The South African Nominal 4IR dream from a rural lens: Gloom at the End of the Tunnel or NOT!

The 2018/2019 Auditor General report reveals that over twenty-one billion rands (R21bil) were irregularly spent across all municipalities in the nine provinces of the country! “Irregular” in my understanding means ‘stolen public funds, misused public funds, or spending which did not yield the desired outcome’. I start this opinion piece with this statement because it contributes heavily to our regressing economic advances as a country which I will detail later in this document.

This document is a response to articles written by the deputy chair of the presidential commission In the fourth industrial revolution, Prof T Marwala published in the Mail and Guardian newspaper. My leaders Mr. Mafule Moswane and Mr. Sibusiso Gama have said a mouthful already about the choice of the publication, so I will pass. Most of my thoughts in this piece will be from my personal experiences as a rural area alumnus. This article is a response and input to the first recommendation on building human capital. It is response 1A on Human Capital. Other contributors will share perspectives on the first responses, the forthcoming will be 1B, 1C, etc.

The establishment of the commission and its objectives are commendable and supported fully, but there is one problem; misjudgment! I read what Prof Marwala detailed in his articles but he seemed to have walked in the same path as everyone who came before him in this country when it comes to addressing the new South Africa with new possibilities. It is a rush-rush project and approach where everyone speaks of the ‘bottom’ in passing but acts with conviction at the ‘top’. It is an urge to produce something as proof of their labour, irrespective of whether it serves a greater purpose. We are floating within our own speed-field subsequently creating an illusion in progress!

With a monumental project as 4IR, I will take a different route, the high road, and address the elephant in the room; the forgotten rural citizens of this country! The Kenyan great Professor PLO Lumumba once said, “Africa should define their problems and devise their own solutions”; in my native language Sepedi we say “Malapa ga a lekane”. This statement is so powerful it hat it highlights the flaws in our government’s approaches and strategies for problem-solving in this country.

There is always a solution to every problem, BUT if the problem is poorly defined or ignored at all, the solution would be redundant.

I will break down my approach to this issue into three parts, inclusive of recommendations namely; RURAL MINDSET REDESIGN, EDUCATION SYSTEM, AND 4IR COMMISSION STRUCTURE. The last section will be my closing remarks…

Rural Mindset Redesign

In honesty, this government has forgotten the rural masses of this beautiful country, especially the youth. They don’t form part of real solutions instead they get mentioned in passing, and it has become normal. That is why I strongly believe that the approach by Prof Marwala is further marginalizing rural people, and youth in particular in these projects.

The rural masses have been very loyal to the governing party and government, but they only got scraps of the big pie for their loyalty. Let me drive my point in this manner; comedian Chris Rock once made a joke about how America is like an uncle who molested you but paid for your college fees. Frim conviction in principles would determine how one reacts to such a dilemma. On the other hand, South Africa is like an uncle who did molest you but never paid for your college fees instead only promised for over 25 years!!

The youth unemployment is sitting comfortably at 58%, and at the rate at which the thought- process of our leaders is leaning on, it will be 70% soon. If the dream of a fully-fledged fourth industrial revolution is to be realized in this country, we need to first do what we have to do so that we can do what we want. The first step is to acknowledge the unique problems we have in the hood, specifically relating to the fourth industrial revolution. We need to prepare the soil there for better planting and subsequent harvesting in highly skilled human capital. There are two things which skilled human
capital brings; skilled employable youth, and experienced entrepreneurs. These two elements alone can slash the youth unemployment figures in the long run. There are two fundamental problems which can slow the progress of this movement in the rural areas;

● Network connectivity
● Information

It is sad and very embarrassing that for more than two decades of ‘freedom’ and ‘equal opportunity for all’, we still struggle for network connection in our rural areas. Most of the world is now living in the digital space but in South Africa, primary access to it is still an issue. Which begs the question, is it an intentional exclusion? We can talk all dreams, however, if don’t address basics., we are talking alone! Network coverage should be the first on the to-do-list and ensure that every South African anywhere in all rural areas has proper and adequate (in speed) 4G network. To succeed in rewiring the youth’s mindset in the rural areas, we need to share and avail to them the right, and relevant information in-line with the objectives of the commission on 4IR. One woman once told me “feed them what you want them to know”.I did my own little survey in my area at Ga Masha; I randomly asked 10 kids (ages 10-15) and asked them two questions.

⮚ Give me the names of 3 newspapers that you know
⮚ What do you know about Artificial Intelligence?

None of them mentioned mail and guardian and none of them knew what AI was! The dream is to empower our people, but the platform within which they should shine is non-existent. Our youth watch Skeem Saam, Gomora, Isibaya, and The Queen in huge numbers, but all adverts during these shows are death/accident-related, nothing about changing their lives or about 4IR.. What message are we sending? The world is changing but we are keeping information away from our people. If you drive from Ga Masha to Mogorwane via Jane Furse or Ga Marishane to Lebowakgomo, you will not find any 4IR billboard or JSE board for that matter. We should create content and make it visible to the youth in these areas to entice them to ask questions, leading to conversations that change people’s perspectives. The fourth industrial revolution content should be visible in the rural areas via popular platforms accessible and affordable to the masses.

