President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE/ GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE/ GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed members of a presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution to recommend policies, strategies and plans to position SA as a competitive player in the digital space.

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

A 2017 McKinsey report projected that by 2030, at least a third of the activities of 60% of occupations could be automated.

Another recent study by global consultancy firm 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.

Ramaphosa will chair the 30-member commission, the presidency announced in a statement issued on Tuesday.

The deputy chair of the commission is University of Johannesburg professor Tshilidzi Marwala, whose expertise spans the theory and application of AI to engineering, computer science, finance, social science and medicine.

The commission members include MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela, Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub, and Lindiwe Matlali, the founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks, a nongovernmental organisation that teaches children how to code.

Operational support to the commission will be provided by a secretariat of officials from various national departments, led by the department of communications, the presidency said.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who is the co-ordinator of the government’s fourth industrial revolution programme, is due to convene an induction session with appointed commissioners, after which the commission will have its inaugural meeting with the president.

In his state of the nation address in February, Ramaphosa emphasised the need for the country to adapt to and take advantage of the revolutionary advances in technology.

“Unless we adapt, unless we understand the nature of the profound change that is reshaping our world and unless we readily embrace the opportunities it presents, the promise of our nation’s birth will forever remain unfulfilled,” Ramaphosa said at the time.

“Today we choose to be a nation that is reaching into the future. In doing so, we are building on a platform of extraordinary scientific achievement,” he said.