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                                                                                                            5 MARCH 2017
Programme Director:
Cisco Vice President for Strategy and Innovation, Mr Hilton Romanski
The Managing Director of Cisco Southern Africa, Ms Cathy Smith
Delegates from international organisations
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a distinct honour and privilege for me to be part of this historic conference.
Let me start by underlining my unreserved excitement and full support for your efforts here at the Cisco Connect South Africa 2017 conference.
Indeed, I must confess too, the notion that you are fully committed to make innovation happen by “connecting everything, innovating everywhere and benefitting everyone” resonates with my own commitment. It is ultimately about ensuring that we make South Africa a better place for everyone who live in it.
Undoubtedly, Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) sits at the centre of this challenge to effect inclusive growth for our country, the continent and the world at large.
South Africa’s overarching long-term plan, the National Development Plan (NDP), recognises the importance of improving our country’s global competitiveness and that the system of innovation has a vital role to play in that process. It singles out innovation as the principal tool for applying knowledge in production processes and disseminating knowledge through teaching and research collaboration.
The time for Africa to lead innovation and effect positive change in the world is now. We must position South Africa and the African continent as a global leader in the development and use of information and communication technologies for socio-economic development.
Technological innovations teach us that learning is a lifelong experience. It challenges us to always push the boundaries and expand our horizons of knowledge.
Innovation is the enemy of complacency!  Innovators always seek to discover something new to contribute to the betterment of the world. They challenge themselves to achieve beyond their current accolades. This is the culture that we need to instil to society at large.
Let me give a personal account so you can understand why I am convinced that ICT sits at the intersection of great opportunity and growth for us here in South Africa: 
I recently attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This is where I discovered, that the new buzzwords are Artificial Intelligence’ (AI), ‘The Internet of Things’, ‘Blockchain’, ‘Big Data’, ‘3D printing’, ‘Robotics’ … and many more. These are the elements considered the main ingredients driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
It dawned on me that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will transform societies and empower individuals, companies and governments in ways that were unthinkable merely a short few years ago.
And, if truth must be told, this ‘revolution’ has already taken on a life of its own. The evidence for this happened in my meeting with SARA …
So, who is SARA you must ask? If you guessed that she is a woman you were right. If you thought she is smart-yes, you were right too…
SARA was our virtually ever present personal and Socially Aware Robot Assistant. Welcome to the future! SARA guided me through the World Economic Forum Meeting. Stepping inside and chatting to SARA was unreal. In one fell swoop, the days were gone of being chaperoned by a Personal Assistant. SARA took all of us by complete and total surprise. SARA understood our spoken words and non-verbal behaviour to build relationships with participants. SARA is not even a robot, but a computer screen that interacts through a camera. She asks questions and through ICT and machine learning, engaged thousands of us. SARA looks at your face, your eyebrows and from your smile, she detects your mood and engages in a conversation with you.
So, Ms Cathy Smith - you are absolutely right - improving growth, competitiveness and resilience will require governments and businesses to be digitally ‘’tuned in”, adept and requires the support of skilled workers. Our economy, the various industrialisation pathways and manufacturing imperatives must be aligned to digitalisation to boost innovation, competitiveness, and entrepreneurship. Economic sectors - from ICT to Mining, Education to Retail, Transport to Financial Services – all depend on being digitally enabled. This will help to contribute to, and increase, our struggling GDP targets.
We should also prioritise and reduce spending on outdated analogue systems, and to focus on getting “bang for our buck” by creating the necessary new jobs in the ICT sector.
And for this we will need new technology, new ‘know – how’ and better skills. No, actually, we require a ‘’skills revolution’’!
Let me therefore request that Cisco, the ICT industry and all convened here today to reflect: how do we join hands, as social partners, to ensure that the opportunities associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution are “captured” to build inclusive prosperity? Put differently, how can ICT help in tackling the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment?
How do we ensure we stay the course and connect the opportunities to our women, and our youth? How, indeed, do we make innovation happen-what are the levers we must trigger to unleash the necessary step - change? As Cisco, you promised too, to get us to “a future that is brighter, connected and benefitting everyone?”
