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4IR in South Africa - 1. Defining Industrial Revolutions

As the world moved into the fourth industrial revolution, and predictions of the fifth and sixth are already underway, South African business leaders have jumped on the bus and are using the catchphrase throughout the industry, but are we truly in a position to be?

In the first revision of my PhD thesis proposal, I looked deeply into 4IR in the South African context and its subsequent effect on soft-skills and meta-skills development in the STEM community. I have since altered the topic to be more specific, which I will share in the future. For now, I want to share some of the interesting information that I uncovered whilst researching for revision one of my proposal.

We set the scene by looking at descriptions of past and future industrial revolutions.

A plethora of work has been conducted and well describes the anticipated effects of 4IR. However, it is not prudent to generalise these effects among all countries at a given time ,as being equal. The hallmark achievements of passed and anticipated industrial revolutions are described below. In the proposed study, as the South African context is explored, the progressive status of access to tertiary level of study as available to previously denied members of society must be considered. That is not to say that those falling out of the demographic should be ignored. The periods and defining advancements discussed throughout are up for debate. Much of the literature suggests no fixed and firm year in which each occurred. For this purpose, we have selected that which is discussed by (Groumpous, 2021) and supported by (Hlatshwayo, 2021).

I would like you to think about the South African context or the context of whichever country you may live in. I specifically talk about the first-world definitions of the industrial revolutions in Table 1. This is because I believe that we cannot generalise. For the majority of the population in many countries, access to the basics of 1IR to 3IR is yet not consistently met. What hope does that realistically leave for 4IR right now?

There is a rift. Portions of countries may be ready, or well into 4IR already, but does it benefit the majority? A discourse will follow in weeks to come.

Table 1 An extract from "Development of Metaskills and Soft Skills using Engineering Habits of Mind for Industry 4.0 and beyond in South Africa: A Multidisciplinary Framework" by Neolen Pillay. PhD thesis proposal for UNISA. 2022.

In this series, we will discuss the South African context. In the next article, I will introduce the first and second industrial revolutions, considering social commentary from some of the country's brightest academics.

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We would love to hear your opinion. Let's spark a debate!

Is South Africa truly ready for 4IR?

  • 0%Yes

  • 0%No

  • 0%Maybe in a few years


Groumpos, P. P., (2021). A critical historical and scientific overview of all industrial revolutions. IFAC-PapersOnLine, 54(13), 464–471.

Hlatshwayo, M. (2021). Botched technological revolutions and the South African proletariat. In: Ngwane. T. and Tshoadi. M., (2021) The Fourth Industrial Revolution: A sociological critique. (2021). Jacana Media. ISBN 978-1-4314-3155-7

Das, S., and Pan, T. (2022). A strategic outline of Industry 6.0: Exploring the Future. SSRN Electronic Journal, May.

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