On Thursday, 11 April 2019, the Minister of Telecommunications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams officially launched the 4IRSA Partnership and unveiled its plans towards the country’s first Digital Economy Summit at a media briefing. The summit is scheduled to be held on 27-28 June 2019 at the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub.
The Fourth Industrial Partnership for South Africa (4IRSA) initiative has been formed by the Universities of Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg (UJ), and Fort Hare (UFH), with support from Telkom SA.
Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams emphasised the need to put people at the centre of the 4IR conversation.
She said, “As we unpack the critical components of 4IR, it is important that people are placed at the centre of the
conversation. As government, this is woven into all our 4IR interventions, and as such, we have been deliberate
in seeking collaborative efforts that build a capable 4IR army. In the same breadth, we must ensure that we
create and own solutions that respond to our unique requirements as a country. Lastly, it is imperative that all
sectors find expression in the 4IR conversation.”
Wits University is a founding partner of 4IRSA, a partnership that aims to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa. It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.
“We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power,” says Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib. “Whilst it is important to address the challenges of our past, it is equally important that we prepare for a collective and common digital and technological future so that we can determine how it will impact on us as a society.”
The universities of Johannesburg and Fort Hare re also focusing research attention on 4IR, with a number of different projects and courses. ‘’Industry 4.0, as the 4IR is also known, is changing the world of work, because artificially intelligent machines now perform tasks that were traditionally performed by human beings. The consequence of this change is that the world of work is shrinking. Economic inequality will also increase, which will result in social instability. This will, in turn, undermine democracy,” says the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, of the University of Johannesburg, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala.
UFH believes that the 4IRSA collaboration is central to the way we reimagine higher education and its purpose. “Our staff and our students have a critical role to play in shaping as well as in responding to the significant and sweeping changes to the current order and the way we work. Our research-based engagement with our partners on the possibilities and implications of 4IR, therefore, is at the core of realising our vision to be a vibrant, equitable and sustainable African university, committed to teaching and research excellence at the service of its students, scholars and the wider community,” says UFH Vice-Chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu.
On show at the launch were some of the technologies associated with 4IR, such as a 3D printer printing the 4IRSA logo, a robot crane made from drone recycled material, and a hydroponic garden.
Telkom Group CEO Sipho Maseko hailed 4IRSA as a potential economic and developmental game-changer for the country. “The 4IRSA Partnership may be the most important collaboration between the government, public institutions and the private sector in South Africa right now. Its potential impacts are transformative both economically and politically. As a leading ICT player with significant public ownership, and as a committed corporate citizen, Telkom is passionate about addressing today’s challenges to ensure tomorrow’s prosperity. We, therefore, have to be a participant and a full partner in 4IRSA. We encourage everyone else to do the same,” he adds.