How investing in digital infrastructure can boost the South African economy

It’s no surprise that South Africa is lagging behind in digital transformation, when compared to other continents. To add, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) jumped in and revealed that South Africa is even further behind with infrastructure. However, despite the challenges, there’s a lot of potential that we can tap into to improve the circumstances and boost the economic growth. 

And this starts with addressing digital inequalities, investing in digital infrastructure technology and prioritising skills development in our communities. 

What are the existing digital inequalities in SA?

When we speak of digital inequalities, we are primarily referring to the lack of knowledge and skills required to use technology. This challenge is among different demographics from varying socio-economic backgrounds. We are also referring to the lack of access to computers, the internet, reliable internet, and other modern technology. 

This article explains how the pandemic exposes “the fact that many South Africans lack, not just access to the internet, but also access to digital devices that would enable them to work remotely and continue with other aspects of their lives via online channels.” 

The article further explains that the challenges of digital inequalities include expensive smartphones, high data prices, low connectivity bandwidth and more. This points out the urgent need for digital infrastructure technology to mitigate inequalities. 

The benefits of digital infrastructure

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is key to driving digital transformation. So, investing in necessary infrastructure in this sector will ultimately provide an economic boost for  South Africa.

Before we explain how this works, let’s first unpack what digital infrastructure means; it refers to services that make use of technology capabilities. This includes internet backbones (connection networks that form the internet), fixed broadbands, mobile telecommunications, communication satellites, network infrastructures such as Wi-fi networks and more. 

When you put money towards project development for digital infrastructure, it means that the networks mentioned above will be built. If the infrastructure is made affordable and accessible to the country’s largest population, it introduces them to opportunities they weren’t privy to before. The development impact increases their access to information, networking opportunities, job opportunities and resources, as well as financial and social inclusion. This, in turn, activates the regional and national economic activity. 

The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) has a clear objective of financing infrastructure development in the ICT sector. The Bank has developed policies and procedures to ensure that project development is implemented efficiently and in a sustainable manner. We also believe in skills development and empowering the youth with the skills and knowledge they need to enter the labour market and thrive.

Why it’s important to prioritise skills development

Facilitating skills development ensures that there are individuals who have the skills to operate the newly developed digital infrastructure. This will help to build the skills needed to utilise modern technology more effectively and to consistently adapt to the frequent changes while complying to the ICT laws. To help upskill the current workforce to ensure that they’re equipped to contribute to the growth of the industry and, therefore, the country’s economy. 

Final thoughts

The sustainable way to tackle digital inequalities and the lack of ICT infrastructure is to focus on innovation, infrastructure investment and development, and skills development. By doing so, we’ll be empowering South Africans with access to tools and resources necessary to enter the job market. We’ll also be providing enough people with the capability to efficiently use the newly developed and upgraded infrastructure to accelerate business operations and boost the economy. 

And, that’s why the DBSA recognises the need to create an environment to attract funding that will be used for ICT infrastructure development and implementation.