Wits to host inaugural Digital Africa Festival

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Professor Barry Dwolatzky, the director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits and a co-founder of the festival, says: “It is where digital hardware meets digital software and digital content where the sweet spot lies for us to make our mark. There is huge room for us to innovate and do great things to change the world.” (Image: Barry Dwolatzky)


• Samantha Watt
Communication Consultant
Watt Communications
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Digital technology is expected to play a major role in “Africa’s Century”; in recognition of this, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) will host its inaugural Fak’ugesi: Digital Africa Festival, from 11 August to mid-September.

The festival will showcase all things digital. Organisers say it will bolster the significant synthesis between technology, art and critical thinking within the digital technology domain. If Africa wants to succeed in the digital sphere, it needs to play a key role going forward within the digital space. It needs to become a source of digital technology as opposed to being simply a consumer. By doing this, Africa, South Africa and Johannesburg will be able to establish themselves as leaders and innovators in the digital technology space.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky, the director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits and a co-founder of the festival, says: “It is where digital hardware meets digital software and digital content where the sweet spot lies for us to make our mark. There is huge room for us to innovate and do great things to change the world.”

He cites the Internet of Things (IoT) as a prime example of something that is going to happen. We need to look at how this concept will help solve Africa’s unique problems. Africa needs to become innovators and face the issues head on, doing cutting edge stuff and becoming drivers and inventors of digital technology, he opines. The IoT refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an internet-like structure.

Digital technology and the “Rise of Africa” are two major forces shaping the 21st century, Dwolatzky says. “If Africa is to achieve its expected economic prominence, Africans will need to become major innovators and developers of digital technology. It lies at the heart of the ways in which we manage our lives and run our companies, cities and countries.”

It will need to be used to educate and empower the continent’s more than a billion citizens and is at the heart of the Fak’ugesi: Digital Africa Festival. “Fak’ugesi” is isiZulu street slang for “switch on the electricity” or “shine more light”. Dwolatzky elaborates: “As a name for the festival, the phrase emphasises the energy and excitement of the forces of Africa and digital technology, which the festival will draw upon and magnify.”

Digital gateway

Situated in the heart of Africa’s most dynamic and important metropolitan area, Dwolatzky says that Wits has a critical role to play in shaping the continent’s future. “The Fak’ugesi: Digital Africa Festival is an umbrella event, aimed at co-ordinating and curating a number of standalone conferences, exhibitions, workshops, short courses and other activities that will promote the fusion of creative and technical development of digital culture in Africa.”

Strongly positioning Wits as the digital gateway between Africa and the rest of the world, the festival is expected to act as a focus for the wide range of research and innovation already taking place at Wits. “The festival will attract students, researchers and entrepreneurs with an interest in digital technology throughout Africa. Each event will turn the spotlight on some aspect of digital technology including software, hardware, networks, digital content, games, etc.”

It will mainly take place on the JCSE’s new Tshimologong Precinct, as well as make use of venues on Wit’s East and West campuses, as well as in the fashionable inner city areas of Braamfontein, Maboneng Precinct and 44 Stanley Avenue.

The programme

Several headlines events have been confirmed:

● Agile Africa 2014: A major conference on software development methods, this will follow up on the very successful inaugural event held in Braamfontein in August 2013.

● A Maze/Johannesburg 2014: An indie-games and digital arts festival, this is expected to attract games developers and digital artists from Europe and Africa. The festival has been run annually since 2012 in Braamfontein in partnership with the organisers of Berlin’s A Maze Festival.

● Cascade: Cascade is a collaborative multi-disciplinary project that will champion digital content development through a series of workshops and activities. The event will be led by Onedotzero, an experiential arts organisation with over 16 years’ experience in curating and producing cultural events and content for brands and agencies. Cascade will be supported by the British Council.

● Process Improvement Africa: This is a one-day conference focusing on the role that process and process improvement plays in helping ICT organisations deliver high quality products and services in a predictable and repeatable manner. The conference will showcase models and methods such as CMMI, ITIL, TSP and AGILE.

● Maker Event: 3-D printing, laser cutters and other rapid prototyping tools are revolutionising hardware innovation. Maker Spaces give innovators the freedom to explore solutions in the hardware world as easily as software developers do in the world of bits and bytes. The Maker Event will provide an opportunity for makers to collaborate, learn and teach.

● Unyazi Festival of Electronic Music: The only African festival dedicated to the latest developments in electronic and electro-acoustic music, it was launched at Wits in 2005. This year the festival, in partnership with NewMusicSA, will feature innovative and exploratory music from African and the rest of the world.

● Social Media Week: A bi-annual event that takes place in over 14 cities around the world, the week celebrates the best in innovation, creativity and technology. The goal of each event is to provide the best information, ideas and inspiration to help people understand how to achieve more in a hyper-connected world. Social Media Week started in New York in 2009 and has since grown to become a leading media platform and worldwide event with local presence and global reach across all five continents. This September, DigiSense will produce the first-ever Social Media Week Johannesburg. There will be a line-up of panels, question and answer sessions, keynote addresses, master classes and more, each focusing on a different facet of the growing influence and endless possibilities of digital technology and social media.