Access to data has emerged as one of the most significant barriers to digital equality and access in South Africa, says president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa said it was necessary for the country to invest in cutting-edge science and innovation to attract the best jobs and the newest industries, we need to invest in cutting-edge science and innovation.

“We need to invest in the skills of our people from the earliest age. We need to invest in transportation and communications networks that move goods and information quickly and seamlessly. We have some of the highest data costs on the continent. By simply lowering data costs, young people are more readily able to access information, and seek learning and earning opportunities.

“This isn’t just about cheaper or faster internet or having access to social media. It’s about connecting every corner of South Africa to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Limpopo or Eastern Cape where farmers can monitor weather across the province and market their produce across the globe. It’s about an entrepreneur with a great idea she hopes to sell into the supply chains of large companies.”

Ramaphosa cited data from the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator which identified 60,000 high-skill digital job vacancies in the local economy, with the potential for 500,000 more by 2030.

Other government activities, such as the digitisation of government processes, provide opportunities for work experience and employment for young people at scale, he said.

“But it is the opportunities that we do not yet know about that are most exciting. It is about the new industry that is just around the corner, the new product that is waiting to be created, the new technology that is waiting to be developed. This 4IR Youth Expo is demonstrating the very many opportunities that exist right now for young people thanks to technology.

“At the same time, it is preparing them for the opportunities that still lie ahead. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that all the young people of this country have the skills, knowledge and desire to seize these opportunities and to thereby realise their great potential.”

Free data 

The government plans to give free internet data to low-income South Africans as part of a growing telecommunications infrastructure drive.

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has committed to the government providing 10GB of free data to every South African household – similar to the allocation of basic municipal water and electricity services.

In her state of the nation debate on 15 February, Ntshavheni said that advancements in technology such as 5G and the planned release of valuable data spectrum will lead to the government offering ‘prescribed minimum data’ to the home.

“Data has become a new utility like water and electricity that our home needs. At some point, a South African household, despite whether they are rich or poor, will be given access to 10GB per month, because that is what the government will deliver,” she said.

Editor@tech-talk.co.za