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South Africa builds its “Capable 4IR Army”

South African Institute of Professional Accountants
06 August 2019

South Africa builds its “Capable 4IR Army”

The South African government has instituted various projects to ensure the country becomes a major player in the 4th Industrial Revolution. According to Shahied Daniels, Chief Executive at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA), the government’s initiatives and strategies will keep technology, now a valuable national resource, from being monopolised by a few big industry players.

“The specialised knowledge and skills required for successful 4IR adoption must be evenly gifted to a new generation of labour force and entrepreneurs. This will drive equitable growth and promote inclusive enrichment for all South Africans,” he says.

SAIPA will be focusing on these and other concerns at its inaugural Accounting iNdaba, to be held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 13th to 15th August. Prominent speakers include Arthur Goldstruck of World Wide Worx and well-known radio and TV personality, Peter Ndoro, as well as numerous ambassadors of local and international professional organisations.

South Africa to lead
In an interview on Cape Talk Radio in April, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams noted that in the past, South Africa had been a consumer of technologies created by others.

This time, she stated, “our aim is to take a completely different direction” and government’s programmes will “enable people to program the machines, including making them.” This implies the State aims to pursue 4IR to the point where the country is capable of producing competitive, home-grown digital skills, systems and equipment.

4IR initiatives
The Minister’s own capacity building programme was launched last year under the theme of “Building a Capable 4IR Army”. Called the Tshepo One Million Programme, its goal is to train one million young people in data science and related skills by 2030.

Speaking at the 4IR Digital Economy Summit held in Johannesburg earlier this month, President Cyril Ramphosa announced new subjects to be introduced at schools to prepare students for 4IR careers. These include data science and analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, additive manufacturing, robotics and quantum computing.

The President also established a 30-member Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution to advise the government on leveraging opportunities presented by 4IR. The commission’s deputy chair is the University of Johannesburg’s Tshilidzi Marwala, a leading expert in the theory and application of artificial intelligence to engineering, computer science, finance, social science and medicine.

The Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) Data Science for Impact and Decision Enablement (DSIDE) programme, hosted at the CSIR, aims to build capacity by inviting university students to develop feasible solutions to real-world problems using data science.

Another DSI programme, the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), was established in 2006 to build research and innovation capacity at public universities. Its aim is to encourage strong local research and innovation leadership in South Africa.

In addition, the DSI will open a South African Affiliate Centre of the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network. This will assist the country in developing robust policy frameworks in collaboration with global stakeholders to ensure real benefits are realised from science and technology.

“These and other initiatives indicate the government is serious about achieving its 4IR mandate in a manner that serves society as a whole and fosters equality,” says SAIPA’s Daniels.

Daniels reports that SAIPA is also contributing through its collaboration with the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) to develop 4IR-ready accounting. “Professional Accountants have a significant role to play as trusted business advisors in terms of 4IR strategy development,” he concludes.