Digital activists aiming to build state of the art R2m tech hub in Diepsloot

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Ector Manganyi and Hellen Ramela are the kind of young entrepreneurs that people talk about whenever they talk generically about the need to encourage small businesses in South Africa.

The Diepsloot-based pair have been trading as Khanda Services for a year now. They started out repairing radio handsets for Fidelity Security, which provides cover for the nearby River Sands technology hub. That firm wanted to invest in and support a business from the township rather than use one of the larger outsourcing contractors, and Khanda was in the right place at the right time.

In less than twelve months, Manganyi and Ramela have grown their businesses to provide communications equipment rental and repairs from Diepsloot to Pretoria, and are currently expanding into solar power solutions for homes and businesses.

Manganyi says that he’d love the opportunity to install solar powered streetlights around Diepsloot.

Khanda's founders at the launch of 67 Days of Digital Activism in Diepsloot.
Khanda’s founders at the launch of 67 Days of Digital Activism in Diepsloot.

The initial contract for Fidelty allowed them to bootstrap their business and grow it fast. But the pair were also fortunate in that they had business and IT mentors at the Father Louis Blondel Community Centre, which is nestled behind Diepsloot Mall, who could talk them through the early stages of their company and introduce them to concepts like “lean startup” for best practices in getting going.

The next step, they say, is to go back to River Sands and take part in one of the full incubation programs there so that they can grow even further, faster.

Geoff Scott is one of a group of people determined to find new ways of bringing opportunities to Diepsloot. As the founder of Global Innovation Resources he consults for the Wot-If? Trust, which specialises in finding projects corporate clients can invest BBEEE money in. Scott and Wot-If? worked with Manganyi and Ramela as they were starting out.

Scott invited on a whistle stop tour of some of the most innovative businesses and initiatives in the area, which are on display for “67 days of digital activism“. The end goal is to raise somewhere in the region of R2m to pay for a complex of shipping containers equipped with computers, connectivity and business equipment for the people of Diepsloot. Hopefully, he says, the money will be raised by the end of the 67 days, which culminate on 28th September.

The church has already greenlighted development of a tech hub at the Father Blondel Centre.
The church has already greenlighted development of a tech hub at the Father Blondel Centre.

“We’ve already got a lot of support,” Scott says, “Now we’re looking for corporates who want to get involved on a large scale.”

Scott’s firm and Wot-If have been involved with Diepsloot for some time now, and there are many successes who’ve passed through the Father Blondel Centre displaying their work their now. Kasi Hive is a group of technologists which, among other things, is trying to build the definitive map of Diepsloot. Using an initiative based in Kenya’s Kibera – often called Africa’s biggest slum – for inspiration they’re putting together a multilayered map based on GIS data and household surveys.

Memeza has already won funding from Vodacom.
The Memeza Community Safety alarm has already won funding from Vodacom.

The most striking finding so far, says Scott, is the discovery of a large swathe of houses which are unusual for the township in that they have gardens. This indicates that the surrounding area might be suitable for farming for the community.

Other displays focus on an awareness project that’s using digital tools to teach children about the African Giant Bullfrog, or Highveld Bullfrog, whose last breeding ground in Gauteng is in Diepsloot and as such is threatened with extinction in the province as the settlement expands. Memeza, next door, is an award winning portable security system for shacks that combines GPRS radio with an infra-red detector and three panic buttons for summoning each emergency service.

It might surprise some – given perceptions about lack of bandwidth in poorer areas of South Africa – that Diepsloot also has its own online streaming radio station. A collective of videographers, the Sloot Motion Picture Collaborative,  are currently producing a series of public awareness videos for SABC, and hope to raise enough money to produce short films from the township during the three months of campaigning.

It's not just about tech. There's blankets being made too.
It’s not just about tech. There’s blankets being made too.

The plans for the hub in Diepsloot are ambitious, but by presenting success stories that are already operating in the township Wot-If?’s Gail Styger believes that people will be able to see the area in a different light to the one most often seen in the media.

If you want to find out more, check out the 67 Days of Activism Facebook page here.


Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar,, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.