DD Mabuza says he’s not sure which industrial revolution SA is in

The deputy president's latest embarrassment has been likened to Baleka Mbete's horror interview on Al Jazeera.

Deputy President David Mabuza found himself on the Twitter trends list on Tuesday afternoon for his unexpected reply to a parliamentary question from EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who asked him to speak about nanotechnology.

He struggled right off the bat, after Ndlozi, clearly intending to embarrass and show him up, asked him how “nanotechnology will affect medical diagnosis”.

Mabuza answered with a smile, bumbling into a rambling sequence of sentences: “In terms of the first, second and third industrial revolution, probably that’s a new question, because the question, it’s intended … it’s looking at the fourth industrial revolution.”

He added, as an apparent non-sequitur: “Now you’re taking me back to the feudal way of doing things. I must take you … we must start at the first industrial revolution, come to the third industrial revolution, and that will take us a long time.

“I am prepared, if a new question is asked, to explain all these industrial revolutions, up to the fourth industrial revolution, and I’m not very sure, as a country, whether we are in the third industrial revolution or whether the second industrial revolution.”

He was in effect saying that he wasn’t sure if South Africa was still trying to come to terms with the use of oil and its attendant petrochemical products, the use of the internal combustion engine, and electricity, or if we have moved on to using computers, cellphones, the internet, biotechnology, space technology and various forms of automation.

Some on Twitter provided helpful graphics to explain the history of humanity’s rise to becoming a technologically advanced species.

Mabuza went on to explain his understanding of the fourth industrial revolution and how this would improve the way the country was doing business and being more competitive.

He, however, at no point made an attempt to actually answer Ndlozi’s original question.

The DA’s chief whip, John Steenhuisen, suggested that Mabuza might need to “phone a friend”.

Ndlozi then rose on a point of order and advised Mabuza to go and educate himself, particularly on nanotechnology.

Mabuza responded by once again talking about the first to third industrial revolutions, wondering if that was wrong.

House speaker Thandi Modise then came to the deputy president’s rescue by saying that questions should be limited to what Mabuza had come to parliament to speak about, and she acknowledged Ndlozi’s advice that Mabuza might need to go and “brush up” on some points.

The fourth industrial revolution, which has become known as 4IR, has become a big talking point because of the emergence of artificial intelligence and how computers, roboticisation and advanced algorithms are replacing humans in more intellectually demanding jobs that only people were able to do before.

Broadly speaking, the previous industrial revolutions were driven by the rise of steam power and increasing mechanisation (first industrial revolution), the age of oil and the internal combustion engine, along with the electrification of society (second industrial revolution), and then the age of computers, the internet and increasing automation, which heralded the dawn of AI and the revolution we are currently in and entering into.

Former parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete appeared recently as a guest on the popular Head to Head programme, hosted by Mehdi Hassan on the Al Jazeera global TV network, and has also been slammed for her cringe-worthy answers to questions about Nkandla, Thabo Mbeki’s Aids denialism and the Marikana massacre.

Take a look at Mabuza’s parliamentary exchange in the clip below:

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