Drivers of “e-government” call for an “indigenous ICT industry”

Drivers of “e-government” call for an “indigenous ICT industry”

In support of the state’s “e-government” drive, South Africa needs to grow an “indigenous” information and communications technology (ICT) industry characterized by local content including manufacturing, issues of content and large scale accessibility to the internet to grow small and emerging enterprises including those in the rural and township areas. 

This was just one of the main messages that was reiterated at an Executive Leadership Engagement session that was hosted by the Honourable Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, on 30 October at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Gauteng.

The event was attended by the Honourable Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, and Ms.    Barbara Creecy, Gauteng Finance MEC, as well as the State Information Technology Agency’s chief-executive officer, Dr. Setumo Mohapi, and Acting Chairperson, Z.D. Nomvete. It was facilitated by Lee Naik, managing director of Accenture Digital.

The backdrop of the session was the ICT White Paper, which was approved by Cabinet this month. It informed an in-depth discussion around four important topics. They included the supply-side and demand-side initiatives needed to facilitate digital transformation; high-impact required to drive the uptake of digital and mobile services; and the necessary endeavour to address digital capacity challenges in small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

Dr. Cwele highlighted the important role made by ICTs in “disrupting” traditional government models, but noted the need to develop a vibrant local sector, upon which state could develop its “e-strategy”. 

“We appreciate the interest that large international ICT companies have expressed in the country, but we also want them to partner local companies, especially those which comply with current black-economic empowerment legislation,” the minister said.

“The questions we should be focusing on is how best and rapidly we implement our digital strategy to ensure those who were left outside are brought inside. This is considering that there is a larger scope to fulfill in the implementation of the digital economy, namely financial inclusion.”

Dr. Cwele said he was concerned by the huge ICT trade deficit in the country which he described as “unsustainable”, although he was pleased that South African “e-commerce” had shown signs of rapid growth. 

Importantly, he made a call to the “captains of the ICT industry” to focus on ensuring access to all citizens, while noting that government – as the largest custodian of content – also had a critical role to play in making it more available to all South Africans.

“Accessibility is more than just about infrastructure; it is also about content. I would love to see more content on the Internet available in Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and Sepedi, and move beyond English as this is not the largest language in the country.”

Prof. Mkhize said that there was a need to “de-mystify” ICT by bringing it back to the people. 

“We need to bring the conversation back to the people and society at large. It is all about ‘digital’ transformation. We know that there are still too many people who cannot enjoy the benefits of ICTs in the country.”

She supported Dr. Cwele’ s views that incubating small, medium and micro enterprises was critical to developing an indigenous ICT sector in the country.

The session was held ahead of the 11th edition of the Government Technology Conference that will take place from 31 October to 02 November at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Gauteng.