In awe of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, called for the establishment of a Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution during his State of the Nation address in 2018. The commission’s task is to advise the president in order to seize the opportunities and manage the challenge of rapid technological advance. Their aim is to with the aim to create a nation that has fully harnessed the potential of technological innovation to grow the economy and to uplift the South African people by 2030.
In 2018, Switzerland published “Digital Switzerland”, an overarching strategy on digital policy, relevant for the actions taken by the Federal Administration and serving as a framework for the scientific and business community, the administrative authorities and civil society. It relates to a multiplicity of areas of life and areas of action, for example digitalisation in the sphere of transport or energy, education and research, the economy, the protection of children and young people, e-Government and cyber-risks. The Digital Switzerland strategy aims to respond to relevant economic, legal, technical and societal developments, and is updated every second year.
The Swiss South Africa Joint Research Programme, initiated in 2008, has been continuously establishing collaboration in frontier sciences. The thematic focus areas of the programme’s first phase in 2008 were biotechnology and nanotechnology; in 2013 global change and in 2017 sustainable systems and big data. Now, from 2021 onwards, the Science and Technology Office (STO) with the Embassy of Switzerland is placing emphasis on the creation of collaboration networks within the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as the frontier science of the of 21st century.
One of the key collaboration areas is blockchain. Carrying the power to complex technology that has the potential to powerfully disrupt many aspects of how businesses and economies work; even how societies are organized, blockchain has emerged as a forefront technology in research and innovation. The bilateral collaboration in blockchain has been deepened through various delegation visits in 2019 in particular. In June 2019 the South African Agricultural Research Council participated at the Swiss Blockchain Hackathon at Trust Square in Zurich and in July 2020 South African researchers joined the Blockchain Summer School of the University of Zurich. Furthermore, the Swiss Embassy in collaboration with the Swiss Blockchain Federation and Crypto Valley Venture Capital organized several high level events, University lectures and workshops in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Mauritius on the blockchain ecosystem in 2019. The Embassy has also participated in the Africa Blockchain Conference in 2020.
Another collaboration stream is artificial intelligence (AI). Projects and collaboration in artificial intelligence and automation have been boosted not only to raise awareness of the highly active South African AI ecosystem in Switzerland but also to connect researchers and innovators across countries. Activities included the participation in the AI Expo Africa in 2020 with a Swiss Pavilion and Innovation Challenge. The bilateral relations further expand to the research in robotics, highlighted by the participation of the University of KwaZulu Natal in the 2020 Cybathlon organized by ETH Zurich.