Picture: 123RF/Zimmytws
Picture: 123RF/Zimmytws

I have been reading your coverage of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) summit and shuddering in disbelief (“Cyril Ramaphosa wants SA to create its own Silicon Valley”, July 7; “SA takes a big step with 4IR summit”, July 9).

Both of your correspondents and, more importantly, President Cyril Ramaphosa, are just utterly clueless.

I have to wonder whether Ramaphosa even knows where Silicon Valley is and how it got its name, never mind what it took to start those companies.

For many years I worked for Intel, the company that started Silicon Valley 50 years ago. Intel was founded by two engineers with PhDs, Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore, in Santa Clara, California, 50km south of San Francisco.

Silicon Valley is so-named because Intel manufactures semiconductor chips, silicon being the largest individual component.

For me, it all started when I did a BSc in electrical engineering at Wits in 1983. I left SA in 1985 when PW Botha was trying to figure out how to spell “Rubicon”, and ended up working for Intel.

After the unbanning of the ANC and release of Nelson Mandela I returned to SA to start Intel here. Nowadays, Intel employs 107,000 people, mostly electrical engineers.

Now I am on the verge of leaving again, because the SA economy has hit a cul-de-sac.

In 1983 we had a graduating class at Wits of 50 electrical engineers, of which 45 subsequently left the country.

Group Five and Basil Read are closing down, retrenching thousands of civil engineers, many of whom will emigrate to Dubai, Canada or Australia where there is work.

There is little civil engineering work left in SA because all our tax money has gone to Zupta Inc. There is, of course, plenty of work for electrical engineers at Eskom, but I can’t imagine anyone with a conscience working there for very long.

Here is a 50-year plan to build the foundation for the fourth or fifth industrial revolution: focus on something we at Intel used to call “getting back to basics”.

Our children need to learn to read and write properly, then learn proper maths, then go to university and study proper degrees such as engineering.

Many students are technically illiterate. They do a dumbed-down version of maths — maths literacy.

The ones who make it to university often drop out because they are so ill-prepared.

The small percentage who do graduate become unemployable experts in political science, psychology or hashtags.

Best for SA to start that 50-year marathon now. It is hard, and there are just no shortcuts. A silly summit at Gallagher Estate is just another SA talk shop.

Robert Breyer
Cape Town