The Fourth Industrial Revolution – also known as Industry 4.0 or 4IR – is the first Industrial Revolution that South Africa is experiencing as a free and democratic country.
It does not however mean that other economical revolutions did not happen in South Africa and the rest of Africa in the past. I will get to this later.
- Because the demarcation of the summed up area that now is South Africa was colonised in stages, starting with the Cape by the Dutch and later took over by the British, I will call it ‘Project Colonise South Africa.’
- Industrial Revolutions’ dates are estimates – i.e. of when one industrial revolution starts and the other ends, and they serve to capture an era of when significant revolutionary innovations happened in the world. And although different researchers have different dates, they do not vary significantly.
A timeline of industrial revolutions versus colonised/apartheid South Africa
* The ‘c.’ before the year means approximately.
First Industrial Revolution
- The First Industrial Revolution happened from c.1765 – a 113 years after the Dutch colonisers arrived in the Cape in 1652. Project Colonise South Africa started when the Dutch East India Company under the command of Jan van Riebeeckreached Table Bay in the Cape on the 6th of April 1652.
- In 1805, 40 years into the First Industrial Revolution, and 153 years of Dutch colonial control of South Africa, the British Empire inherited the Cape as a prize during the Napoleonic Wars and became the new empire of Project Colonise South Africa.
The Second Industrial Revolution
- The Second Industrial Revolution was from c.1870 to c.1968.
- Apartheid against native (black) South Africans started formally from 1948 under British rule when the country became self-governing under the British Empire.
- By saying ‘formally’, it does not mean colonisation wasn’t apartheid – they are equal crimes against humanity. It is just a change in ownership.
- Again, still under the Second Industrial Revolution, Apartheid South Africa became a sovereign state in 1961 – Britain gave them the sovereignty.
Third Industrial Revolution
- The Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, started 8 years into sovereign Apartheid South Africa in c.1969.
Democratic South Africa and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
It is blurry as to when in the 2000’s we can point the start of the Fourth Industry Revolution: ‘But we are in it’ as I’d jokingly say.
On Google, the first articles published about the Fourth Industrial Revolution begin in 2016 (I stand to be corrected).
Definitely many people have been tracking the mammoth innovations in the 2000’s to realise an Industrial Revolution is coming – i.e. a Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Anyhow, as you read on I will expand what a revolution is in my context and you will realise why we have switched to another Industrial Revolution.
The 4th Industrial Revolution is indeed happening in times of a Democratic South Africa – making it the first of the four Industrial Revolutions to happen post colonised and apartheid South Africa.
What is special about an industrial revolution?
The word ‘revolution’ in basic terms means ‘a drastic and far-reaching change in how things are done.’
Also in basic terms, an ‘industrial revolution’ suggests, or is, a drastic change in how things in industries will be done. Industry could be in medicine, media, education, sports and even households.
Planet earth and humans have been going through revolutions throughout history. Think about the time men discovered how to make and control fire.
It was a revolution in that human beings could then cook or braai meat at their own time. As you can image, cooked food is easier to eat than raw food. Imagine the work and time that would go into eating raw meat.
Control of fire led to many other revolutions, e.g. smelting of gold and producing of electricity.
The driver of economic revolutions is that thing that humans possess and that other animals cannot do: I.e. ‘Innovation.’ Human beings have a cognitive ability to ‘innovate’: I.e. make hard and soft objects, e.g. cars and software applications like Facebook.
To understand innovation is to understand how Industrial Revolutions happen.
Innovation is the mixing up of two or more parts. For example, a chair mixes a geometric sitting shape with an object. This object could be wood, stone, steel or plastic: a wooden chair, a stone chair, a steel chair, a plastic chair. The objects can be mixed up even further: a wooden plastic chair (mixes the combination of wood, plastic and a geometric sitting shape/structure).
Another example is YouTube. YouTube mixes video and internet. Facebook book mixes internet, other software codes, a concept of social media for friends, and many other elements (status like button, a status share capability, etc).
Innovation gets busy and faster as more and more things are discovered. Human beings are ever discovering things and innovating. Someone discovered how to make fabric. Fabric was infused into chairs. We now have a chair with fabric covering the cushion. Someone innovated cushioning and others discovered materials that make cushioning.
Discovering further things and innovating pushes further innovation.
As human beings, we’ve been innovating further and further to a point where we today have 3D printers, nanotechnology and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Even these fields can be mixed up. Recently a Pretoria doctor – Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team at University of Pretoria – performed the world’s first middle ear transplant by 3D printing ear bones. This is mixing 3D printing with biology: its biotechnology.
This (the above paragraph) is what is the 4th Industrial Revolution. The main definition of 4IR sounds a bit difficult for most people to understand.
The main definition of the 4th Industrial Revolution goes like:
4IR encompasses a fusion of physical, digital and biological technologies: Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), decentralized consensus, 5G, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.
Comparing today to 10 years ago, there has been breakthroughs in various fields. There wasn’t bitcoin 10 years ago. Now there is. It is now fused in payments systems on the internet. There was 4G internet. Now there is 5G. I guess bitcoin transactions ran faster on 5G. Haha.
Back to Africa and industrial revolutions
Strong evidence suggests that the control of fire by humans (or the homo specie – I am not getting into the evolutionary explanation of human ancestry) started in African a plus-minus million years ago.
We can say the ‘Fire Industrial Revolution’ started in Africa. Fire has been used to build many economic products: E.g. mud pots are solidified with fire.
No one can have a claim on innovation: It is a human phenomenon: Although politics try to claim innovation and revolutions. In addition, politics can inhibit other people from participating in innovation: e.g. slavery, apartheid, colonisation, etc.
Even here in Southern Africa, there were many such industrial operations before colonisation and apartheid.
The Kingdom of Mapungubwe – a pre-colonial state in Southern Africa (between the borders of now South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana) that existed for plus-minus 100 years between the years c.1200 and c.1300 – traded gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt.
Mapungubwe has some amazing artefacts remaining. See them here. This is just many of the examples that show innovation of objects and systems like trading are human phenomenon.
Human beings have been innovating throughout and causing revolutions of how things are done. N.B. The more we innovate, the more there are innovations to fuse together to make more innovations and thus causing revolutions of how things are done – and the faster the speed of innovation and revolution increases as there are more things to innovate further and more people participating in the innovating.