David Mabuza. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/MASI LOSI
David Mabuza. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/MASI LOSI

SA has plans in place to cope with the fourth industrial revolution, Deputy President David Mabuza said on Wednesday.

Responding to questions in the National Assembly , Mabuza said the Fourth Industrial Revolution Commission will co-ordinate the development of SA’s national response through a comprehensive action plan.

A McKinsey report published in 2017 projected that by 2030 at least one-third of the activities of 60% of occupations could be automated.

Another recent study by global consultancy Accenture found that close to  6-million jobs in SA would be at risk over the next seven years due to automation. The study highlighted that both blue- and white-collar jobs are at risk. These occupations include those of clerks, cashiers, bank tellers, construction workers, mining and maintenance staff.

“The process is currently underway to appoint individuals to the presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution, as announced by the president in the state of the nation address,” said Mabuza.

“As [the] government, we recognise the need to make smart investments in research and development which support our industrialisation plan, including manufacturing, that will lead to the creation of more jobs,”  he said.

He said the commission will co-ordinate the development of SA’s national response through a comprehensive action plan.

“We can’t afford to lag behind emerging global developments and that is why we must engage on a process of continuous innovation, research, skilling of our people, in particular the youth, in order to meet the demands of today’s knowledge-based economy,” said Mabuza.

Several studies have shown that the fourth industrial revolution — which involves a fusion of artificial intelligence and automated machines — has the potential to disrupt every industry.

Meanwhile, Mabuza raised eyebrows when he suggested that Eskom’s recent load-shedding crisis was a sign of “growth”.

“Yesterday electricity was only given to a few people, and today electricity is given to millions of people.  As we grow, we are going to encounter challenges,” Mabuza said in response to a question from DA chief whip John Steenhuisen.

Earlier in February, the power utility, which has struggled with maintenance issues and design flaws at its poorly constructed power stations of Medupi and Kusile, resorted to load-shedding as it could not meet demand. Eskom took 4,000MW off the grid for the first time, as 40% of its available generating fleet was offline. Load-shedding is conducted rotationally as a last resort to protect the power system from a total collapse or blackout.

During a debate in parliament on the Eskom crisis last week, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said the power utility’s salary bill continues to rise and the bloated management layers are of concern.

Various studies have found that Eskom, which has more than 35,000 employees, is overstaffed. A 2016 World Bank study of utilities in Africa, which looked at the staffing data for 36 countries, found that Eskom needs a workforce of 14,244.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za