The world is technologically advancing at an unprecedented rate, and countries which are not being catalysts of this change will be left behind. It is no myth that technology is more effective and efficient than the traditional disposable human labour force.
With the private sector employing a large number of the South African populace, unemployment is likely to increase as we head towards the fourth industrial revolution. The integration of man and machine in the workplace started by decreasing human labour, and eventually human labour will be replaced entirely.
South Africans must take a step not to continue the monotonous rhythm of being objects in global industrial revolutions, but subjects and leaders of the near fourth industrial revolution. But what are the implications of this revolution? Since the dawn of democracy, there has been a shift from a managed economy to an entrepreneurial one.
The ANC government's embrace of entrepreneurialism ignored the possibility of an inclusive socialist system in which the focus could have been more on establishing state-owned firms, which would lead to the decrease of the high unemployment rate.
There is no doubt that entrepreneurship increases economic growth by identifying new technologies and innovative solutions, but it contributes to widening the inequality gap. Entrepreneurship perpetuates the very same corporatist trend of exploiting employees by paying them bare minimum salaries and in the process giving rise to dynamic capitalism.
The question of who or what will protect the unskilled, semi-skilled and professionals from unemployment and exploitation is a more complex question that cannot be accurately answered.
The possibility of governmental policy alone protecting the human labour force effectively and efficiently is out of scope.
In South Africa, unemployment is linked to inequality vis-a-vis social injustice, hence the government has to play the bigger role. South Africa needs to put in place policies which will protect human labour — these policies must ensure an increase in minimum wage.
The governmental policies must account for the integration of man and machine in the workplace and be able to ensure that the existing workforce is protected from layoffs when the fourth industrial revolution fully arrives. The policies must also ensure that the existing workforce is equipped with skills that will be required when their jobs become digitalised.
The possibility of governmental policy alone protecting the human labour force effectively and efficiently is out of scope; there needs to be a multi-stakeholder engagement where all concerned parties (companies, government and employees) come up with a way forward where they will all benefit equally.
The government also needs to review its free-market fundamentalism and neoliberal globalism policies to be able to effectively protect the local human labour force.
Government policies are shaped by previous industrial revolutions, and with the South African government only being politically powerful, it will be far too powerless to stop major job losses and drive the fourth industrial revolution to be a socialist inclusive revolution, unless it attains some economic power.
A socialist revolution alone is not enough to stir a revolution to address poverty, unemployment and inequality. South Africa can review how corporates are taxed and study how countries like China are advancing their economies. Urgent attention must be given to the near fourth industrial revolution.