So far, 2017 has been a tough year for South Africans. Floods, drought, fires – irreparable damage caused by man and nature, and not to mention the weak state of the Rand and almost daily reports of corruption by those who govern. Amidst this message of despair, the Fak'ugesi Africa Digital Innovation Festival transmits a message of hope, passion, and unity.
I attended the Festival over the weekend in Braamfontein, and the short time I spend with the artists, students, creative professionals, technologists and event organizers somehow rebooted and reconfigured my inner dialogue. “Fak'ugesi” is a Zulu term that means “shine more light” and as I walked through the dirty streets of Joburg, I drank deeply from that pool of light made out of bytes and pixels and a whole lot of passion.
The message was transmitted loud and clear – we shall go on making beautiful, silly, extraordinary and mind blowing things. In the name of progress.
It was as if I walked into a bubble, and there we played, danced, and celebrated the power of the human mind and the strength of the African soul. We will not stop innovating, we will continue pushing through the barriers of poverty and corruption, we will step over the obstacles politics and life throw at us – and we will make Things.
It is only fitting that I change Descartes' argument of “I think therefore I am” to “We think, therefore we are,” as it best describes the impression the festival left on me. The word “THINK” was also the very first thing I saw as I climbed out of the car.
Fak'ugesi demanded that I “think” … about how far we have come – in spite of tremendous odds. That we're still here, and that we are still taking the time to innovate. We've not given up, far from it, we're celebrating. From the mind-boggling Ericsson-Minecraft project remaps sections of any city, to the kids from townships who make simple custom game controllers, to the guy who gave his top hat wings to fly – the message was clear.
I covered the first Fak'ugesi Festival in 2014 and had a very interesting chat with 2017's festival director, Tegan Bristow. We talked about how the message has evolved over the past few years from why we need to pay attention to digital innovation, to a place of working together to create extraordinary things.
Walking through the different sections of the festival takes one from the extraordinary to the outrageously silly – but everyone dances to the beat – Innovation is the name of the game in Africa. I talked to a group of innovators from Sweden who is part of Ericsson Strategic Design, and they presented a workshop where local students use Minecraft to design urban public spaces.
The easiest way to explain what they do is to liken it to AR used in Pokemon GO. It's just a lot more complicated and has far-reaching effects for city builders and planners. While they were explaining the tech to us someone was designing a bridge in Minecraft which they then used to demonstrate to us the application of by showing us that same bridge on their cell phone right outside the building. I can just imagine how such a tool can assist architects.
It's a big project as UN-Habitat, have been working with Mojang since 2012 to use the design as “a community participation tool in the design of urban public spaces.” During the Wits architecture festival, students picked some of the designs to showcase to the public. This tool can also be used as a communications tool between city tourism officials and visitors. It holds the promise of a giant leap in innovation for city planning and tourism.
One of the most inspiring projects we stopped by was teaching school kids to design custom game controllers. This project not only takes them off the streets during holidays but also teaches them skills we only dreamed of when we were young. As this year's logo states in flashing lights and a very smart self-made digital necklace – it's all about “brave tech hearts beating as one.”
Every project as the festival is in partnership with something else. Local schools have to work together with someone from the project for it to be successful. It was something to see the proud faces of young men and women as they sat hunched over a computer screen and worktable tinkering with their designs. You can check out the project in our Fak-
Something else that needs to be highlighted is how many young children we saw active at the festival. There was this young boy who assembled the digital hearts better and faster than the grown ups. It was also so cool to see parents take their kids through the VR exercise, and seeing the wide-eyed wonder as they looked at all the quirky inventions.
It would take a few articles to talk about everything we saw at Fak'ugesi. There was this guy who has a partnership with Red Bull and yes, he gave his top hat wings to fly. Then there was the machine who wrote the time on a white board, the 3D printer who bought Boss Yoda to life, the underwater virtual reality device, the thing that drew doodles without the hand of an artist guiding it.
And we only saw a slice of what Fak'ugesi had to offer. On the 14th the conference kicks off and on the 16th Fak'ugesi hosts its first Bloc party. You can buy tickets to the event here. “See the Festival outcomes come to light at this festival finale, which promises interactive arts and projections, alongside riveting lineup of both local and international powerhouses such as trap-jazz trailblazer Masego, Soulection founder Joe Kay, Stonesthrow beatmaker MNDSGN, European producers Melodiesinfonie and Evil Needle, Britain’s Hannah Faith and local luminaries Nonku Phiri, Christian Tiger School and Petite Noir.”
I hope you drop in as you'll drop out a different person. Did I mention I saw a device that draws its own doodles?