23rd February 2024 7:05 am
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Tech, business and race in post-Mandela SA: highlights from TEDxSoweto 2014

Is it fair to be angry at Nelson Mandela for “selling blacks out”, as some say? What would the late former statesman’s response to recent racist tension in the headlines be? Would you take a trip around Africa on your own and put your trust in total strangers? And why are white people all of a sudden embracing the life and culture of Soweto and even living there?

These are some of the thought provoking topics presented by a diverse line up of speakers that got attendees at the fifth edition of TEDxSoweto to ask themselves some very important questions and and occasionally let out a bit of nervous laughter as points and discussions that wouldn’t normally be shared in other public settings were tackled at the event.

The Soweto Theatre again played host to TEDxSoweto, where artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and people from various other industries and backgrounds gathered last Saturday.

This year’s theme was Silver Linings and although no two stories were the same, finding a silver lining in the midst of negativity was a common thread among the talks and stories shared. Here’s just a few of the highlights we saw.

Trend analyst, Pierre du Plessis kicked things off with talk a that highlighted the need to have a mentor in one’s life, have someone you will mentor to be greater than you and have a best friend who will always show you things from a different perspective.

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Pierre du Plessis

Did you know that there are over 100 white families living in Soweto [Only 100? – Slightly Surprised Ed]? This is one of the stats pointed out by entrepreneur Mothusi Lukhele, a resident and self-confessed lover of Soweto, in his talk about how the social and economic landscape of the famous township is changing.

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Mothusi Lukhele

There were lessons to be learnt from all the talks and there were probably three talks that stood out, one of them was by businessman Victor Kgomoeswana, whom you could call an ambassador for the promotion of business relations in Africa. “Africa is open for business,” Kgomoeswana starts off, referring to the title of a book he has written.

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Victor Kgomoeswana

“Despite terrorism, disease plaguing Africa, Nigerians are making their own smartphones and versions of the iPad,” he adds. “The only way can begin to take advantage of business in Africa is to change how we see Africa, change the way we think about Africa… And finally, change the way we behave when we go to other African countries. Don’t be afraid of reports about widespread disease, you won’t know about Africa if you don’t explore.”

Transporting apps

Graphic designer turned app developer Litha Soyizwapi had a few tips to offer aspirant devs from what he learnt during his journey into tech, which include developing one of the top paid apps on the South African App Store. Soyizwapi’s Gaurider is a godsend for commuters waiting for the next Guatrain.

“When I say I make apps, this is what everyone has in mind,” Soyiswazpi says as he points to a slide with Mark Zuckerberg’s name, “Sorry to disappoint you but I’m not there yet.”

Sowyizwapi was inspired to create programmes he and other ordinary people could use, which sparked his interest in developing apps. Sowayizwapi says one of his lecturers taught him three important things that would help him become a better graphic designer and ultimately a better developer. “He taught me to learn the basics, learn by doing things I could or couldn’t do and to apply all the knowledge I had learnt, which helped me when I started programming” he says.

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Litha Soyizwapi

Columnist for the Daily Maverick, Sisonke Msimang, spoke passionately about Nelson Mandela. Specifically, what he meant to South Africans during his lifetime, the contributions he made to non-racialism and South Africa after his death.

“I’m mad at this guy,” Msimang points to an image of Madiba behind her.

“Like most South Africans I love him… but given the number of violent racist incidents that have taken place during this year and the last few years, I find myself wondering whether Nelson Mandela helped blacks by choosing the path of reconciliation and  forgiveness, or the path of retribution and justice,” Msimang says.

“If Mandela were here, what would he do?” she asks. Msimang spoke about how back when the likes of Mandela and Oliver Tambo were still alive and active, South Africans had someone to look to for answers when such chaos ensued, but today we don’t have that and now have to look within ourselves and ask what we should do in such situations.

“I think the choices we have are very stark,” Msimang says. “We can either continue on the path we are on and not engage with each other or we try to embrace each other. At the moment, we are in between. We haven’t said we have given on embracing each other, but statistics show that we have. But I believe that’s important that we don’t give up and I think that’s what Madiba would have wanted.”

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Sisonke Msimang

After lots of laughter, eye-opening discussions and a few “aha moments” as Oprah would call them, TEDxSoweto ended off with a call to action to all attendees to plug into their communities and be part of the positive change happening not only in Soweto, or South Africa, but also Africa.

Keep an eye on the official website for videos from the event.

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