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SA’s female tech trailblazer
wows Barcelona

At the Cisco Live expo in Barcelona last week, a South African rags-to-riches story highlighted the role of women in tech, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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There is nothing new about women leading major global technology organisations. From Ginni Rometty at IBM to Safra Catz at Oracle, female CEOs are no longer a rarity. In South Africa, women head up the regional offices of multinational tech companies like SAP, Intel, VMware, UiPath and, soon, Microsoft.

However, there is a vast gap when it comes to men and women lower down the ranks. It is nowhere more obvious than at international and local technology conferences and expos, where male delegates outnumber women by between 10 and 20 to one.

It was no different on the show floor at last week’s Cisco Live conference in Barcelona, where the global networking giant unveiled the next generation of technologies that will connect enterprises and their customers. But there was one dramatic difference: many of the key speakers and role players at the event were women.

Karen Walker, Cisco senior vice president and chief marketing officer, and Wendy Mars, Cisco senior vice president for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia, took centre stage. But it was a South African who all but stole the show with her inspiring story.

During the main opening keynote address of the conference, the face of Ntombozuko “Soso” Motloung  flashed up on screen as an example of Cisco transforming people’s lives through technology. With the title of chief solutions engineer, Soso heads up Cisco’s networking academy in South Africa, focused on building a community of instructors who will in turn help train the next generation of aspirant technology workers.

For someone in her early 30s, her achievement is impressive in its own right. But when one discovers her background, it is nothing short of astonishing.

“The village where I grew up, you can’t find on Google maps,” she said in an interview during Cisco Live. “There was no electricity, no running water. It came into the town when I was almost finished with high school. Until then, we had to go to rivers to fetch water. We used fire to boil water and cook everything.

“The house was a shack, with a bit of mud on the inside. You would really be scared of any extreme weather conditions and when it was raining it was wet inside the entire house, so you literally had to find a dry spot to sleep. It was a communal house, everyone slept in one room. You really envied the kids who lived in brick houses.”

For many, these circumstances alone would have been enough to crush ambitions for a better live. For Soso, it was the spur.

“Those conditions were the reason why I pushed myself harder in everything I did. It seemed the only hope of us getting out of those conditions. It was pretty much unconscious: usually people started school at 7; I  started at 5. During my school career, everything I was doing was to the max, with no resources. We didn’t even have TV or radio.

“It was about you pushing yourself to the limit to get to be better, to get the marks that could get you a scholarship. I could tell no one was going to fund my education from home; my parents were unemployed and living off a government grant. You either get mediocre results and stay at home, or get exceptional results and get a scholarship.”

Even then, career prospects seemed limited to the kinds of jobs that were visible to children.

“The only careers we were exposed to were nurses and teachers, which were known as the normal careers, especially for a young girl growing up there.”

Click here to read about how Soso’s life changed by seeking out technology.

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Small SA town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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Facebook fact-checking goes to 10 more African countries

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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