Education system

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”, Nelson Mandela. Our education system should be scrapped and reformed again if the dream of 4IR is to be realised. Now that we have sorted the problems in the rural areas, the environment is conducive; we are ready to move to the next step, the education system overhaul! Upon successful completion of this strategy, every child on exiting the schooling system would be able to think critically and creatively and be able to solve problems in CODE!

The experience that my peers from the rural areas and I went through when we got to university, I don’t wish on the next generation. The struggle of seeing and operating a computer for the first time in your life was disheartening. At 17/18 years, you have never been in front of a computer your whole life. My other classmates from next door flew high because they started to operate this machine from primary school. This brings me to my next point and our first to-do: Education
Inequality in South Africa.

Prof Marwala, before anything can be done, level the playing fields. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a whole lot of deficiencies in the current schooling system. One MEC of Education was on Television talking about how some other schools don’t have necessities like water! It took this pandemic for water tanks to be sent to these schools, how was the school operating before the pandemic? One school that I know personally does not have electricity etc. The infrastructure is a problem; the ground is not ready for an effective 4IR in most schools.

The current schooling system hierarchy of reporting should change. This thing of principals having to report to circuit managers for their issues should be scrapped. All matters involving infrastructure, the principal must have recorded access to the MEC office. If you want someone to dig a hole, give him a pick and shovel! A circuit manager is not a ground force like the principal, their urgency in addressing problems raised by principals tells a story.

I propose a solution for this predicament, and I call it iMONITOR!


⮚ To provide the best monitoring management system for our schooling systems in real-time.
⮚ To advocate a culture of high performance and deliverance.
⮚ To provide a high alert and quick response to anomalies.
⮚ To advocate accountability.
⮚ To provide real information in real-time for better planning.
⮚ To promote a culture of transparency.
⮚ To introduce the feeling of 4IR into the management spectrum of our education system.


To ensure that the objectives and vision of the department are tracked, monitored, and met from
the comfort of our offices.

To safeguard, advocate, and manage in real-time the delivery of:

● Innovative and inspiring education
● Effective and efficient delivery of the curriculum
● Maximizing accountability
● Equitable and efficient allocations & utilization of resources
● A competent and motivated workforce

● With this iMONITOR system, the MEC can access any school in their jurisdiction any time and see what is happening there? I am currently busy assembling a team of developers to create this monster of a system.

Once we have leveled the playing fields, we move to the next step: a 15-year plan! 3yrs to 6yrs 7yrs to 13yrs 14yrs to 16yrs 16yrs to 18yrs. Coding curriculum Programming(fundamentals) Programming(intermediate) Real-life projects Kids friendly Data science(fundamentals) Data science(intermediate) Real-life projects.

We create a compulsory 4IR curriculum across all quintiles 1 and 2 schools in this country. This type of skills can go a long in alleviating poverty and inequality in society. Let’s give hope to the dreamer in class who is underachieving. It can bring about a culture of entrepreneurship in society.

Take heed out of Lesego Finger page, a self-taught developer from Soweto who taught himself how to code at 15! He is the brains behind the app “matric live” which won the Fundi Best Educational App 2019. How many Lesegos are there in rural areas but have not heard of the concept of coding? I personally know Ph.D. candidates coming out of these rural areas, how many have we left behind? A technology was developed at the University of Johannesburg of taking earth pictures using drones and sampling earth’s soil for better plantation decisions. These are the types of technologies we
want to develop at high school level. The government has failed our youth, but there is still time to
make right, the RIGHT WAY.

The second recommendation of the commission has proposed the establishment of a 4IR institute and I say we must have these institutes at every schooling district for effective monitoring. The youth of those districts should be at the forefront of facilitating such. 4IR Commission, the Structure The duties and responsibilities of the commission must be decentralized from political influence, from budget allocations, planning to execution. If the government wants to change the country for the better for the future, then it will show commitment by assigning a budget proportion of the
country’s gross domestic product, in the ranges of three to four percent.

It must comprise facilitation boards (made of youth only) at the provincial level which will answer to the
national body. The district 4IR institutions mentioned earlier will be under the control and direction
of the provincial facilitation board. This is a complex project and it needs the right people… As Vusi Tembekwayo puts it, “When our leaders lack the depth of intellect to understand the complexity of a problem, history tells us that they have always ‘simplified’ the problem, by NOT solving the problem!” Prof Marwala must ensure together with his team that history doesn't repeat itself in that, this time, the actual people must benefit.

The top economies in the world have ascended to power by the creation of a technology that changed the world economics. England did it with steam power, the USA did it with electricity. Now it’s time for South Africa to leave the outskirts of the global economy and become a true player because we are capable! If we do this right, the forthcoming industrial revolution will come from South Africa!

I conclude by this:

⮚ Fix the network in rural areas
⮚ Avail information to the rural masses
⮚ Change the schooling curriculum
⮚ Watch South Africa shine!

By: Nelson M Masha
Mining Engineer
Founder and Chairman: Business Elites ltd (pty)
He writes in his personal capacity.

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38 thoughts on “The South African Nominal 4IR dream from a rural lens: Gloom at the End of the Tunnel or NOT!

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