When Pick n Pay unveiled self-service terminals at its Ottery store in Cape Town last year, consumers praised the excellent use of technology to make their lives easier.
Cobus Barnard, Pick n Pay’s group executive for retail office and supply chain, said the self-help checkout points are aimed at making shopping more convenient.
He said the checkout points will help customers who are in a hurry, letting them go through the checkout process themselves.
Not everyone was happy, however. Cosatu and its affiliates were up in arms, saying it was not consulted regarding the self-service terminals.
According to Cosatu, Pick n Pay employees were fearful the self-service tills would impact their jobs.
Cosatu said it would oppose the self-service terminals and even threatened boycotts – as the technology was “anti-worker, and anti the objectives of South Africa”.
The same situation is now playing out in the taxi industry, where metered taxi operators are fighting against Uber in South Africa.
Instead of embracing technological advances in the transport industry, which make consumers’ lives easier, metered taxi workers are attacking Uber drivers and destroying their cars.
While aggression and violence may result in small wins against Uber and self-service terminals, progress is inevitable.
To embrace new technologies which enhance consumer experiences is always better, and more profitable, as many Uber drivers found out.
And if a local industry is concerned that an international player may eat its lunch, there is always the option to develop your own technology.
Be the technological advance
If anyone thinks it is impossible to fight against global giants like Uber, think again.
Ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing crushed Uber in China, and acquired Uber’s China unit in August 2016.
The argument that technological advances will cost jobs is also not informed.
The World Economic Forum said investments in technology create jobs and are an important enabler of innovation and development.
This is in addition to other benefits, such as contributing to GDP growth, creating new and sustainable industries, and business innovation.
Technological progress does not cost jobs, it creates jobs, and is necessary for South Africa to remain competitive in a global market.
The idea that technological advances are “anti-worker, and anti the objectives of South Africa” is misguided and should be dismissed with contempt.
Unfortunately, the ANC government continues to buckle under pressure from workers’ unions and other groups which are holding technological progress – and job creation – back. Let’s hope this changes soon, for the sake of South Africa and its citizens.
This is an opinion piece.