Sipho Maseko. Picture: BDTV
Sipho Maseko. Picture: BDTV

Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko’s call for a sharper national focus on the fourth industrial revolution appears to have been well received by the state.

Less than three weeks after Maseko published an open letter to SA’s political leaders, in which he said "we must urgently discuss the digital economy" to reignite the country’s growth, various state departments had agreed to be part of a summit aimed at boosting SA’s competitiveness, he said.

"I got a positive reaction – in the past two weeks I’ve been in conversations with different ministries, and every one is saying ‘How do we get this train going in a very practical way?’" Maseko told Business Day.

The University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg would help the private and public sectors to convene the "digital economy summit" and would also contribute their "intellectual prowess", he said.

"It won’t be just a dialogue, it’s actually about finding the practical things that we need to do and how we’ll do them.

"It will culminate in almost a sector-by-sector declaration on digital readiness. The agriculture players will need to be able to say ‘we are 30% or 70% behind’, and the same for the automotive and financial services industries," he said.

Maseko wanted the summit to yield declarations from each sector about how they planned to "catch up in terms of bridging the digital divide".

He was confident that the government was eager to be at the table, citing conversations with heads of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and the Department of Communications.

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services "welcomes opportunities for collaboration on progressive causes", department spokesman Siya Qoza said.

"Such a summit would offer us an opportunity to move closer to being the information society the National Development Plan envisages.

"Ultimately, such summits must lead to cutting-edge discussions on job creation, inclusive economic growth and a state which uses technology to improve the efficiency of delivering services," Qoza said.

Maseko said in his open letter earlier in June that the contraction of the South African economy in the first quarter of 2018 "should jolt us into action".

One way of doing this would be to release spectrum, or radio frequencies, so that the country could participate in the fourth industrial revolution.

Telkom and other mobile operators have long bemoaned the state’s stalled roll-out of spectrum, which is partly the result of SA’s slow migration to digital broadcasting. Maseko said the digital economy would raise the competitiveness of various sectors in the economy but would require investments in new types of skills, technologies and information and communications technology.