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4th Industrial Revolution

Updated: May 21, 2023

South Africa's success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will depend on its ability to harness the full potential of its scientific, industrial, and creative sectors. The 4IR, characterized by rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, internet of things(IoT), big data analytics, machine learning (ML), robotics, quantum computing, biotechnology, additive or 3D printing, nanotechnology, internet of things (IoT), cyber-physical systems (CPS), blockchain, driverless vehicles, Machine to Machine (M2M) communication, and other new digital technologies, presents both challenges and opportunities for the country. Through the 4IR technology, we will be able to fast-track service delivery backlogs and challenges.

Establishing a high-level inter-departmental/inter-ministerial, multi-stakeholder governance, and coordination structure is crucial for the effective implementation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) strategy in South Africa. Such a structure would bring together key stakeholders from various government departments, private sector organizations, civil society groups, and research institutions to oversee the development and implementation of the strategy.

This structure would be responsible for developing policies and guidelines that promote innovation and investment in 4IR technologies. It would also facilitate collaboration and information-sharing among stakeholders, and ensure that the benefits of 4IR are shared equitably across society, including marginalized groups. Moreover, the governance and coordination structure should provide a platform for monitoring and evaluating the progress of the 4IR strategy, identifying potential challenges and opportunities, and making necessary adjustments.

Data is the new gold in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. World data is projected to grow at 40% rate per year, however Facebook has the most data on South Africans, the government knows nothing.Studies have forecasted that by 2025, the global datasphere will grow to 163 zettabytes (trillion gigabytes). These data sources consist of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, emails, webpages, online searches etc. In general, any activity in the digital world creates data.

The key to using technology to create a better future for all lies in ensuring that it is inclusive and human-centric. By prioritizing the needs of individuals and communities, we can harness the power of technology to address some of the most pressing issues facing South Africa

Singapore and the UAE haVE emerged as global leaders in 4IR implementation, thanks to their strategic planning, focus on innovation, and strong government support. The South African government can learn several valuable lessons from their approaches to the 4IR.

In order to achieve economic competitiveness and societal well-being, South Africa must focus on the following areas:

  1. Education and skills development: A strong emphasis must be placed on improving the quality of education and equipping citizens with the necessary skills to participate in the 4IR economy. This includes fostering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, promoting lifelong learning, and investing in vocational training and apprenticeship programs. Singapore places a strong emphasis on education and skills development, particularly in STEM fields. South Africa can adopt similar policies to ensure its workforce is equipped with the necessary skills to compete in the 4IR economy. This includes investing in high-quality education, vocational training, and lifelong learning opportunities.The UAE has focused on developing a skilled workforce capable of driving the 4IR, through education, vocational training, and attracting global talent. South Africa can similarly invest in education and training, and implement policies that attract and retain skilled professionals.

  2. Infrastructure and connectivity: Developing a robust digital infrastructure is crucial for the 4IR. This includes expanding high-speed internet access, especially in rural areas, and investing in advanced technologies like 5G networks, data centers, and cloud computing.Singapore has invested heavily in digital infrastructure, ensuring widespread access to high-speed internet and advanced technologies. South Africa can prioritize the development of robust digital infrastructure, including expanding broadband access, investing in 5G networks, and improving connectivity in rural areas.The UAE has made significant investments in digital infrastructure, including high-speed internet, smart city initiatives, and advanced technologies like 5G networks. South Africa can prioritize the development of digital infrastructure and ensure that it is accessible to all segments of the population.

  3. Innovation and entrepreneurship: Encouraging a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship is key to unlocking South Africa's creative potential. This involves supporting local startups, providing funding for research and development, and establishing technology hubs and incubators to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing.Singapore has created a thriving ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship, providing significant support to startups and research organizations. South Africa can emulate this by investing in research and development, fostering a culture of innovation, and providing financial and regulatory support to entrepreneurs and startups.The UAE has been promoting innovation and research by establishing research centers, funding innovative projects, and offering incentives for research and development (R&D). South Africa can invest in R&D, support local innovators, and create an ecosystem that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.

