9 January 2008
“I have mixed emotions and am a bit scared. I guess being scared is a good sign?” These words from Lindi Mophuti, the first black woman to be appointed manager of a FabLab in South Africa, effectively sum up her personality.
FabLabs, or Fabrication Laboratories, are state-of-the-art resource venues aimed at promoting cutting-edge design, product development and process technologies for South African crafters and designers.
Last year, the government set aside R16-million to establish 10 FabLabs around the country. So far, six are up and running: in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Kimberley, Potchefstroom, Soshanguve north of Pretoria, and at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, where Mophuti has taken charge.
Born and raised in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria, Mophuti studied computer systems engineering, after which she joined the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Her first exposure to a FabLab was as an ordinary user, making printed circuit boards, and she was immediately intrigued.
She became more involved with the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy (AMTS) implementation unit that facilitates the Department of Science and Technology’s FabLab roll-out in the country, before being appointed project manager for all FabLab community projects.
The AMTS unit is partnering in this roll-out with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms, the founder of the FabLab concept. FabLabs exist in a number of other countries, including India, Costa Rica, Ghana, and are not restricted to developing nations – even Norway has one.
A key objective of the FabLab family is to provide disadvantaged communities with opportunities in the design, testing and fabrication process. The facilities are hands-on, with advanced desktop manufacturing equipment that allows for the building of “just about anything” from inexpensive and readily available materials.
For Mophuti, the challenges she foresees in her new job are the challenges that the FabLab, working together with the community, can turn into socio-economic development projects.
She is also looking forward helping ordinary visitors to the FabLab become active users of technology “where they’ll tell their stories, write their own lyrics and create their own products, while having fun during the process.”
The mother of a three-year old, Mophuti an affinity for youngsters and wants to raise the awareness that technology can be a part of their lives and make a difference.
“Through awareness of technology, they can change patterns and know they have opportunities to positively influence the community,” she says.