Group Chief Executive Officer of Telkom SA limited
Africa is the birthplace of some game-changing technologies: the ‘Please Call Me’, Sipho Maseko, the Cardiopad, a handheld tablet used for heart examinations, and the Cybertracker, used by the San people to monitor and track species. All technologies born of the necessity to connect across our vast continent. Doctors and patients, friends and families, conservationists and their wards. And yet, Africa is also divided by vast inequalities.
Speaking in the at the first inaugural BCX Disrupt Summit held at the exhilarating Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, Group Chief Executive Officer of Telkom, Sipho Maseko asked: “How can we ensure that the technology that we have access to and that we invest in, has the ability to narrow the divide that has been created by inequality? … How do we narrow that band so that all of us may have a fair shot in life?”
Maseko’s opening address set the context for the day one of the summit’s conversations around disruptive ideas and emerging technologies, that of the challenge Africa faces in trying to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of innovation while being shackled by lack of infrastructure, widespread poverty and and other socio-economic challenges. Maseko believes that this is a problem that needs to be solved before it’s too late.
“If Africa doesn’t figure out how to respond to the digital challenge as well as issues of inequality, it’s not like we’ll catch up in another five years. That’s it. For another 100 years, we’d have lost the game.”
“Those societies than manage to integrate the technologies advancements [they’ve made] with the social issues they have, will continue to make ground. We can’t introduce technology for the sake of technology,” he said. “It must mean something.”
Maseko believes that we need to be investing in training and technologies that can solve practical problems, and should be leaning on Africa’s resources, which he says includes the resilience of Africa’s people.
“Education is the key. It’s a sector that can really benefit from injecting ICT capabilities, not only to transform how it is being consumed, but to transform how it is being delivered,” he said, citing the example of pupils without a maths teacher, who are being taught by a teacher from another
province, by sharing the lessons in real-time over the Internet.
In May this year, BCX announced that it would be putting R60 million towards tech incubator WeThinkCode. The big announcement at BCX Disrupt was that this investment has been extended, and over the next three years, BCX will be dedicating more than R250 million towards equipping South Africa’s young people with the digital skills they’ll need to thrive.
“South Africa has 11 languages; we will now be investing quite a significant amount of money in what we believe is the 12th language of South Africa: coding,” said Maseko. This is significant in a country where the youth unemployment rate — for people between the ages of 17 and 25 years old — is at a staggering 55.9%.
“How do we make sure everyone between the ages of 17 to 25 has an opportunity to learn how to code? Because in a world of the Internet of things, artificial intelligence, robotics and devices that talk to each other, if you don’t understand and speak that language you will really be left behind.”
Maseko also challenged the other CEOs in the audience, many of whom head of disruption-driven organisations, to make a similar contribution to the upskilling of South Africa’s young people, and to provide opportunities for them.
Later in the day, musician and innovator will.i.am, would be asked during a Q&A with technology journalist Aki Anastasiou, why he thinks Africa is fertile ground for disruption. “Because you don’t have
an Amazon here, there is no Google of Africa yet, there’s no Apple of Africa yet, there’s no Facebook of Africa yet, no Twitter, he said.
“It’s a brand new world, said will.i.am. Just think of all the wonderful things that are going to come from this continent in the next 10 years