  4. Inclusive growth: Ensuring that the benefits of the 4IR are shared by all segments of society is crucial. This includes creating jobs, reducing inequality, and addressing socio-economic disparities through targeted policies and programs.Inclusivity and social cohesion: While Singapore has made remarkable progress in the 4IR, it is also working to address issues of inequality and social cohesion. South Africa can learn from these efforts and implement policies that promote inclusive growth and ensure the benefits of the 4IR are shared by all segments of society.

  5. Regulatory environment: Establishing a conducive regulatory environment that supports innovation and digital transformation while protecting citizens' privacy and security is vital. This involves updating existing laws and regulations to address the unique challenges posed by emerging technologies.Singapore has established a conducive regulatory environment that supports innovation while ensuring data privacy and security. South Africa can similarly work towards modernizing its regulatory framework to address the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the 4IR.The UAE's strategy places a strong emphasis on sustainability and resource efficiency, recognizing the importance of environmental preservation in the context of the 4IR. South Africa can integrate sustainability into its 4IR strategy, focusing on the development of green technologies and promoting resource efficiency across various sectors.

  6. Partnerships and collaboration: Developing strong partnerships between the public and private sectors, as well as international collaboration, is essential to drive innovation and share best practices. This includes working with regional and global organizations to promote investment, knowledge exchange, and technology transfer.Singapore has successfully forged strong partnerships between the public and private sectors, as well as with international organizations. South Africa can strengthen such collaborations to drive innovation, attract investment, and share knowledge and best practices. The UAE has fostered strong collaborations between the public and private sectors to drive the implementation of the Fourth Industrial Strategy. South Africa can follow suit by encouraging PPPs in key sectors, facilitating investment, and creating an environment conducive to business growth.

  7. Long-term vision and strategy: Singapore has a clear long-term vision and strategy for embracing the 4IR, guided by initiatives such as the Smart Nation program. South Africa can benefit from developing a comprehensive national strategy that outlines its priorities, goals, and roadmap for embracing the digital revolution. The UAE's Fourth Industrial Strategy outlines a clear vision for the country's transition to a knowledge-based economy, focusing on key sectors and technological advancements. South Africa can develop its own comprehensive strategy that identifies priority areas, sets goals, and outlines a roadmap for embracing the 4IR.The UAE's strategy identifies six priority sectors: aviation, renewable energy, healthcare, transport, education, and water. South Africa can similarly identify sectors with high growth potential and strategically invest in their development.

By learning from Singapore's and The UAE's approach to the 4IR, the South African government can adopt best practices and strategies to successfully navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital revolution, driving economic growth and improving societal well-being. By focusing on these key areas, South Africa can position itself as a leader in the 4IR, harnessing the potential of its diverse population to drive economic growth and improve societal well-being.

Despite fiscal constraints, the South African government has the potential to leverage its purchasing power to stimulate the growth of future industries. This can be achieved by strategically directing public procurement policies towards the support and development of emerging sectors, technologies, and entrepreneurs. Such an approach can yield multiple benefits, including the delivery of public goods, the creation of new markets, and fostering a more inclusive and representative economy.

Here are some ways the South African government can use its buying power to ignite the creation of industries of the future:

  1. Prioritize local procurement: The government can develop and implement policies that prioritize local businesses, particularly those focusing on emerging technologies and innovative solutions. This will encourage local production, job creation, and help develop a strong domestic market.

  2. Focus on sustainable and innovative solutions: Public procurement policies can be designed to favor environmentally sustainable and innovative products and services. This will not only contribute to the country's sustainable development goals but also stimulate demand for innovative solutions.

  3. Encourage public-private partnerships: The government can foster collaboration between the public and private sectors to jointly develop and implement innovative projects in areas such as infrastructure, healthcare, and education. This will help attract investment, create new markets, and build local capacity.

