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Speech at iNESI Graduation

Address by the Honourable Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, on the Occasion of The Ikamva National e-Skills Institute (iNeSI) Graduation Ceremony, 21 June 2014

Johannesburg

Programme Director,

Chairperson of iNeSI, Dr Molatelo Maloka,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Parents, teachers, students

Our graduates,

Thank you for inviting me to attend the graduation ceremony.  This occasion allows us to celebrate the commitment and discipline of these young people, who have worked hard to obtain a qualification that will enable them to kick start their careers as young entrepreneurs in the creative media and Broadcasting Industry and/ or to be employed at various media houses. 

The National and Provincial Labour Market Survey released by StatsSA earlier this month assessed the situation of youth aged between 15 and 34 years in the South African labour market over the period 2008 to 2014.   These widely publicised results indicated that even though young people constitute 52 to 64 percent of the working age population, they account for only 42 to 49 percent of the people who are currently employed.  Furthermore, the results stated that many young people have not worked before; the incidence of long-term unemployment among the youth is very high; and that 26.6 percent of young people (15-34 years) resided in households where no one was employed.  The figures, though alarming, must be placed within the context that the world has been experiencing a cyclical economic slump for most of this decade.  Drastic action however, remains necessary.

As government we are fully conscious of the obstacles that are preventing our youth from taking up their rightful space as productive players in the economy and in society.  The new administration is fully committed to facilitating the removal of these obstacles and the President went to great lengths to indicate some of the initiatives that government will be driving in his state of the nation address this past Tuesday.  

In this regard President Zuma stated that: “Youth empowerment will be prioritised in our economic transformation programme and government will introduce further measures to speed up the employment of young people, consistent with the Youth Employment Accord. We will expand the number of internship positions in the public sector, with every government department and public entity being required to take on interns for experiential training.”  The President also highlighted the role of the private sector and stated that, “The private sector has responded positively to the introduction of the employment tax incentive. In only five months, there are 133 000 employees who have benefited and 11 000 employers who have participated in the incentive scheme.”

While we are a developmental state and government is fully committed to playing a pivotal role in eradicating unemployment, poverty and inequality, we are depending on our young people to play an active role in catapulting our economy into higher levels of inclusive growth.  On 16 June we celebrated Youth Day and reflected on the role played by young people in placing the final nail in the coffin of Apartheid.  The youth of today have a new responsibility.  This responsibility is that of driving a new epoch, an epoch based on information.  It is the youth that have to be the core drivers of the digital revolution. Already we have a permeable information environment where accessing the Internet has become effortless and an integral part of our lifestyle. Mobile, wearable, and embedded computing will be tied together in the Internet of Things, allowing people and their surroundings to tap into artificial intelligence-enhanced cloud-based information storage and sharing. 

The world is moving rapidly towards ubiquitous connectivity that will further change how and where people associate, gather and share information. It is also expected that the digital era will fundamentally transform most human interaction, especially affecting health, education, work, politics, economics, and entertainment.   Our primary objective now, has to be to connect people.  Once we do that we will increase the uptake and usage of the internet.

Experts have outlined fifteen identifiable theses about our digital future.   These are that:

1.Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.

2.The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.  We will see more planetary friendships, rivalries, romances, work teams, study groups, and collaborations.

3.The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior.  If we can succeed in reducing the cost of collecting information on virtually every interaction to almost zero, the insights that we gain from our activity, in the context of the activity of others, will fundamentally change the way we relate to one another, to institutions, and with the future itself. We will become far more knowledgeable about the consequences of our actions; we will edit our behavior more quickly and intelligently.

4.Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health. We may well see wearable devices and/or home and workplace sensors that can help us make ongoing lifestyle changes and provide early detection for disease risks, not just disease. We may literally be able to adjust both medications and lifestyle changes on a day-by-day basis or even an hour-by-hour basis, thus enormously magnifying the effectiveness of an ever more understaffed medical delivery system.

5.Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and public uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge.

6.The spread of the ‘Ubernet’ will diminish the meaning of borders, and new ‘nations’ of those with shared interests may emerge and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.

7.The Internet will become ‘the Internets’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated.

8.An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers. The biggest impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge. 

9.Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.

10.Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others.  Information ethics and matters like cyber-security will intensify fundamentally.

11.Pressured by these changes, governments and corporations will try to assert power — and at times succeed — as they invoke security and cultural norms. Governments will become much more effective in using the Internet as an instrument of political and social control. That is, filters will be increasingly valuable and important, and effective and useful filters will be able to charge for their services. People will be more than happy to trade the free-wheeling aspect common to many Internet sites for more structured and regulated environments.

12.People will continue — sometimes grudgingly — to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy; and privacy will be something only the upscale will enjoy.

13.Humans and their current organisations may not respond quickly enough to challenges presented by complex networks.  The most neglected aspect of the impact is in the geopolitics of the Internet. There are very few experts focused on this, and yet the rise of digital media promises significant disruption to relations between and among states. Some of the really important dimensions include the development of transnational political actors/movements, the rise of the virtual state, the impact of digital diplomacy efforts, the role of information in undermining state privilege (think Wikileaks), and … the development of cyber-conflict (in both symmetric and asymmetric forms).”

