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4IRSA announces 1st Digital Economic Summit for SA

- Wits Unversity

"We are the pioneers who can reimagine how digital innovation can transform our world.”

"We need to reimagine human life and what it means to be human in the 21st Century,” Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of Wits University said in welcoming delegates to the launch of the @4IRSA Partnership’s first #DigitalEconomicSummit to take place on Friday, 5 July 2019.

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 (4IR) in South Africa.

Professor Adam Habib, Wits University Vice-Chancellor, addressing @4IRSA Digital Economic Summit media launch.

“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,” Habib said. “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.”

Taking place at the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub in Braamfontein, the launch was also an opportunity for the 4IRSA Secretary General Brian Armstrong, who is also a Professor of Digital Business at the Wits Business School, to update government, partners and the broader society about the work that the 4IRSA partners have done the past few months.

“The 4IRSA partnership is really important because it is a spontaneous and growing alliance between enthusiastic and concerned partners in industry, academia and government, together with social actors and citizens, who are committed to working together to develop a coherent, inclusive national response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa,” Armstrong said.

The 4IRSA partnership was founded by the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Fort Hare, with Deloitte Africa joining as a facilitation and knowledge partner and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services as the public sector partner.

As the initiative grows, it will include more participation from government, labour, business, civil society and researchers. It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams addressing @4IRSA Digital Economic Summit media launch.

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who is currently overseeing the merger of the Departments of Telecommunications and Postal Services with the Department of Communications, delivered the keynote address and introduced the newly appointed Commissioners on the #4IRCommission who also attended the launch.

“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,” says Ndabeni-Abrahams. 

On show at the launch were 4IR technologies being developed at Tshimologong: a 3D printer printing the 4IRSA logo; a robot crane made from drone recycled material; and a hydroponic garden.  Run by Wits University, Tshimologong, which means “new beginnings” in Setswana, is an incubation hub for digital entrepreneurs, the commercialisation of research, and the development of high-level digital skills for students, working professionals and unemployed youth.

From the 4IRSA partners

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 said. 

Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko addressing @4IRSA Digital Economic Summit media launch.

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,” said 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. 

Deloitte, which has played a pivotal role in workshops with different sectors of the economy in the lead up to the summit, says it is proud to be a part of the initiative. “One of the shared goals of building a trustworthy and sustainable society is about making business work for people and, therefore, we must appreciate the mutual value we realise in our collective success. First and foremost, we are citizens of South Africa Inc and when SA grows, we grow. So as a stakeholder in this dialogue we want to ensure that we have evidence-based conversations that lead to meaningful outcomes in our communities,” said Deloitte Southern Africa Managing Director Thiru Pillay.

About @4IRSA

For the latest news on Wits University’s involvement in the #4IRSA Partnership visit for news from the #4IRSA alliance visit

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About the @4IRSA Partnership

The Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa (#4IRSA) is an alliance between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS).

Its purpose is to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4thIndustrial 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.

The 4IRSA Partnership recognises that there are several 4IR-related processes and dialogues underway in South Africa: in government, industry, academia and society at large.

However, these are, in the main, fragmented, eclectic and divergent, and indeed there is a high level of unawareness of each other between these processes. The 4IRSA Partnership aims to provide a platform for all these processes and stimulate shared conversation, so that they become mutually visible, thereby facilitating progressive coherence between them, moving from fragmented divergence towards complementarity.

Following a host of workshops early in 2019, the next steps will be:

A Summit of Principles (SOP) is scheduled for later this year. This will include representatives of all of the above industries, related government departments, labour and other stakeholders. The objectives of the Summit of Principles are: to build alignment, participation and momentum for the 4IRSA process; share sector workshop outputs; agree on key areas for further research and deliberation; and agree on a framework for further action and the roadmap towards the Summit of Declarations.

The Summit of Declarations is anticipated to be held in the 4th quarter of 2019. The objective of the Summit of Declarations are: to consolidate all workstream reports into a comprehensive national response; for all stakeholders of each sector represented to table and commit to a short, medium and long term response by that sector to the 4th IR, in the form of a declaration for that sector; to agree monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; to agree further areas of dialogue and research.