Digital Futures: South Africa’s Readiness for the 4IR

Research ICT Africa

Research ICT Africa (RIA) and the University of Cape Town’s Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance were commissioned by the National Planning Commission (NPC) to review the National Development Plan (NDP) in terms of South Africa’s digital future. This report was completed in 2019 prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and released for public comment in July 2020.

The aim of this review was to assess the NDP against any course corrections that might be required for South Africa to achieve its digital vision in the context of the rapid changes resulting from the intensifying but uneven and inequitable, global processes of digitalisation and datafication. The report addresses this question in relation to the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (4IR), which has been placed at the centre of digital policy in the country. The report argues that a technologically determinist, generally ahistorical and often futurist lens associated with 4IR blueprints – currently the only lens on our digital future – cannot deliver on the inclusive and equitable vision espoused in the NDP as essential to our progress.

In the report it is argued that to fully harness the powerful capabilities of these advanced technologies to contribute to the national policy priorities of job creation, poverty alleviation and equality, certain preconditions would need to be met. These include putting in place the long- neglected supply-side measures to improve affordable and meaningful digital access. However, even if they are attended to urgently, they are not sufficient on their own. Arguably more important are the demand-side strategies required to increase the absorptive capacity of users, firms, citizens and the awareness of data subjects that fuel the platform economy – not only engineers, coders or data scientists – and will be an essential aspect of the economic reconstruction of the country.

Download the report below.

Suggested citation

Research ICT Africa. (2020). Digital Futures: South Africa’s Readiness for the 4IR [Policy Paper]. Research ICT Africa. https://researchictafrica.net/publication/digital-futures-south-africas-readiness-for-the-4ir/