‘I wouldn’t leave South Africa, I have a child here’

Stanford Mogotsi (left) and Kabelo Mashisi

Stanford Mogotsi (left) and Kabelo Mashisi have created software systems for Heineken and Fifa, among others

The software company’s boss, Stanford Mogotsi, says he remains committed to South Africa despite the challenges of running a small IT company in the country.

“It’s my house, I have a child, I have a family here,” says the 46-year-old.

Mr. Mogotsi co-owns Johannesburg-based software company Nane Solutions with his friend and business partner Kabelo Mashisi, 45.

Both have come a long way since growing up in one of South Africa’s townships during apartheid.

Both studied computer science at university and then spent several years working in corporate IT roles before founding Nane in 2006.

Stanford Mogotsi shows the app his company has designed for Heineken employees

Stanford Mogotsi, here showing off the app his company designed for Heineken, says it can be difficult for small IT companies to land work

Their initial work was consultancy – advising companies such as MTN, South Africa’s largest mobile phone network, and the state-owned energy company Eskom.

But they found consulting frustrating because they wanted to build software from the ground up, rather than just advise.

Their first major foray into software design was to create a system for the world governing body FIFA to manage volunteers during the 2010 World Cup, which was held in South Africa.

Then, in 2017, they created software that allowed the Heineken brewing group to improve its transport system in the country. Another major project win was the development of an app for video telephony service Talk360.

However, it has not all been smooth sailing for the company. Nane means eight in Swahili and the name was chosen because the company had eight founders.

However, the shift from consultancy to the riskier business of software development, and then the impact of South Africa’s strict coronavirus lockdowns, led to everyone but Mr Mogotsi and Mr Mashisi leaving the company.

“It’s very hard to get work when you’re a small business,” says Mr Mogotsi. “We have to compete with multinationals, and potential customers tend to go for these proven large IT companies, especially when the economic backdrop in South Africa is uncertain.”

Prof Duncan Coulter, head of the Academy of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Johannesburg, agrees that times are tough for South African IT companies like Nane.

While Mr Mogotsi and Mr Mashisi are in South Africa, Prof Coulter says the continuing major problem for the country’s IT sector is a brain drain: people finding work abroad.

“Many of our better students have now left for Europe, America and Asia, doing very well for themselves, we are very proud of them,” he says.

“And as part of the overall brain drain [away from South Africa]they certainly have opportunities to move more easily than professions like lawyer and doctor.”

As a result of all these young IT professionals finding work abroad, Prof Coulter says companies in the sector in South Africa are now struggling to fill vacancies.

Mr. Mashisi says that “in terms of salary, we cannot compete” with what large foreign firms have to offer. “So once someone has a year or two of experience, it’s easy for them to get caught. [and go abroad].”

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New Tech Economy is a series that explores how technological innovation will shape the new emerging economic landscape.

But despite this brain drain, South Africa still has successful software start-ups producing popular products.

An example of this is the EskomSePush app, which alerts users across South Africa when to expect a power outage.

Such power cuts or “load-sheddings” are a regular occurrence in the country, due to ongoing power generation shortages at power company Eskom.

Sometimes people are without power for 10 hours a day, and the end is not in sight, with shortages that will last until 2027.

EskomSePush is the brainchild of co-founders Dan Wells (35) and Herman Maritz, who launched the app in 2015 and run it from their home in Cape Town.

Dan Wells

Dan Wells says a good app is one that solves a problem

It collects and processes complicated load schedules from Eskom and local authorities across South Africa. Notifications are then sent to the users of the app to tell them exactly when the power will go out in their area and for how long.

Mr Wells says that within six months of the app’s launch, 250,000 people had downloaded it, “which was crazy at the time”.

He adds that today the app is “on seven million devices and about a million people click on a notification almost instantly.”

The app is monetized through advertising revenue, and Mr. Wells’ advice for software developers is to “get a taste for having problems, find your community and solve some problems”.

If there’s one thing that unites South Africans, it’s the love of sport, with cricket being the third most popular in the country.

At the University of Johannesburg, computer science lecturer Tevin Moodley and Prof. Dustin van der Haar have developed a cricket video software system that aims to help produce the next generation of South African batsmen and women.

Tevin Moodley

Tevin Moodley says he wants to help the next generation of South African cricketers

The software can automatically identify the various strokes played by a particular batsman based on a recording of a test match or other play.

This means that a cricket coach can play back countless clips of a given shot, without having to laboriously scroll through all the images to find them first.

This allows a quick analysis of the player’s execution of the shot in question, where they are standing and their foot placements. Based on this, recommendations and improvements can be made and young players can compare their performance with video recordings of former cricket greats.

“My belief is that if you can improve the batter’s skill level, you can also increase your team’s chances of winning,” says Moodley. “So the impact of our work will be very big within the cricket space.”

At the moment, Mr Moodley is using YouTube clips of test matches to collect footage, but he hopes to work with Cricket South Africa to secure more videos.

While the software is currently still in the research phase, Mr. Moodley says he would like to build a commercial product with the right investors and stakeholders.

But in the meantime he is trying to help the next generation of South African cricketers. “I want to keep it local and try to help our team,” he says.

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