President Cyril Ramaphosa believes there are trillions of rand waiting for SA to “grab” if it can keep pace with the digital revolution and create its own version of Silicon Valley, the San Francisco home to the world’s largest high-tech firms, including Apple and Facebook, as well as thousands of start-up companies.
The digital revolution called on the state to be a risk taker and be entrepreneurial, he said during his keynote address at the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) digital economy summit in Johannesburg last week.
The 4IR is expected to merge exponential digital growth with the physical world and human biology.
Ramaphosa said his administration had committed itself to a skills revolution that will give SA the human capital needed to succeed in the tech-dominated future.
“The digital revolution is an opportunity to build an entrepreneurial state, where government’s own appetite for risk and innovation inspires large-scale entrepreneurship and unlocks economic potential.”
He noted that successful global tech companies, such as Google, enjoyed what he described as robust state funding at various points in their lives.
“Therefore an entrepreneurial state should not only provide funding but should also have capacity to determine the strategic direction of entrepreneurship.”
Ramaphosa said an entrepreneurial state should have strong venture capital as one of its elements.
“With our eye on the future, we welcome the recent forecast by Accenture that digital technologies can generate R5-trillion in value for South African industry and society in the next decade,” he said.
“Accenture anticipates that this value will materialise particularly in agriculture, infrastructures, manufacturing and financial services, with R1.4-trillion created by 2026 alone.”
The president said SA wanted small, medium and macro enterprises to be able to find “fertile ground to succeed and unlock economic potential and create a Silicon Valley,” the President noted.
Ramaphosa said the digital economy was valued at about R5-trillion, which he described as money that is “waiting for us to go out and grab in industries such as agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing, and financial services”.
“Jack Ma, my friend, said the opportunities that everyone cannot see are the real opportunities,” he said to loud applause. Ma is the billionaire co-founder of the Alibaba Group, one of the world’s largest e-commerce businesses. He addressed the SA investment summit in 2018.
While many jobs will be lost as SA embraces the 4IR, many more will be created, said Ramaphosa, who was appointed as the co-chair of the International Labour Organisation’s Global Commission on the Future of Work.
“This 4IR can help us advance the priorities that we have set out for ourselves. We have in a short space of time and rapidly changing technology advanced from being a nation of late bloomers to one of early adopters. We need to focus on the new technologies that are going to revolutionise the world,” Ramaphosa said.
Kevin Tao, board director and senior vice-president of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, said the company has been assisting SA to become a digital economy hub in Africa. -Businesslive