The government’s final draft on its ICT and Digital Economy Masterplan for South Africa has set targets to ensure that SMMEs are given the support they need to grow and create jobs over the next five years.
The proposal, which is currently being discussed and tweaked with stakeholders before it is released, acknowledges that without a comprehensive plan that includes all sectors of society, the country’s path to building its digital economy will only widen the already enormous inequality gap.
“It is therefore essential that the country’s digital economy is developed inclusively so that all South Africans, irrespective of how much they earn or where in the country they live, can create and benefit from these opportunities,” it reads.
The plan is essentially a blueprint to ensure digital empowerment and gives examples of what practical steps must be considered.
One of the key suggestions is establishing a Digital Development Challenge Fund (DDCF), which will support the financing of infrastructure and stimulation projects, as well as prop up emerging SMMEs to link them to related market opportunities.
The fund will have an investment framework to guide the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies Minister, and a technical committee to identify relevant projects.
“The DDCF should explicitly seek applications from informal sector players, such as taxi associations, to develop an inclusive digital ecosystem with relevance to informal sector segments. The types of applicants to this fund would be stakeholders like the Greater Alberton Taxi Association that are looking to develop this kind of ecosystem but require funding to get it off the ground.”
It says this action should be addressed by the department within a year.
On government digitisation, digital bureaus must be created within two years. They will train graduates and SMMEs to clean and analyse government data and digitise manual records across key state departments.
“There is a mass digitisation project of back-office and paper-based government processes and functions. By digitally transforming local, provincial and national departments, South Africa can address youth unemployment and enterprise development while ultimately providing downstream opportunities,” the document reads.
This project has been gazetted and it is estimated that 10,000 graduates will be employed.
The plan calls for a measured, consistent and ethical focus by the government to procure digital services and products from SMMEs.
“Directing opportunities towards South African businesses can help support the emergence of broader digital skills… This outcome is a critical mechanism for supporting the emergence and scaling of local businesses and the use of digital technologies.”
For this to happen, the state must provide performance incentives for local procured ICT tools, software and devices to government agencies and departments. This programme will be executed over three years.
On the development and finalisation of the Public Procurement Bill, it recommends it be reviewed to consider more clearly the procurement of digital services and products from SMMEs. It must include effective and transparent regulatory oversight.
Over the next five years, it says an ICT payment monitoring system must be built to ensure that government contracts to SMMEs are paid on time and without irregular spending.
There will also be a focus on developing township and village enterprises on digital trading platforms.
“Digitisation can broaden access to supply chain, retail and platform distribution models. This includes the ability for township-based retail stores to link with urban retail chains, or mobile apps that connect township spaza shops with customers,” the document reads.
The government has concluded a number of sectoral masterplans, and others are in the pipeline to kickstart the economy.