SAIMC


SAIMC: From the office of the CEO: Will South Africa survive automation?

April 2023 SAIMC


Johan Maartens

We had an e-tag (no, seriously, we did) because it was easier to get through the booms at the toll gates on the motorbike – no taking off gloves, searching for the credit card, putting the card back, putting on the gloves, all the while trying to balance the bike with two of us on the large GS Adventure. That was until the e-tags no longer worked for motorcycles, and we had to use the regular booms. Then even the e-tag-only lanes at the toll gates began to disappear. Today, they are ancient history. But the issue is that an automated system was installed, and South African technicians could not maintain it.

The once reliable power generating units of South Africa degraded to the new load shedding system within 30 years. ‘Unplanned maintenance’ − a phrase that tarnished the reputation of engineers, technologists and technicians in the past − has become a household name, with no eyebrows raised at the mention of this insult.

Politicians have done an excellent job of convincing churches not to get involved in politics and have even convinced businesses to stay out of politics. Many businesses frown on their employees talking about politics. But when politicians destroy the moral fibre of our country and our economy, it is time for politicians to step aside and take note of what churches and businesses have to say.

Since de Ruyter went ‘rogue’ we have had some insight into South Africa’s leadership when the head of state announced that he was not responsible for providing electricity to municipalities, but still appointed a Minister of Electricity – to do what exactly? If he does not understand his role as head of state, how can other cabinet members understand their roles? This raises some questions:

Do the ministers in the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Higher Education and Training understand their educational roles, and does the head of state know that he is ultimately responsible for these and other departments? And what about the National Treasury? This is like a CEO saying to the board “angazi, boss”.

The South African government does not have a perfect history – going from apartheid to ‘skebenga’ − with a short respite during Nelson Mandela’s reign over the rainbow nation. Strangely, all colonial structures are viewed with contempt – all but the title ‘honourable’ − which seems to be the least appropriate. ‘Comrade’ appears to be more fitting.

Most South Africans will believe it when they are told that automation will cost them their jobs, while the truth is that the ANC government might have signed South Africa’s death warrant when the head of state seemingly admitted that he had no clue what his responsibilities were. All automation hinges on electricity, but nobody has the guts to take responsibility for providing it in South Africa – not even the head of state. But when SOEs have a grand opening or gala dinner they receive VIP treatment, even though they are “not responsible for any of it”.

If South Africa is to survive, it will be up to the private sector, despite all the hurdles that the ANC government will throw its way, pretending to look after the interests of the ‘previously disadvantaged’ and the ‘poorest of the poor’, and not taking any responsibility for putting these groups in the position they are now in. It blames apartheid, COVID, Ukraine, etc. for its failure to provide a safe and stable environment for South Africa’s economy.

The world is automating, and South Africa’s infrastructure is not ready for it; neither are its leaders. Automation is not the problem; it just highlights our problems – and they are not caused by technology.

Yours in automation,

Johan Maartens.


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