  4. Support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): The government can introduce policies and initiatives that specifically target SMEs and historically disadvantaged groups, promoting their participation in public procurement processes. This will contribute to the broader transformation vision and help create a more inclusive and diverse economy.

  5. Invest in research and development: The government can increase its investment in research and development, particularly in areas with high growth potential such as renewable energy, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing. This will not only help create new industries but also ensure that South Africa remains competitive in the global market.

  6. Leverage international partnerships: South Africa can engage in international partnerships to access global markets, attract foreign investment, and exchange knowledge and technology. This can help the country gain insights into best practices and foster the growth of local industries.

By strategically using its buying power, the South African government can play a crucial role in creating the industries of the future, while simultaneously addressing public needs and driving economic transformation. This will require a coordinated approach, encompassing policy development, capacity building, and strong partnerships between the public and private sectors.

South Africa's focus on industrial sectors can be beneficial in terms of capitalizing on existing strengths and resources. By incorporating 4IR technologies and strategies into these sectors, the country can boost competitiveness and drive economic growth. Here are some suggestions on how South Africa can incorporate 4IR technologies into these sectors:


  • Adopting automation, robotics, and advanced manufacturing techniques to enhance production efficiency and reduce costs.

  • Investing in electric vehicle (EV) technology, battery production, and charging infrastructure to keep pace with global trends.

  • Utilizing connected vehicle technologies, such as vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, for improved safety and traffic management.

Clothing and Textiles:

  • Implementing advanced manufacturing processes like 3D printing and digital textile printing to enhance customization and reduce waste.

  • Incorporating smart textiles and wearable technology to create innovative products with added functionality.

  • Utilizing data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize supply chain management, inventory control, and demand forecasting.

Metal Fabrication:

  • Implementing advanced manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) for the production of complex metal components.

  • Utilizing AI, machine learning, and robotics to enhance precision, speed, and efficiency in production processes.

  • Adopting Industry 4.0 concepts like smart factories and digital twins to optimize production and monitor equipment performance.

Mining and Extractive Industry:

  • Utilize automation and robotics for deeper-level mineral extraction, improving safety and efficiency.

  • Implement digital rock-face mapping technologies to enhance mineral content analysis and inform precision drilling and extraction.

  • Leverage AI and data analytics to optimize mining operations and reduce environmental impact.


  • Leveraging precision agriculture technologies, such as drones, sensors, and satellite imagery, to optimize resource use and increase yields.

  • Utilizing AI and machine learning for predictive analytics in crop management, pest control, and disease prevention.

  • Implementing blockchain technology to enhance traceability and transparency throughout the supply chain.

  • Use biotechnology and informatics to improve seed and plant resilience, enhancing food security and biodiversity management.

  • Implement smart and precision farming techniques, such as drone mapping and data-gathering, to optimize resource use, crop management, and yield.

  • Employ automated, energy-efficient water-monitoring sensors to support precise water use for irrigation, minimizing waste and conserving water resources.

Forestry and Timber:

  • Utilizing remote sensing technologies and geographic information systems (GIS) for sustainable forest management and monitoring.

  • Adopting advanced manufacturing techniques to produce innovative wood products, such as engineered wood and bio-based materials.

  • Implementing IoT-based systems for real-time monitoring of equipment and forest resources.


  • Investing in research and development for biodegradable and eco-friendly plastic alternatives.

  • Utilizing AI and automation to optimize production processes, reduce waste, and enhance recycling efforts.

  • Employing Industry 4.0 concepts like smart factories and digital twins to monitor and optimize the manufacturing process.


  • Implementing advanced process control technologies and data analytics to enhance efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

  • Developing new materials and chemical products through nanotechnology, biotechnology, and other emerging technologies.

  • Ensuring compliance with global sustainability and environmental standards through continuous monitoring and optimization of production processes.

By integrating 4IR technologies into these sectors, South Africa can enhance its industrial competitiveness, create new job opportunities, and contribute to sustainable economic growth.

