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South Africa needs David Makhura in the vice presidency, and then the presidency, to fast-track digital transformation


Rabelani Dagada is Professor of Practice in the 4th Industrial Revolution, Institute for Intelligent Systems, Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment at the University of Johannesburg.

David Makhura was the first premier in South Africa to establish a department of eGovernment as part of preparing Gauteng for the digital economy and 4IR and has been working with major ICT firms to train at least one million young people in digital skills. He is aware that without access to the internet, all this will come to nothing, which is why the province has rolled out broadband to underserviced, peripheral and deprived areas.

“Good morning, Mr President.” 

That’s an assistant (holding a stash of the few newspapers and business magazines that are still printed on paper) addressing David Makhura on a Monday morning of June 2029. Makhura was inaugurated as the president of the republic two days prior at Loftus Versfeld Stadium during a military fanfare to usher in their new commander in chief.

This is Makhura’s third and last government job. He took his first government job after the 2014 general elections when he became the Premier of Gauteng, and his second job when President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed him deputy president of the Republic after the 2024 general elections. Prior to these government jobs, Makhura spent many years as a unionist and three consecutive terms as the ANC’s Gauteng provincial secretary.

As deputy president of the country, Makhura can fast-track South Africa’s digital transformation. Both Makhura and Ramaphosa have been supporting ICT and 4IR-related initiatives in Gauteng and nationally respectively. Worldwide, the deputy president position is something of a boring role. Makhura could spice up his position by pushing reforms in the communications and digital technologies portfolio.

While doing research for this opinion piece, I was reliably informed that Makhura and Ramaphosa are close political confidantes. This could make it easier for Makhura to write up his job description once he moves to the east wing of the Union Buildings where the deputy president’s office is situated. The communications and digital technologies portfolio has been neglected since 2009.

I should hasten to add that even during Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, there was much flip-flopping on ICT public policy. High-demand spectrum, which would drastically transform the ICT sector in this country and boost economic development, has been delayed for more than a decade. South Africa has failed to adhere to the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) deadline to transfer its broadcasting technology from the old analogue services to the more efficient digital terrestrial system by June 2015. The migration of broadcasting technology will free more spectrum and this is essential for economic growth and job creation.

The negligence of the ICT public policy has been worsened by the fact that there have been 11 Cabinet ministers heading the communications and digital technologies portfolio since 2009. As if we hadn’t had enough drama and delays in this portfolio, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has announced that it will take back the temporary spectrum it allocated to mobile operator network providers to enable individuals, households and business to have more access to internet data during the Covid-19 restrictions. We need a seasoned heavyweight politician like Makhura who would stabilise this portfolio as a deputy president and later on as president of the country.

The first indication that Makhura may succeed president Ramaphosa would be his election as a deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC) in December 2022. Of course, this will not just happen automatically — Makhura should take a great leap forward and make himself available for the post. Powerful positions don’t come on a platter; you have to lobby, campaign and fight tooth and nail to be elected.

Does this mean that Makhura will have to contest against David Mabuza? Not necessarily. I believe that Mabuza is indeed sickly. It is just inconceivable that he would take such a lengthy sick leave as he did recently and spend just over a month in Russia if indeed he were not very ill. Despite his sickness, I think Mabuza will relinquish the deputy presidency of the party and the country when both terms of office end. If Mabuza decides to stand as a candidate for the ANC’s deputy presidency, Makhura will have to challenge him.

The Sunday Times recently reported that Ramaphosa would prefer to be deputised as ANC president by a woman. This could be true, but it is not an impossible hindrance for Makhura to occupy Mahlamba Ndlopfu, the official presidential residence in Pretoria. Both Mbeki and Jacob Zuma had wanted to be succeeded by women as the president of the country respectively, but it never happened. Ramaphosa also preferred to be deputised by a woman as ANC president in December 2017, again it didn’t happen and it may still not happen this time around if Makhura is hungry for the position and he puts up a good fight.

There are many reasons in favour of Makhura’s move to the Union Buildings. His final term as Gauteng premier is coming to an end in 2024. He is relatively young and highly educated. Leading the most populous province in the country, the only economic and industrial hub in South Africa, and the seventh-largest economy in Africa, comes with immense political gravitas.

During the past seven years as premier, Makhura has proven to be an efficient administrator. His provincial government was the first to establish specialised schools focusing on niche learning areas such as nuclear energy, aviation, engineering, commerce, agriculture, ICT and so on. The Gauteng Department of Education is implementing this programme with some private sector partners.

Makhura, a great visionary, was the first premier in South Africa to establish the department of eGoverment as part of preparing the province for the digital economy and 4IR. His office has been working with some major ICT firms to train at least one million young people in digital skills. He is aware that without access to the internet, all these efforts will come to naught. It is on this premise that the provincial government has rolled out broadband to underserviced, peripheral and deprived areas.

Makhura has adopted an integrated approach to roll out infrastructure in Gauteng and that’s why he refers to the province as the Gauteng City Region. He has earned notable recognition internationally and was voted a co-president of Metropolis at its 12th world congress in 2017. Metropolis is a network of 138 major cities and city regions around the world.

If Makhura raises his hand to indicate to the ANC branches to consider him for the position of deputy president in next year’s elective congress, his distractors will point to the tragedy of Esidimeni which happened under his watch. But with determination and an efficient campaign, Makhura can still become the second most powerful person in South Africa and the future president of our country.

One hopes that Makhura has learnt some lessons from the Esidimeni tragedy and that he will improve his oversight role.

If he becomes the deputy president of the ANC next year December, Makhura should continue with his passion for digital transformation. DM


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