The Battle of Ideas, as we enter the 4th Industrial Revolution

File Image: IOL

Take a closer look at the smart device in your hand. You can practically run your entire life with it. Looking for a house? It’s simple, you can log onto an Application that allows you view virtual surround images of thousands of homes in whatever area you want to live in. Once you find the home of your choice, you can log onto your personal banking profile and do an instant online bond application, with approval within a matter of minutes.

Using the same smart device, you can shop for other items such as vehicles, furniture, clothing and food. You can order flight tickets, hail a cab using one of the many location-based Apps. You can connect with loved ones or log onto many of the social media sites and amplify your conversations by connecting with thousands, if not millions of other users worldwide. This means that seated where you are, through the click of a button, you can literally run your entire life. 

Your smartphone is an essential tool of the 4th Industrial Revolution which will completely change the modern way of life. In this 4th revolution, technological advancements have made it possible for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, robots and other autonomous systems that are able to operate without human interventions. As these technologies advance and are refined to remove defects, they will disrupt the current economic and social structure profoundly over the next 20 to 50 years.

But are we ready for this new revolution? What is the approach that business, government, labour, education institutions, political organisations, civil society and ordinary individuals to this new way of doing things? 

As the ANC, our task is to ensure that the 4th Industrial Revolution is premised on the need to advance socio-economic development in which all citizens participate equally in the new economy. If that does not happen, there is a risk that a huge section of society will be left behind – either through lack of access, affordability or a deficit in skills allowing them to take advantage of these developments. 

What this means is that as the technology evolves, a child growing up in Libode in the Eastern Cape must have similar skills and access to that technology as a child growing up in Sandhurst, north of Johannesburg. If we do not create an environment that allows this to happen, we will further deepen inequality in our society..  

In our discussion document on Communications and the Battle of Ideas, leading up to the National Policy Conference in June, we tackle this and other issues. How do we create an enabling environment through policy and regulations to open up the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) space to deepen internet access and broadband rollout? How do we support innovative start-ups in this sector and SMMEs, as well as connect government with citizens online through what we call e-government? 

There is also a need to develop a National Cyber Security strategy to guard against emerging threats and crime in the online space. 

As we prepare society for the 4th Industrial Revolution, we as the ANC also need to make the best use of this technology to modernise our operations. To this end, in support of the internal communications and the Battle of Ideas, there is overwhelming consensus within the movement that we need to defend our ideas and ideals and locate this Battle of Ideas within the terrain of class struggle. 

There are a number of challenges and shortcomings that we need to overcome. Branches, regions and some provinces do not have adequate capacity to take advantage of new media platforms and even challenge traditional ones which are often very hostile to the movement. ANC structures need to make effective use of the platform offered by social media to engage in this Battle of Ideas. There must be a comprehensive plan to provide training and resources in support of political communications in the digital space.  The ANC must also move fast to digitise membership recruitment through an interactive web-based system and innovate its processes to make it easy to reach South Africans, especially women and children.

It cannot, however, be the ANC alone that modernises its communications tools. Parliament and the different legislatures need to be capacitated better to communicate with South Africans. The need for this is urgent as there is a deliberate plan by the opposition to undermine the integrity of Parliament and the legislatures. Their communications machinery must be strengthened. A new parliamentary television channel should be established as part of the public broadcaster. Parliament and the legislatures must develop comprehensive communications strategies to focus on how to communicate effectively with all citizens. 

The print media is also a site of struggle in the Battle of Ideas. It is a robust, if not hostile space that the ANC needs to win over with our narrative. But there must be an emphasis on media accountability and responsibility. We must also insist that the print media transform to address unequal access across gender, class, geographic and other disparities. Its ownership monopoly structure has to be dismantled, but funding must be made available to support new entrants and encourage competition. 

We are still of the view that independent self-regulation has failed. There are insufficient punitive measures imposed by the Press Council and the Ombudsman, which we hear have no funds. This is also a voluntary system that media organisations can pull out of at will – a case in point being The New Age and Independent Newspapers. Parliament must undertake an urgent enquiry into media accountability, including the desirability of establishing a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT), and the possibility of amending defamation laws. This probe must be held before the June ANC policy conference.

In the area of broadcasting, we must admit that progress made in the implementation of migration from analogue to digital broadcast transmission has been far from satisfactory. There is a lot to gain from this migration. It will create a multi-channel environment that we can use to significantly increase local content in the broadcast space. It will also free up the spectrum for the roll-out of much needed faster broadband and internet connectivity. 

The SABC, as the public broadcaster, cannot be left behind in this digital revolution. However, the ambiguity created by the application of the Broadcasting Act and Companies Act to manage and regulate SABC affairs has created massive problems. Board members and executive management misused the Companies Act to usurp parliamentary and executive powers to appoint and fire other board members. This has seriously exacerbated the crisis at the public broadcaster.  

We must clarify once and for all that the Broadcasting Act is the principal legislation bearing on the governance and operations of the SABC. The Companies Act is a general law that cannot supersede the Broadcasting Act. The ANC must also ensure that it deploys competent, skilled and qualified cadres to the SABC. 

Research shows that children born today will occupy different jobs to what exists currently. Technological advancement has enabled the creation of driverless cars which in future will eliminate many jobs in the taxi, bus and transport sectors; for example. Robots will replace many packaging and handling jobs. This means our education system must be able to produce new skills sets that can adapt to this change, otherwise a large segment of the population will be left behind. 

Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the African National Congress