Minister in the presidency and National Planning Commission head Trevor Manuel has warned that South Africa is falling behind in information technology and has issued a challenge to the industry to turn the situation around.
Manuel was speaking at the State IT Agency’s annual GovTech conference, which is being held in Cape Town, where he said South Africa had missed a number of advances in the IT field the past decade.
“Techies, why have you allowed this to slip on your watch?” he asked the audience. “And what will you help us do to catch up?”
Manuel warned that although IT is a “leveller”, the country needs to be careful about what it wants to achieve to prevent it becoming the “great divider”.
“Rivers are forming where none existed and the gap between you [the audience]and the majority of South Africans widens increasingly. We need to build bridges that everyone can cross.”
He also cautioned against making mistakes, specifically referring to an attempt years ago — under former communications department director-general Lyndall Shope-Mafole — to block the Seacom undersea cable system from landing in South Africa.
“The landing of six undersea cable systems allows us to take bandwidth to rural areas, to narrow the gap between urban and rural areas, rich and poor, black and white, men and women,” Manuel said at the event. “But countries such as Kenya and Rwanda have taken our lead on the African continent.”
Internet penetration in South Africa, relative to Africa, used to be “way out ahead, but we aren’t there any longer”.
“I am passionate about the idea of a Silicon Valley in South Africa and am engaging with South Africans based in Silicon Valley about this,” he added. “I am a believer in the power of IT and have seen the rate of progress around the world during my time as a minister. But the rest of the world won’t wait until we are ready, we need to understand this and deal with this.” — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media