An African View of Technology

Mmaki Jantjies in her own words | A Network50 Spotlight

By Mmaki Jantjies

One of my favorite writers, Sol Plaatjie, was one of the first pioneering African writers to start a newspaper which was published in vernacular post his studies aboard. Now all this happened at an unfavorable time where African indigenous languages and African identity as a whole had been suppressed. Sol Plaatjie revolutionized the relationship between native South African Setswana speakers and the mainstream print media just by the power of language and contextualising content. People could now relate, contribute and define print media instead of just being consumers.

You might ask what all of this has to do with technology and innovation in South Africa, well it has everything to do with it. After completing my studies, I was compelled and motivated to be part of the growing number of South Africans contextualising technology and content to reflect South Africa and to enable other South Africans like me to create and innovate.

One of my good friends Hildah always says “you don’t always have to be the voice for the voiceless, you just have to pass the mic”. So in passing the mic and empowering others to pass on the mic, I started training teachers to use technology and the Internet to support teaching and learning (with the hope that they would transfer these skills to young children in classrooms), and I later started working with graduate students to open technology clubs in the the schools that they went to. In South Africa and Africa as a whole, we live by a philosophy known as Ubuntu. Loosely translated this word means, I am because you are, and “motho ke motho ka batho ba bangwe”, a person is a person because others are. This philosophy simply means, you cannot deem yourself to be successful if your success is not translated to empower others one way or the other.

Every year, I recruit and support graduate IT students mainly from our university UWC and other parts of the country, full of talent and leaders in their own right, to go to the communities they come from and schools they come from, to teach basic ICT skills to young children (mainly young girls) from various disadvantaged communities. Each club is unique, reflecting the leaders of the clubs (girls only tech clubs, boys only clubs, co-ed clubs, clubs for young women) and the clubs empower members and expose them on niche career paths in STEM. The clubs also educate and cultivate innovation amongst members, motivating young children into the technology space and empowering them to be contributors of the web.

I thus do what I do, as I am passionate about teaching, as I love my community and as I believe that by empowering others you empower a nation.

Some of the 2016 tech club leaders (Source: Vatiswa Ayabonga)

Mmaki Jantjies works as the Head of the Department, Information Systems at the University of the Western Cape, and is a committed advocate and contributor to technology-for-development. She has been active in the internet health movement as a Regional Coordinator. She is a member of our first cohort of “Network50.” Read her recent interview with Mozilla.