroughs in advanced technologies such as data management, 3D printing, machine learning and the Internet of Things. This means, among other things, that the new systems will be able to teach themselves and learn how to perform tasks without human intervention. According to Prof. Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent.”

It is true that our countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region were objects of the first, second and third industrial revolutions, in that we did not reap maximum benefits from these revolutions. The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has injected hope that these new technologies will help leapfrog our countries to the cutting edge of modern industrial production processes.

Undoubtedly these new technologies will have a huge impact on how we implement the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap. The question is: What are the fundamentals with regards to infrastructure that our countries need to put in place so that we can successfully leapfrog? Is the SADC ready for the 4IR? Do we have the necessary skills for us to be active participants in the 4IR?

South Africa and the SADC region are home to all the raw materials and minerals that are used in lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). The key components of LIBs include lithium, manganese, nickel, cobalt and titanium. Namibia and Zimbabwe have lithium reserves. The cathode materials for LIBs are manganese-based, and South Africa has 80% of global manganese reserves. In addition, the country has 40% of global titanium reserves as well as high quality nickel, which is a by-product of platinum group metal mining, while cobalt is available in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With the right investments and strategic engagements between SADC partners in order to secure the raw materials, our region could establish a viable and sustainable energy storage industry capable of addressing energy security, access and environmental impact issues in the SADC and the rest of the continent.

Furthermore, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) is currently funding a number of potentially high-impact crosscutting programmes requiring close integration and support from other departments. Such programmes have the potential to renew existing industries or establish new ones, making a substantial contribution to longer-term sustainable competitiveness and the penetration of new markets.

Examples of research and development (R&D)-led industry development programmes include the following:

Titanium metal powder manufacturing development.

Hydrogen fuel cell development, involving the beneficiation of platinum group metals.

Development of the precursor materials required for battery production, involving the beneficiation of manganese.

Additive manufacturing (3D printing) � we are already printing parts for Boeing.

Biotechnology, including agricultural, health, industry and indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) applications.

These are some of the capabilities that we are developing to give impetus to our industrialisation drive.

We are in the process of establishing an African Fourth Industrial Revolution Centre (SAFIRC), a South African affiliate to the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will be hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). This centre is aimed at creating policies, strategies and plans related to the adoption of transformative technologies in South Africa and the continent at large. Strategically, the role of SAFIRC will be to interrogate key societal issues in order to address broad-based distribution of technology for societal good and the responsible development of technologies, in particular to address national and pan-African development goals. To achieve this, SAFIRC will drive the policy and regulatory aspects that are required to ensure that the digital transformation brought about by the 4IR bridges the digital and socio-economic divides. The centre will seek partnerships from other African countries and will also bring in the private sector.

The foregoing highlights just some of the investments we have already made as the DST to get our country and our region ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A lot more still needs to be done to prepare for the new economic paradigm. All stakeholders � government, business, labour and civil society � need to work together to ensure that our response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution is one that lifts our region onto a higher developmental trajectory.

I wish you well in your deliberations.

Source: Department: Science and Technology (DST)