South Africa

City of Joburg Mayor’s Industrial Revolution blunder

Al Jama-ah and Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda claim South Africa missed the First, Second, and Third Industrial Revolutions and want to lead the Fourth and Fifth Industrial Revolutions.

Al Jama-ah released a press statement on 23 June, saying the party and Gwamanda aim to unlock the next Industrial Revolution in South Africa.

Al Jama-ah said, “The Party and the City of Johannesburg will not sit back and wait for the rest of the world to reap the awards [sic]” of the next Industrial Revolution.

It added that “Africa, South Africa, the City of Johannesburg, the Western Cape, and the other provinces are set to see the fastest growth in artificial intelligence”.

The party’s leader Ganief Hendricks said the Western Cape, the City of Johannesburg, and the rest of South Africa had missed the First, Second, and Third Industrial Revolutions.

“However, Al Jama-ah and the Executive Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda are determined that the African continent will not miss the Fourth and the Fifth Industrial Revolutions,” it said.

Al Jama-ah went on to say that “Africans have a gold mine on their fingertips with a rapidly growing population of 1.4 billion people of which 70% are under the age of 30”.

“This, combined with youth growth in artificial intelligence investments, creates a potent recipe for Africa,” said Hendricks.

Al Jama-ah’s dreams of making South Africa and Africa an AI powerhouse are commendable, but its press statement is fraught with mistakes.

The first is that South Africa did not miss the First, Second, and Third Industrial Revolutions. It was at the forefront of many developments.

The United Nations summarised South Africa’s industrial development and how it adopted the technologies of each revolution.

The First Industrial Revolution

The First Industrial Revolution was premised on scientific discoveries which produced the steam engine and introduced the mechanization of production.

The use of steam power in South Africa increased efficiency in mining, agriculture and manufacturing and accelerated the transportation of goods from manufacturing plants and farms, as well as of diamonds from the mines to the market.

The First Industrial Revolution increased productivity in manufacturing and accelerated transportation.

The Second Industrial Revolution

The Second Industrial Revolution integrated scientific knowledge into technological developments, leading to electrification used to power equipment, machinery and tools, thereby introducing the assembly line and mass production.

Electricity in South Africa was first used to light up mine tunnels to increase workers’ productivity. Mine workers could now work extended hours and run more shifts.

The use of electricity eventually spilt over into industry, cities, and private homes.

The Third Industrial Revolution

The Third Industrial Revolution was largely based on the discovery of the semiconductor chip, making the digital revolution possible.

IBM set up its first major office in South Africa in 1952, signifying the advent of the Third Industrial Revolution in the country.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by intelligent machines, enabling human-machine interaction to achieve ever higher productivity.

It is fuelled by an increasing number of digital connections between people and machines and has led to new technologies, including artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain, drones, the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality, 3D printing and simulations.

Covid-19, in turn, has accelerated these technology trends in South Africa and beyond, but their use remains limited.

It can be argued that South Africa is still stuck in the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions.

South Africa facing serious industrial problems

Al Jama-ah and Gwamanda want to lead the world in driving the Fourth and Fifth Industrial Revolutions while the country is struggling with providing enough electricity for growth.

Electricity is the foundation of the Second Industrial Revolution, and South Africa used to be a world leader in providing ample, affordable electricity.

However, government incompetence, corruption, and mismanagement crushed Eskom and moved the country back to an era where electricity is scarce.

Skilled South Africans and investors are flooding out of the country in search of greener pastures and economies which support their endeavours.

Al Jama-ah and the Joburg mayor may be well-advised to first sort out the electricity shortage before trying to lead the world in artificial intelligence quantum computing.

Al Jama-ah press statement


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