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South Africa appoints Fourth Industrial Revolution commission
April 30, 2019, 6:16 pm

The 30-member body will guide government policy

Ramaphosa wants the commission members to be from different sectors of society and reflect a balance in gender, youth, labour and business [PPIO]

The euphoria that accompanied the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in December 2017 has morphed into a dystopia, as business executives wonder whether the ANC is capable of leaving its ideological baggage of Marxism /Leninism behind and instead embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

It is to address this scepticism that Ramaphosa in April 2019 announced the establishment of a 30-member commission to guide government policy with regards to 4IR.

One of the commission members, Professor Chris Adendorff from the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, told The BRICS Post that he was honoured to be selected for the commission and looked forward to working with his fellow commissioners to make a meaningful change to policy.

“Although there is a lot of hype around the Fourth Industrial Revolution, especially as this is a focus of the World Economic Forum, the sad reality is that South Africa is one of only 20 countries that have actually appointed a commission on the 4IR to guide policy,” he said.

In his 2015 book “An umbrella for a rainbow nation”, Adendorff pointed out that we needed to make fundamental changes in the way we approach and plan for the future of South Africa towards 2055.

“The traditional ‘predict and provide’ model for a National Development Plan (NDP) needs to give way to a fresh, future-oriented approach, which can best be described as ‘explore, envision and plan’.

Life on earth today is a continual series of disruptive and disorienting changes with many of them happening at the same time.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to anticipate future conditions with any degree of confidence. This is because existing theories and practices often become obsolete under hyper-turbulent circumstances,” he wrote.

It is this “hyper-turbulence” that distinguishes 4IR from the Third Industrial Revolution.

According to the World Economic Forum, the First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production.

The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production.

In their view, the 4IR is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

“There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution, but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace.”

Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance,” the forum said on its website.

The Presidency said the commission members are from different sectors of society and reflect a balance in gender, youth, labour and business, including digital start-ups as well as digital entrepreneurships.

The Presidency reiterated that the commission’s mandate is to “assist government in taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital industrial revolution”.

Ramaphosa will chair the commission, and operational support will be provided by a secretariat of officials of various national departments, led by the Department of Communications.

Helmo Preuss in Makhanda for The BRICS Post