Indeed, 4IR strategies can play a crucial role in addressing service delivery challenges and promoting social and human development, with a focus on e-government, urban mobility, and healthcare. Here are some key approaches the government can take to leverage 4IR technologies in these areas:


  • Develop a comprehensive e-government strategy that streamlines public services and enhances citizen engagement through digital platforms.

  • Encourage the use of online portals, mobile apps, and digital kiosks for easy access to government services, bill payments, and application submissions.

  • Use data analytics and AI to optimize decision-making, improve resource allocation, and identify opportunities for service delivery improvements.

Urban Mobility:

  • Invest in smart transportation systems that utilize IoT, AI, and data analytics to improve traffic flow, reduce congestion, and enhance public transportation efficiency and safety.

  • Promote the use of electric and autonomous vehicles to reduce emissions and improve urban mobility, while investing in supporting infrastructure such as charging stations and smart parking systems.

  • Implement urban planning initiatives that encourage sustainable and accessible transportation options, such as bike-sharing programs, pedestrian-friendly zones, and efficient public transit networks.

Health Services:

  • Implement telemedicine and telehealth solutions that enable remote consultations, diagnostics, and treatment, expanding access to healthcare services, especially for underserved populations.

  • Use telemedicine to bridge the gap in healthcare access by connecting health practitioners with patients remotely, particularly in underserved areas.

  • Leverage predictive health analytics, powered by big data and digitized health information systems, to map and forecast health services demand, enabling better resource allocation and planning.

  • Develop precision medicine techniques to deliver tailored treatments more effectively and efficiently, improving patient outcomes.

  • Utilize AI, machine learning, and big data analytics to enhance disease surveillance, outbreak prediction, personalized treatment plans, and preventative care.

  • Invest in electronic health records (EHRs) and other blockchain digital systems to improve patient data management, coordination among healthcare providers, and overall patient experience.

Digital Education:

  • Invest in digital learning platforms and resources to enhance access to quality education and promote lifelong learning, particularly for students in remote and disadvantaged

Water Management:

  • Deploy smart water meters to monitor real-time water usage, promoting responsible domestic and industrial water consumption.

  • Implement smart water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions that can also serve as health and disease monitoring tools.

  • Utilize IoT and data analytics to optimize water infrastructure maintenance, leakage detection, and water quality monitoring.

South Africa's vast reserves of fluorspar can be a significant advantage in the 4IR era, as it plays a crucial role in the production of Li-ion batteries. These batteries are essential components of various devices and technologies that underpin the 4IR, such as electric cars, robotics, and portable electronics. To leverage this opportunity, South Africa can consider the following steps:

Develop a robust mining and processing industry around fluorspar:

  • Invest in infrastructure and technology to efficiently mine and process fluorspar domestically, reducing the need for imports and creating value-added products.

  • Ensure environmentally sustainable and responsible mining practices to minimize negative impacts on local ecosystems and communities.

Attract investment and partnerships in battery manufacturing:

  • Foster a favorable business environment for domestic and international companies to invest in battery manufacturing within South Africa, utilizing the country's abundant fluorspar resources.

  • Encourage partnerships between South African mining companies, battery manufacturers, and global technology firms to drive innovation and improve battery production capabilities.

Support research and development in battery technologies:

  • Invest in research and development initiatives to advance battery technologies, such as next-generation Li-ion batteries, solid-state batteries, and other energy storage solutions.

  • Promote collaboration between academic institutions, research centers, and industry players to accelerate innovation in battery technology and energy storage.

Position SMMEs for commercialization of 4IR homegrown innovations:

  • Develop support programs and funding opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs) to create and commercialize 4IR-related products and services, including battery technologies and applications.

  • Provide training and capacity-building initiatives for SMMEs to enhance their understanding of the 4IR and the opportunities it presents in various sectors.

  • Encourage partnerships between SMMEs, larger corporations, and research institutions to facilitate knowledge sharing and technology transfer.

