Visionary Eastern Cape Xhosa Chief Working To Get Villagers Online

NOVEMBER 13, 2014

The nearest bank is 90 minutes away and you can only access the area by off-road vehicle – but the deep rural villages in the former Transkei’s Willowvale area are by no means cut off from the rest of the world.

Chief Ngwenyathi Dumalisile of Shixini Great Place, a leader within the Xhosa Royal Kingdom and of the Amajingqi Traditional Council, is determined to make his people part of the global village – and is doing this through a visionary plan for “rural-based industrialization”.

It is not industrialisation in the urban sense (there won’t be any factories going up) – but rather getting the 22 villages under the jurisdiction of the Amajingqi Traditional Council wired up to the latest technology, boosting education in the one high and seven primary schools and harnessing the area’s potential for tourism – and he is partnering with a number of stakeholders to do so, including government, parastatals and NGOs, along with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), which is playing a critical role as a strategic partner.

Though he is dressed in traditional clothes for our interview at NMMU’s South Campus in Port Elizabeth, where is discussing the latest projects, Chief Dumalisile is thoroughly modern.

He studied legal theory and politics at the former University of the Transkei (now Walter Sisulu), before getting involved in the struggle and then finding work in the government’s Public Service Commission and Department of Foreign Affairs, where he almost became a foreign diplomat.

In fact, it was while receiving diplomatic training in India just prior to the new dispensation that he decided to abandon his career in politics and head home to the Transkei.  “Due to nostalgia suffered in India, I didn’t see myself fitting [in] as a diplomat abroad and opted to come to the Transkei.”

He could not get a job, so he opened his own business, selling medical equipment he would buy in Germany. Four years ago, he was enthroned as Chief.

So he left the village, saw the world, and came back, changed. But while he is modern, he places great value on traditional values.

He is disappointed in South Africa’s economic landscape and the eroding of values by urban industrialization, with its resulting unemployment and poverty – in particular, how a sense of “entitlement” has somehow replaced a culture of “working hard and valuing what you sweated for”.

He is hoping his rural industrialisation plan will somehow spark a return to the old values – and also help to attach a high value to education.

“Education is the engine of true liberation.”

A big part of his collaboration with NMMU – with whom he has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create opportunities for research and engagement – is to boost education in the villages.

NMMU’s Center for Community Technologies (CCT) helped to establish an ICT Resources Centre in the area, which consists of 14 tablet PCs connected to the internet, and exposes learners to technology. In fact, computer literacy studies have been formally introduced at all the schools. But it is not just the youth who are learning: The Chief’s father, for instance, is learning how to do his banking online and the Chief himself conducts meetings on Skype, using a tablet.

Instrumental in helping to set up the ICT centre, which is supported by a solar charging station for laptops, tablet PCs and mobile phones, was NMMU’s Prof Darelle van Greunen, who heads up NMMU’s Centre for Community Technologies. She is also the Chief’s main contact at the university, having taken over this role from former Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Thoko Mayekiso, who is now Vice-Chancellor at the University of Mpumalanga.

But the ICT project is not the only one.

Thirty maths and science teachers in the area have received a skills boost through NMMU’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit, which has developed a high tech teaching and learning model, available on laptops for teachers and tablets for learners.

And NMMU’s Earth Stewardship Science Institute, led by Prof Maarten de Wit, is investigating natural resources in the area and the potential for tourism development.

To spark interest in tertiary education, NMMU last year set up a careers exhibition attended by 900 pupils – and there are already a few matriculants studying at NMMU, including the Chief’s son, Nkosendalo, 19.

The new projects discussed during the Chief’s latest visit to NMMU last week include a mobile tourism app to market the area and its economic activities, the establishment of a website to highlight the history of the area, and the development of a beading project to be marketed online.

Van Greunen says: “One of our core values at NMMU is Ubuntu. Desmond Tutu states that in the spirit of Ubuntu ‘being together is the ultimate goal of our existence’. I believe that by joining hands with Chief Dumalisile, we are creating a world where we can learn from one another and allow information to flow freely through the use of technology.”

This article was first published on the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan University (NMMU) website.

Photo caption: VISIONARY LEADER… In his most recent visit to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth last month, Chief Ngwenyathi Dumalisile of Shixini Great Place (second, from right), leader of the Amajingqi Traditional Council in Willowvale, former Transkei, discusses NMMU-supported projects with university staff (from left) Vice-Chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz, Centre for Community Technologies’ Prof Darelle van Greunen and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Engagement and Research Prof Thoko Mayekiso (who this month joined the University of Mpumalanga).

Middle Photo: NEW SKILLS… Chief Dumalisile’s parents, Chief Mandlenkosi Dumalisile andNkosikazi Nobantu Dumalisile, receive computer training from NMMU IT PhD student Yemisi Oyedele.