South Africa: 'Go Forth and Build Wakanda'

"In my future vision of Africa, the real 'vibranium' of this continent is sitting in this room. The youth of Africa is the real vibranium of our continent."

This was guest speaker, Abbas Jamie's message to engineering and science graduands on Thursday, 12 December - the first day of the University of Cape Town's (UCT) summer graduation season. The university has dedicated its December graduation ceremonies to Chancellor Graça Machel, whose term of office comes to an end on 31 December. Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe will take over as UCT's sixth chancellor in the new year.

Jamie, the founder of The Innovation Mentor, titled his speech: "Building Wakanda". Wakanda is a fictional country in sub-Saharan Africa and the home of superhero Black Panther. In Black Panther, Jamie explained, the power of Wakanda comes from vibranium, an alien material kept secretly from the rest of the world.

"We all saw the Marvel version of Wakanda, but what does the real Wakanda look like? When will it be built, and how are we going to build it?" he asked graduands.

Africa's biggest asset

Jamie described the youth in the audience, who were moments away from being capped, as the continent's biggest asset and told them that building Wakanda is in their hands.

"Make no mistake, the young people sitting in this room today will be the shapers of our future African cities."

He said it will take grit, zeal and an innovative spirit to get it right, and encouraged them to go fourth and make it happen.

"I travel across the continent and I encounter youth that are agile, ambitious and have an innovative spirit. This innovative spirit becomes crucial if you are going to navigate the massive disruption that is fast approaching," he said.

"Make no mistake, the young people sitting in this room today will be the shapers of our future African cities."

Develop human centricity

Jamie also shared with graduands his four-point plan for rebuilding Africa.

As the brains and ideas behind building a better Africa, he urged graduands to adopt a human-centric approach as they start their careers.

Since human centricity is "fundamentally different" on the continent when compared to other parts of the world, he encouraged graduands to tailor their approach to Africa's needs and to avoid an "inappropriate" copy/paste approach informed by the Global North.

"When we bring solutions, systems and technology into Africa, make sure it is through the lens of Africa and appropriate for Africa," Jamie said.

Get creative

Although the modern world is driven by science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), combining this phenomenon with the world of artists, musicians and dancers could be the start of great things.

"If we can bring these two worlds together, we can find a sweet spot where innovation can really flourish," he said.

"Make creativity an important part of your ongoing learning and life experiences."

He also encouraged ways of reinventing the boardroom by adding a creative flair, and potentially even including creativity in certain technical projects. If that's what it takes to nurture creativity, he advised graduands to do just that.

"Make creativity an important part of your ongoing learning and life experiences."

Think out of the box

To help address some of the country's, continent's and the world's acute challenges, he challenged the next generation of engineers and scientists to think out of the box. This, he explained, means thinking beyond the codes and regulations, and beyond the size of the pipe and thickness of a slab.

"We need to understand social complexity. We need to understand the role politics play in infrastructure. We need to understand where the money is coming from," he said.

Look into the future

Finally, deep dive into the future, he urged. To get this right, he told graduands to let go of the now, to lift their heads from the codes, regulations and constant deadlines and simply look into the future.

"You have to spend some of your time looking forward and dreaming. [Ask yourself] what does Wakanda look like?"

"In my future, we don't keep our vibranium secret. We unleash it onto the rest of the world. Go forth and make us proud, go forth and build Wakanda."

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