14.Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about; these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.  Nishant Shah, visiting professor at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University, Germany, observed, “It is going to systemically change our understandings of being human, being social, and being political. It is not merely a tool of enforcing existing systems; it is a structural change in the systems that we are used to. And this means that we are truly going through a paradigm shift — which is celebratory for what it brings, but it also produces great precariousness because existing structures lose meaning and valence, and hence, a new world order needs to be produced in order to accommodate for these new modes of being and operation. The greatest impact of the Internet is what we are already witnessing, but it is going to accelerate.”

15.Foresight and accurate predictions can make a difference.  The best way to predict the future will be to invent it. Robert Cannon, Internet law and policy expert, wrote, “The Internet, automation, and robotics will disrupt the economy as we know it. How will we provide for the humans who can no longer earn money through labor? The opportunities are simply tremendous. Information, the ability to understand that information, and the ability to act on that information will be available ubiquitously … Or we could become a ‘brave new world’ where the government (or corporate power) knows everything about everyone everywhere and every move can be foreseen, and society is taken over by the elite with control of the technology… The good news is that the technology that promises to turn our world on its head is also the technology with which we can build our new world. It offers an unbridled ability to collaborate, share, and interact. ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’ It is a very good time to start inventing the future.”

As young people you have to be conscious of the opportunities and threats that come with this digital revolution.  Already we are seeing manifestations of these fifteen theses in South Africa.  But if you respond fast, and appropriately, the opportunities can outweigh the threats.  Statistics South Africa indicates that the contribution of the ICT sector to GDP in 2012 was 6 percent.  The ICT industry in South Africa also contributes to greater productivity in other sectors and therefore we are looking to this sector to change the structure of our economy, and we are counting on you to champion this change.  Given the emerging opportunities being presented by the digital revolution, we are looking to you to use your innovation and creativity to expand the ICT industry as owners and job creators.

The global mobile market is surging and young people have an exponential say in that. The cell phone is increasingly being used to not only to send text and picture messages, and participate in the social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, but also for core economic activities such as internet banking and on-line shopping. The South African Social Media Landscape 2014 indicates that South Africa has 9.4 million active users and Twitter has 5.5 million users, some of whom are probably sitting here and tweeting away as I speak.   

Given that South Africa’s mobile penetration rate exceeds a 100 percent, it becomes imperative that our young people design applications that are responsive to our country and the continent’s socio-economic needs.  

In his speech on Tuesday, President Zuma said that, “We will expand, modernise and increase the affordability of information and communications infrastructure and electronic communication services, including broadband and digital broadcasting. Cabinet adopted “South Africa Connect”, our Broadband Policy and Strategy, in December last year to take this mission forward.” 

The implementation of South Africa Connect is the responsibility of my Ministry, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services.  One of the pillars, called digital opportunities, particularly requires your participation.  This pillar speaks to content and application development.  It also speaks to the building of an ICT industry in South Africa.  As we take up our rightful space in the global digital arena, it becomes important that the equipment that we use, are locally produced, and you have to be the manufacturers and producers of this equipment and applications.

As government, we have, through iNeSI gone to great lengths to provide the ecosystem that supports the innovation process. One example is the e-Inclusion and Social Innovation CoLab: in the Western Cape, based at the University of the Western Cape, which last year ran CodeJam 2013.  CodeJam is a mobile apps development competition with a focus on social innovation, aimed at addressing local socio-economic challenges. It incorporated business training and mentorship, as well as mobile apps training. Business incubation and entrepreneurial training were part of the prizes. The target was young people between the ages of 18- 25, who are not in formal employment, from the Western Cape.  As part of the CodeJam 2013 process, all 16 category winners are participating in a pre-incubation phase to further develop their mobile app ideas for commercialisation.

On 21 March 2014, this process was formally launched in collaboration with the Bandwidth Barn, a business incubator based in Cape Town. It will involve a two-month period using a blended learning approach (e-learning on the Bandwidth Barn e-platform) and face-to-face workshop sessions. Through these practical measures iNeSI is ensuring that we are part and parcel of the 21st century. Through collaboration, iNeSI is certainly e-skilling the nation for equitable prosperity and global competitiveness. Keep up the good work and let’s see this type of development occurs throughout the country. 

Core to the digital opportunities pillar of our Broadband Policy, South Africa Connect, as well, is ensuring that our society and young people in particular, are appropriately skilled.  In general, a lot is happening in the field of education.  Over the last 20 years 1.4 million students have been provided with assistance through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. Twice as many young people attended university and twice as many graduated in 2012 than in 1994. In the past five years the matric pass rate increased from 60.6 percent in 2009 to 78.2 percent in 2013. Loans and bursaries to poor students grew from 2.3 billion rand in 2008 to 8 billion rand in 2013. Over seven million learners are in no fee schools, up from five million in 2009. 

As government we have also specifically directed resources towards skilling youth who have a passion and interest for electronic community media platforms, such as radio and television. This graduation is an indication of government’s commitment to realising the National Development Plan milestones of an information society and knowledge economy by capacitating our young people with appropriate skills in the field of ICTs.  We expect you to use these skills not only to build our economy, but also to build national unity through shaping the content of community, public and private radio and television shows. 

Graduates, our expectations of you are high.  My generation has liberated South Africa from Apartheid. Your generation has to help us to liberate our people from poverty.  Once again congratulations on your achievement. I would like each one of you to pledge to give back to your community, to our country, and to our continent. Working together we can move South Africa and Africa forward.

 

Thank you.