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Digital transformation is an opportunity despite South Africa’s digital divide
Home > Digital transformation is an opportunity despite South Africa’s digital divide

Digital transformation is an opportunity despite South Africa’s digital divide

22 February, 2023
In a world undergoing rapid digital transformation, South African organisations should collaborate to seize the opportunity this transformation presents.

Before COVID-19 changed the world in the first quarter of 2020, there was a lot of talk about the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and what it would mean for business. Almost three years later, both globally and locally, talk has been forced into action. The landscape has changed entirely thanks to the pandemic putting the digital pedal to the virtual metal and accelerating, the switch to digital technologies, and 4IR.

Industries and individuals that were able to pivot effectively to digital channels could navigate the disruption, while companies that didn’t, or couldn’t, make the shift, struggled to keep their customers. The ability to quickly move workforces to a work-from-home set-up also played a major part in keeping many businesses afloat – another move that has seen a change in the way companies manage their people.

But true digital transformation is about more than just surviving unforeseen circumstances. Rather, it’s the process of completely replacing manual, traditional and legacy ways of doing business with the latest digital alternatives. And it applies to all aspects of a business, not just the technology that businesses employ.

The question is – what does that mean for South Africa, especially in terms of the digital divide we face?

South Africa isn’t only one of the most unequal societies in the world with respect to socio-economic indicators. It’s also home to a huge digital divide – and that divide only seeks to exacerbate the already existing inequalities.

It’s a complex situation. Poverty, poor access to education outcomes and unemployment are all reasons for and results of the digital divide. But while it’s easy to get down and depressed by what could be seen as an insurmountable problem, what if we saw it as an opportunity? In the context of a global skills shortage, how could South Africa – and the continent – rise to meet the need for those skills?

Globally, there is increasing concern about a looming “youth timebomb” – where the world’s population is predicted to reach “peak child” in 2057. On the other hand, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to double by 2050, with the majority being under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent.

If we don’t upskill in terms of technology now, where does that leave the global economy? With an ageing population in the developed world, and an abundance of youth on the continent, Africa could be firmly in the driver’s seat of that global economy, providing a pipeline of skills and talent to keep everything ticking over.

This will require that both the public and private sectors start putting digital transformation strategies in place without delay. And they must be holistic strategies that focus on total change that’s driven from the top of the organisation, and which permeate every aspect of the business.

They must also feature a clear action plan – not just the intent to transform – and a great deal of change management as every department looks at building new capabilities. This will require training and upskilling of staff. And it will require looking outwards at ways to support building digital mindsets, facilities and education in every classroom across the country, so that we not only build up the organisations for today, but also for tomorrow.

Finally, it will require collaboration between the private and public sectors, who showed during the pandemic and the subsequent vaccine rollout what can be achieved if we are motivated towards achieving the same goal and pool our resources.

South Africa has a massive opportunity to build a future we can all be proud of, and which will sustain our country and our citizens for decades to come. We must not squander it.



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