Prof Tshilidzi Marwala
Gitanjali Sah
Zhou Mingcheng
Seth Mulli

On 21 July 2020, the CACS, in collaboration with the UJ Library, hosted a diverse and expert-driven webinar entitled ‘Gearing Africa for the 4IR: Prospects, Trends and Challenges’.

Speakers included representatives of the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Huawei Technologies, and the Youth Bridge Trust (YBT). The audience included people from numerous African countries as well as China, France, and Switzerland.

The session was opened by Dr David Monyae, co-director of the CACS, who introduced the concept of the 4IR as a developmental issue for African countries, with some paradigm-shifting features.

In a keynote address, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, emphasised that, in order to avoid renewed inequalities in the course of the 4IR, African countries and their educational and other relevant institutions needed to cooperate with advanced international partners while also fostering domestic innovation. He added: ‘Academic institutions ranging from schools to universities to technical and vocational education and training colleges need to review their curriculums with a focus on promoting digital literacy.’

Ms Gitanjali Sah, Strategy and Policy Coordinator for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), focused on prospects for technological development in Africa and its potential to help realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Digitals skills could play a vital role in many African regions, and rapidly needed to be improved.

Edward Zhou, Vice-President for Global Public Affairs of Huawei, spoke on 5G and its key role in the 4IR. He noted that Huawei was the first research and development organisation to develop and deploy 5G, the next generation of wireless technology, a crucial infrastructure component of the 4IR. ‘So far, Huawei South Africa has launched free 5G training for ICT university students,’ he asserted.

The company was also actively collaborating with the South African government through its Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies. Among other things, it had launched training programmes in places where digital skills were urgently needed, including Mthatha, Butterworth and East London.

Thang Nguyen-Quoc, economist for the Africa Unit of the OECD Development Centre, focused on technological cooperation between the OECD and African countries in respect of infrastructure. Multiple studies conducted in partnership with African governments and organisations had demonstrated that resources for development in Africa had not kept up with population growth.

Seth Mulli, Executive Director of the YBT, spoke about 4IR and Africa’s youth. Observing that by 2030 Africa will have the youngest population in the world, he highlighted the role played by the YBT in fostering grassroots education and entrepreneurship. Its work was aimed at realising the youth dividend that the convergence of these factors promised to bring about. He added: ‘We are seeking to play a catalytic role in Africa by scaling up our programmes to reach more youths in different geographic locations.’

Prof Peng Yi, co-director of the CACS, thanked the speakers and the audience for their participation, and the staff of the various institutions involved for the role in organising the event. They had all contributed to its success.