There are no easy answers, for sure. These are also issues that the National Planning Commission are engaged with - I invite you to join hands in our deliberations and discussions. What I do know is this: we must ensure that in the developing world we, as South Africa, and Africa are not left behind again. As has been the case with every revolution before, the developing world is not just a late comer, it is often left behind and left out. In the fourth, we are already in a new digital and ICT era where economic growth will be led by ground-breaking technological innovation and advancements within the ICT sector.
We are in the disruption age’ where ICT and internet companies have become the global juggernauts, usurping market share in every geography they enter. As government, the private sector and society at large we need to act, and act very quickly. Ideas that not so long ago were in the realm of science fiction, have become a reality!
How many of us can say, with certainty, what jobs we would choose if we were children at school today? It is estimated that some 65% of children entering primary schools today will most likely work in roles that do not yet exist. This is staggering news?
Thus, depending on the collective choices we make as consumers, communities, business, government, labour and civil society - these technological breakthroughs could give us the platform and power to shift a gear.  We need to move into a world that is even more prosperous, more sustainable and more inclusive.
In preparing to address you today, I kept thinking-where are we on cheaper, faster and better access to the internet, and other related fronts? Internet access, broadband and spectrum is the lifeblood of innovation, entrepreneurship and opportunity. Unleashing the related opportunities for growth, development and progress are all aspects that are inextricably intertwined.
No, I dare say, we should not leave this opportunity to chance. I implore Cisco to ensure that we are well on our way to getting ahead of the curve. Our collaborative efforts must ensure that people: women and the youth with expertise are in the right place at the right time. They should be equipped with the tools, knowledge and systems to know they can seize the opportunity-your time is now!
2.    Conclusion
So, the future is already upon us … I saw it in Davos 2017!  Machines like SARA will radically transform knowledge. We cannot be static nor disinterested observers – we must adapt and thrive!
You must be eminently aware - there are fears that the poor, women, youth and the non-skilled would again be plunged into even deeper deprivation with the rise of the digital era. We must advocate aggressively for the embrace and use of this technological paradigm shift. It is part of the journey along the road to the ideal South Africa, as envisaged in the National Development Plan: Vision 2030. We cannot again be mere late adopters.
Leadership requires recognizing that discontent are increasing in the segments of society that are not experiencing inclusive economic development, growth and social progress. Life will only become more uncertain for us in this age. We are now required to evidence a deeper commitment to inclusive development and equitable growth. It is about being responsive, and responsible leaders…no more no less…
It goes without saying that women must take the centre stage. The transformation that we are referring to is not just about accommodating women – we require a concerted effort to empower women so that they can take their rightful place in the leadership echelons of the ICT industry.
The popular proverb that “If you educate a woman you educate a generation” should motivate us to invest in human capital, especially women and the youth. The late South African writer and distinguished intellectual, Mbulelo Mzamane, spoke eloquently about the exceptional role that women play in connecting one generation to the next:
“Women are the heroines of continuance, who sustain life, making sure life continues from one era to the next. They have known the agony and the ecstasy. They have known treachery, rejection, and betrayal…”
I might as well add, once women know, they transmit knowledge to their children, and therefore generations grow with the knowledge that they suckled from the breasts of their mothers. In this sense, when we empower women we empower a nation! A nation that is empowered is a nation that is guaranteed to prosper.
I would like to commend you for taking the initiative of bringing this conference to South Africa. The Cisco Connect South Africa 2017 conference provides us with the opportunity to establish South Africa as a global player in the ICT industry. It creates a platform for stakeholders to showcase the latest ICT industry trends, products and innovative solutions. This is your opportunity to show that Africa is an important player in the ICT industry. I have seen some of the exhibitions and I am confident that the conference will be a resounding success. I wish you fruitful deliberations over the next two days ahead.
Let me leave you with the words of the distinguished inventor and founder of Apple Inc., the late Steve Jobs: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
Our time is now…
Thank you.
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