Speech by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki on Y2K National Awareness Day
Cape Town 19 August 1998

There is an international company based in Gauteng that began implementing a Y2K programme two and a half years ago. The partners and businesses dependent on this company worldwide amounts to 1 000 companies. It did all the necessary work to ensure the systems were Y2K compliant, and even tested them. They also ensured that their partners and the companies they did business with were Y2K compliant. They thought everything was OK and they were going to avoid the Bug. But their local authority is not compliant and when this was pointed out to them they realised that the water and electricity which was central to their business would stop flowing as a direct result. Thus all their efforts would be wasted because a critical service provider was not compliant.

The financial services sector in South Africa is well advanced with the implementation of Y2K programmes. A particular bank has completed the adaptation of their systems and even successfully tested them. However, they forgot to check the mobile credit-card machine which most of us see being used in the retail industry. The result is that people currently using credit cards with an expiry date of the year 2000 are being rejected by the bank's own computer systems because the date is being read as being expired.

These are just two examples of how the Millennium Bug is about to bite.

Y2K has been labelled the "most dangerous formula ever, since the creation of the formula for the atomic bomb". We cannot over emphasize the consequences of not taking action to correct this problem.

If nothing is done, we are facing a disaster. If too little is done, we face a disaster. If only some people take action and other don't, we will face a disaster.

Many companies are delaying spending money on the Millennium Bug problem because of budget constraints and other priorities. But by not taking action they are jeopardising the long term-health of their companies. Many businesses may not have the resilience to withstand a huge financial loss.

There are a number of myths or perceptions about the Millennium Bug that, if not corrected, could have devastating consequences.

It is a myth to think that this problem will only affect developed countries. It will, in fact, have far more serious consequences for the developing nations of our world because the ability of these countries to rebound from the effects of Y2K is much less than that of industrialised nations.

It is a myth to think that only large companies and organisations, governments and local authorities will be affected. This is one bug that will not discriminate. Ordinary people are equally at risk. In an average day, a person will probably interact not less than 100 times with equipment or services which contain microchips.

It is a myth to think that only people with computers will be affected. Even if you have no computer in your home or office, you are more than likely to have electricity and water, use transports systems (whether cars, trains or planes); use telephones, have a banking account, and so on. These systems are all controlled by microchips.

So collectively, as a nation, we need to ensure we do everything in our power to counter the Millennium Bug. Every citizen should make it their responsibility to find out whether the companies and organisations they do business with are Y2K compliant, whether it be their local authorities, their bank, their cellphone provider or the companies in which they hold shares. They must ask if these companies and organisations have tested their systems.

This will create a much needed groundswell of awareness and increase pressure on these very companies and organisations on whom we all depend, to do something. Awareness is very important since a large part of the problem stems from the reluctance to deal with the matter.

At the pace things are going. South Africa is expected to be only 60% compliant by the Year 2000.

There are two areas are of particular concern: small and medium-sized businesses and local authorities.

There are more than 800,000 small and medium-sized businesses in our country which contribute 33% of the country's GDP and are responsible for 44% of private sector employment figures. At the present there are only 30,000 SMMEs which have been identified as being Y2K compliant. An extraordinary effort must be made to increase awareness among these companies and to, where necessary, assist them.

The majority of the 850 or so local authorities in South Africa have inadequate resources and skills to carry out Y2K programmes and will need assistance to ensure that the majority of people whom they serve will not suffer disruptions to their daily lives as a result.

The good news is that South Africa is ranked as one of te top five countries in the world in terms of its Y2K implementation programme.

The South Africa people expect reliable service from their Government and deserve the confidence that critical government functions dependent on electronic systems will be performed accurately and in a timely manner.

There is no doubt that minimising the Y2K problem will require a major technological and managerial effort and it is critical that the Government does its part in addressing this challenge.

And much action has already been taken, including:

Establishing a Cabinet Committee to oversee the national Y2K implementation programme;
Making money from the fiscus available to set up the National Year 2000 Decision Support Centre;
Investigate introducing anti-dumping legislation for non-Y2K compliant equipment and software;
Implementing a six-phase plan of action to ensure total readiness by the Year 2000 for 68 "mission critical" systems within government (such as pensions, examinations, housing subsidies, transport, UIF payments and the population register);
Declaring today as National Y2K Awareness Day and, if I am to believe everything I read in the newspapers, then the world was so taken with our idea that today has become an international Y2K Awareness Day!
I have also instructed all State Departments and Government Administration to adhere to certain policies and directives that will assure that no critical programme experiences disruption because of the Y2K problem.

I consider this issue to be so serious that I have directed the head of the National Year 2000 Decision Support Centre report to me on a bi-monthly basis.

In conclusion, this problem cannot be tackled by government alone. Our role is to support, monitor and raise awareness. The private sector must be partners with us every step of the way if we are to beat the Bug.

Thank You

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