The South African information and communication technology (ICT) sector has a bold master plan to change its own and the country’s economic fortunes around in the next few years, and the government is now on board.
The Public-Private Growth Initiative is an industry-led partnership with the state, to identify high growth areas for targeted investment and other support
Leaders from 19 sectors of the South African economy agree that the country’s GDP can increase by around five percent over the next five years following a recent high-level meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Some sectors identified as having quick growth potential even during a sluggish economy are ICT, chemicals, private health, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and tourism.
Considering this, the Cabinet has backed a Digital Economy Summit in April which will be convened under the banner for 4IRSA (Fourth Industrial Revolution South Africa), a partnership of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Telkom, the University of the Witwatersrand, University of Johannesburg and University of Fort Hare.
The aim of the summit is to craft a coherent national response to 4IR. While there has been movement in some fields until now there has been a silo approach. Earlier this month CEOs and senior government officials met under the president’s Public-Private Growth Initiative, which is industry’s response to Ramaphosa’s call for the private sector to partner with government to turn around the economy. Several projects are already being explored.
The ICT sector was represented by Dell EMC’s Doug Wooley and Mteto Nyati, the CEO of Altron Group. They agreed that the ICT sector’s potential impact on an increased GDP was at understated. Also, the sector believes it is well placed to drive the spend of the ICT Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta) to help ensure that the critical 4IR skills the country needs not only for this sector but all the others, are developed and South Africa can catch up and keep pace with other countries.
Just one programme the ICT sector is focusing on is a national broadband project called Connecting People, Touching Lives. It will provide a transmission medium blend (different ways of transmitting signals to each other) by combining public and private infrastructure. This project will reach 10% of all new school pupils with an initial investment of R50m in skills development, a R100m contribution to public-private partnership funding, and between R500m to R1bn in foreign direct investment.
According to the ICT industry master plan, the sector wants to work with the government to introduce new legislation and policies for ICT to become a formal part of the school curriculum to support the digital economy. Its measures for success in this regard are the inclusion of an ICT relevant curriculum by next year, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects digitised by 2020, and a common platform for learning by the same year.
On skills development, the sector will identify best practice methods from countries that are making progress in this area and is calling for funds to be given back to industry through a tax incentive. It also wants funds to be used for right/critical ICT skills development by making 30% of an ICT skills levy contribution available to establish the right platform.
The plan calls for the creation of a joint ICT sector fund (an ICT bank) to support start-ups and provide preferential, sponsored, or free access to ICT technologies and intellectual property.
Like other countries, the plan wants ICT related ministries to radically improve collaboration, execution, monitoring and evaluation of how the sector and government partner to achieve economic and social impact. It is calling for an ICT advisory council to be set and up and have its first sitting in May this year.
The strategy also includes working with the government to introduce relevant research and development incentives to allow the industry to allocate more resources to innovation and skills development, and programmes that will have a positive effect on job creation, foreign investment, and SMME development.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, will be holding a series of meetings with the different sectors over the next weeks to explore how to keep the momentum going and decide the practical next steps to grow South Africa’s digital economy.