Life in digitalised South Africa

Posted on February 21, 2017 12:03 am

South Africa digitisation is the most robust in Africa from available digitised records sharing country’s history to use of technology in economic sectors. Thanks to a dedicated team that has been implementing such projects with expertise and experience on the technologies.Using digitised records has helped South Africans expand their knowledge and challenge received narratives of the apartheid It also brings the dangers of displacing historical and critical understanding with an emphasis on nationalism and fellow-feeling. Those digital archives that invite reflection and collaboration may be the most successful at engaging audiences in a more complex understanding of the racial past. For this reason, the impulses of family history, and the searchability of digital archives, are critically important characteristics of successful digitisation projects.There’s need for public to be able to trace their understanding of private testimonies back to those families who received, heard, kept and circulated them, and who themselves had experiences of apartheid worthy of remembrance. In doing this, South Africans will begin to achieve the kind of understanding of apartheid that these sources promise.Digitalisation, automation, artificial intelligence and the internet of things are buzz-words accompanying the trend in South Africa that is based on the notion of exponential development of technology, including raw computing and processing power.And cities like Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban is where the transformation could very well have the most dramatic impact. The reason is that the continent is leapfrogging into the digital era. Between 2012 and 2016, the share of the South African population with access to mobile internet skyrocketed from 34 percent to 92 percent and over 30 million South Africans own smartphones, a number that will almost double before the end of 2020.In a recent study, South African researchers estimated that a tech-powered South Africa could experience 25 percent growth in gross domestic product. The same study, however, also revealed that 64 percent of existing companies in South Africa might not survive in their current form.What South Africans are seeing is a combination of disruption and gradual evolution. There is no doubt that the application of technology brings opportunities and challenges in equal measure.

For any South Africa’s private or public organisation digitalisation holds the potential for efficiency gains and releasing resources for other priorities. But it can also bring risk and potentially harmful developments with it.In Cape Town, there are plenty of textbook examples of how the application of new technologies can disrupt a market. Thanks to the introduction of apps, businesses have experienced astonishing growth, cramping out competitors. Today, Uber in South Africa draws over 50,000 drivers who can move people while other platforms offers food and groceries to South Africans on a daily basis.Another example is energy. Eskom, the country’s energy services provider is in the process of building plants to produce additional energy. It requires massive investment, but the question is, of course, which solution will be best in the long term, and there enters solar and photovoltaic technologies, which are currently developing at exponential speed.Every 6 months the effect of solar panels doubles in South Africa. If this continues, the country’s energy demands could be covered by solar power alone in less than 10 years if energy storage is solved as well.It is a mind-blowing development with enormous potential. It could bring energy to even the most remote areas. And it could reduce poverty and starvation in a country that is known for high crime and highest murder rates in Sub Saharan Africa.Add to that the fast evolving South African 3D printing technology. In the near future, the need to move goods and spare parts will be significantly reduced and with time eliminated. Instead of ordering a new spare part in Pretoria for a fishing vessel in Durban, fishermen could have it printed in the local 3D print shop, saving time and money on transportation.On the downside, disruption also brings a number of challenges to South Africa that need to be addressed. Let’s take the middle-class jobs. For many parts of South Africa, economic growth is middle-class driven.

As the salary levels in the country are expected to rise after workers union and government agreed on minimum wage, many South African are hungrily awaiting the establishment of domestic production industries.However, the problem is that many middle-class jobs are the very jobs in risk of being lost due to automation. Disruption in other words has the potential to undermine the one thing South African economy has going for them and thats demographic development and a booming middle class.The other issue is infrastructure investment. Without embracing new technology and the required infrastructure investment, such as sufficient mobile internet coverage, disruption can create new barriers, inequalities and new winners and losers in South Africa and more precise, between the regions. For example Mpumalanga can’t have same development levels as Gauteng. My view is that South Africans who invest now will gain the most although the challenge with South Africa is limited resources and the lack of political will to do so.Technology development happens at a pace where it is often difficult if not impossible for public regulators to keep up and South Africa is not an exception. Consumer protection, monopolies and ethical standards are examples of potential challenges facing the country. At the same time, complexities surrounding ownership and cash flows could result in dwindling tax revenues for the country.Technology policy is already becoming the combined trade, security and foreign policy of South Africa in the 21st century. It will influence how the country behave. It will influence how South Africans organise themselves. And it will determine where growth and prosperity will emerge in the future. In the case of South African companies, the question is how to utilise technology in order to innovate, evolve and adapt. Disruption underlines the fact that businesses should not be complacency and reactiveness.Instead it is the development and nurturing of specific competences and skill sets in order for any South African business to think hard about how to prepare for what comes next. South Africa of today is less complex and challenging than South Africa of tomorrow and time is now for the country prepare for that future and partake in its conception. As Jacob Zuma recently indicated in his radical economic transformation agenda in his state of the nation address, agility, courage and vision will be key.

Contador Harrison