South Africa can take advantage of emerging sectors in 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) economies by developing strategies and policies that promote growth in these areas. Here are some approaches for capitalizing on the digital economy, circular economy, social economy and gig economy.

Digital economy:

  • Invest in digital infrastructure, ensuring widespread access to high-speed internet and improved digital literacy among the population.

  • Encourage the development and adoption of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, big data, and the Internet of Things, to drive innovation across various industries.

  • Support entrepreneurship and startup ecosystems in the digital sector, providing funding, mentorship, and resources for businesses in the field.

Circular economy:

  • Implement policies that promote waste reduction, resource efficiency, and recycling, encouraging businesses to adopt circular business models.

  • Foster collaboration between the government, private sector, and research institutions to develop and implement innovative technologies and practices that support a circular economy.

  • Educate consumers and businesses about the benefits of a circular economy, promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Social economy:

  • Support social enterprises and cooperatives, providing funding, training, and resources to help them grow and contribute to inclusive economic development.

  • Develop a legal and regulatory framework that recognizes and promotes social economy organizations, ensuring their sustainability and growth.

  • Foster partnerships between social economy organizations and the private sector, encouraging collaboration and mutual support.

Gig economy:

  • Adapt labor regulations to accommodate the unique needs of gig workers, ensuring they have access to social protections and fair working conditions.

  • Promote digital platforms and tools that facilitate access to gig work opportunities, helping individuals find flexible employment options that suit their needs.

  • Encourage lifelong learning and skill development, ensuring gig workers have the necessary skills to adapt to the changing job market.

By implementing these strategies, South Africa can position itself to take advantage of emerging sectors in 4IR economies, fostering growth and innovation while creating new job opportunities for its citizens.

Establishing an AI institute in South Africa can have numerous benefits for the country, its people, and the global AI community. Below are some steps and considerations for creating such an institute:

  1. Define the mission and objectives: Clearly outline the purpose and goals of the AI institute. These could include promoting AI research and development, facilitating collaboration among AI experts, and advancing the use of AI for social and economic development.

  2. Obtain government support: Approach relevant government agencies and departments to seek support, funding, and regulatory assistance. This can help ensure the institute's success and align its goals with national interests.

  3. Identify key stakeholders: Collaborate with universities, research institutions, businesses, and NGOs to create a network of partners who share the vision of the AI institute. These stakeholders can contribute resources, knowledge, and expertise.

  4. Develop a curriculum: Create an educational program that covers AI fundamentals, advanced techniques, and ethical considerations. This curriculum should be adaptable to cater to the needs of various learners, from beginners to professionals.

  5. Recruit faculty and researchers: Attract top talent from South Africa and around the world to build a diverse and experienced team of AI experts. This can help establish the institute as a leading center of AI research and innovation.

  6. Establish partnerships: Forge relationships with international AI institutions, organizations, and companies to facilitate knowledge exchange and collaboration. These partnerships can also offer opportunities for joint research projects and internships.

  7. Secure funding: Explore various funding sources, including government grants, private investments, and sponsorships. Adequate funding is essential for infrastructure development, research initiatives, and attracting top talent.

  8. Promote inclusivity: Ensure the AI institute is accessible to people from diverse backgrounds and skill levels. This can help democratize AI knowledge and create a more inclusive AI community.

  9. Foster a culture of innovation: Encourage a collaborative and creative environment where researchers, students, and industry professionals can experiment with new ideas, learn from one another, and push the boundaries of AI technology.

  10. Measure impact and progress: Regularly evaluate the institute's performance against its objectives and make any necessary adjustments to stay on track. This can help maintain momentum, attract additional funding, and showcase the institute's achievements.

By establishing a well-structured AI institute, South Africa can position itself as a leader in AI research and development, contribute to global advancements in the field, and foster economic growth and social development within the country.

A focus on Regulation, Ethics, and Cultural aspects of the internet is key not only to create an enabling policy environment to support firms and government but to ensure ethical and transparent use of these new technologies

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