South Africa's government has placed a strong emphasis on ICT sector development through the implementation of a National ICT strategy. This plan proactively addresses ICT penetration, particularly for disadvantaged segments of the society. The ICT sector is growing vibrantly, with ICT spending at US$9.6 billion, 6.9 percent of GNP. This reflects a comparative advantage in high-level professional skills over blue-collar manufacturing skills. The government has implemented a number of frameworks for policies, infrastructure, partnerships and task forces that will help South African communities play a role in the global economy. The ICT sector will not be directly responsible for a significant number of new jobs, but rather is positioned as an enabler of increasing competitiveness in other sectors, as a source of future export earnings, and as a key enabler to achieve development goals.
Policy: During the 1990s, the South African government separated the post, telecommunications and broadcasting functions to promote efficiency in the provision of services to rural areas, townships, squatter camps and remote parts of the country. At the recent telecommunications colloquium, an agreement was reached to end the monopoly of the current wire line operator in May 2002, and to introduce competition through a controlled and staged approach. As a result of the debate, government approved a second wire line operator to begin service in May 2002. The government is also investigating whether it could allow more operators without eroding the telecommunications market and affecting the cost of services in remote and rural areas.
The government has created the State Information Technology Agency to encourage the provision of information technology, information systems and related services in a managed secure environment. In addition, the government has launched Info.com 2025, which serves as a collective program of ICT projects designed to establish a networked information community and make South Africa globally competitive. Info.com 2025 addresses issues of policy, infrastructure, human capacity and local content within ICT industries.
Infrastructure: Infrastructure is poorly linked and spread unevenly across the country. The development in the commercial zones contrasts with very low penetration of services in rural and remote areas (22 lines per 1,000 people). The South African Information Technology Industry Strategy (SAITIS) and Info 2025 Vision include a focus on building infrastructure, especially within secondary towns designated as export zones for both ICT and non-ICT products and services. Through the establishment of the Universal Service Fund, both wire line and wireless service providers have extensive obligations to provide access to previously disadvantaged areas with low income and geographic complexity. South Africa has also been involved in the Southern African and Far East (SAFE) Initiative to promote the connectivity of all African countries through regional backbones that do not leave the continent. This will reduce the cost of calls that are currently routed through Europe.
Internet penetration in South Africa is by far the highest on the continent, with 1.8 million users (90 percent of the total in Africa). The proportion of households with Internet access is estimated to grow to 9.2 percent by 2002. This penetration is focused in urban areas close to major towns. Penetration is low or non-existent in rural and remote areas due to lack of infrastructure and the high cost of access and equipment. The number of commercial ISPs was 150 by 1999. There are two NGO ISPs which focus on the provision of Internet access within the NGO sector. All government departments and their ministries have established web sites to disseminate information regarding their activities and are working to ICT-enable their constituencies. For example, in education, the Gauteng province will be providing 300 schools with computers, giving students access and free email accounts.
Enterprise: Many South African businesses now have access to both international and local financial institutions. Black empowerment start-up organizations have access to financial means far beyond that available under the apartheid regime, and there is a vibrant and growing local venture capital market accompanied by inflow of foreign direct investment from ICT multinationals. A number of South African ICT-related businesses have obtained access to global markets through mergers and acquisitions with ICT companies in similar lines of business.
Free trade policies and tax incentives have allowed organizations such as Mecer, Acer and Compaq to start assembling ICT hardware and network equipment locally, creating a pool of ICT-skilled technicians and programmers. There are also ICT tariff programs applied to the shipping of small units or parts that encourage value-added assembly to take place in South Africa.
The financial sector has been at the forefront of adopting ICT, contributing 50 percent of all ICT expenditure. Major banks operate their own regional networks, offering some web sites with online banking services. Public enterprises are also being transformed and modernized in a widespread restructuring program. This movement has facilitated the development of an active entrepreneurial scene.
Human Capacity: South Africa is facing a significant brain drain in technical and entrepreneurial ICT skills, with an estimated 200-300 ICT-skilled resources leaving the country each month. This is caused by the rapid growth in demand for ICT skills worldwide and little opportunity (jobs, remuneration, and innovation) in South Africa. Current unemployment rates are very high (30-35 percent), but it is also difficult to find a sufficient supply of skilled ICT workers to meet the rising demand.
Historically, the education infrastructure in South Africa has been segregated and unequal, and ICT provision in schools reflects this. Approximately 50 percent of schools have no infrastructure to support ICT use among students. In addition, the current education system has been slow to meet market needs. ICT courses are only available in the universities and in the technikons (technical colleges). It is only recently that an effort has been made by the Department of Education to revise the curricula to include ICT courses at the primary and secondary levels and to create ICT-specific learning centers.
To address the knowledge worker shortage, the government has created the Human Resources Development Fund. The fund is being used to provide grants and subsidies to promote the provision of adequately skilled human resources for ICT. The establishment of the Houwteq Learning Centre, which focuses on skill development for ICT, supports this. The Department of Education has responded by creating SchoolNet, a strategic partnership that coordinates the linking of schools to the Internet.
Content and Applications: The lack of relevant content and applications is still a significant problem in South Africa. The incorporation of ICT into education has been hampered by the lack of relevant information and infrastructure. Several locally-relevant programs were discontinued following a restructuring of the broadcasting industry. To address this, South Africa has created a local content taskforce that will focus on the provision of content for broadcasting through TV and radio in local languages. The taskforce will also ensure that there is wider participation of communities in the creation and maintenance of information and content services.
Strategic Compact: Three important taskforces have been introduced to address the deployment of ICT as an enabler of social and economic development. They include the Presidential International Task Force on Information Society and Development (to focus mainly on global ICT markets), the National IT Task Force (which will deal with the issue of brain drain and the deployment of ICT initiatives locally) and the IT Council (to handle local and provisional government IT functions). In addition, the government has announced the establishment of the Investment Council that will focus on positioning South Africa's imports and exports globally and also on generating foreign direct investment through international collaborations.
The South African cabinet has gone through drastic changes to embrace efficient government by creating clusters to integrate the efforts of the cabinet across the current silo-based structure. These clusters focus on national priorities, namely efficient governance, investment and employment, human resource development, poverty eradication and international affairsand consult broadly with community and private organizations.
© 2001 Accenture, Markle Foundation, United Nations Development Programme.
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