On becoming President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa put the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) into his national economic strategy, generating criticism for its neoliberal rhetoric echoing the World Economic Forum (WEF) and concern it would not create jobs. 4IR is an umbrella term for 3D-printing, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, industrial Internet of things (IIoT) and robotics. For corporations it means rethinking strategies and auto cannibalisation of business models. For policy-makers in manufacturing nations it is supposed to raise national competitiveness and bring manufacturing home, potentially blocking developing nations from creating jobs through attracting labour-intensive manufacturing. Its effects on work and employment are forecast to be complex, potentially heightening inequality by reducing demand for low levels of skills. South Africa has a significant skills shortage, due to failings in its education system, limiting the supply of managers, researchers and workers needed for 4IR. There are also problems of poor quality infrastructure, reflecting weak governance and state capture. It has a poor record in policy formulation and implementation, especially across departments, with notable delays in cybersecurity and data protection. There is only a small domestic market and, despite aspirations, it is not an easy gateway to the rest of Africa, which has strong demographic growth but limited spending power and poor physical distribution systems. Moreover, South African firms have to compete with a strong Chinese presence.

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