The Infonomist: SA innovations with potential to change the world

CAPE TOWN – The year 2019 has proved to be one of the most challenging for South Africans.

Some have lost hope, however, some have developed innovative solutions to some of these challenges. They include solutions to some of South Africa’s major health, business and environmental challenges. These innovations include: 3D ear transplant, sign language platform, invoice tracker, and edible straw.

It has been estimated that between four and six in every 1000 South African children will be born with or will develop hearing-loss in their first weeks of life.

Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and a team of surgeons at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria have been working on solving the hearing challenge.

This year, Tshifularo and his team performed a middle-ear transplant – a landmark operation for 3D printing in healthcare and a world first.

The operation was conducted on Thabo Mulushiwa, who has now regained 75percent of his hearing.

Another South African focused on the health challenge is Lucky Netshidzati, a 26-year-old entrepreneur from Limpopo, who was born to two deaf parents. Lucky was inspired to develop a glove that translates sign language into speech via the use of sensors and an app.

In 2019, Netshidzati developed the prototype of his invention and is now at the end of his research and development phase, and seeking funds to take the invention to the commercial phase.

The government is also grappling with South African challenges, including the timely payment of invoices, which has hurt small businesses.

In 2019, one government official in the Eastern Cape developed what could be a solution to late payments by the Eastern Cape government and other government entities.

He developed a website known as Hibpec, which stands for Have I been Paid Eastern Cape. The website is designed to assist small businesses to be paid timely by the government, within 30 days.

On January 1, 2019, a ban on plastic straws in restaurants and other service businesses began in Washington DC. This ban was inspired by studies that pointed out that 8.3billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches. It is also estimated that 8million tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year, and straws comprise just 0.025percent of that figure.

A Stellenbosch University student, Leila Siljeur, has come up with the idea to create a biodegradable and edible drinking straw. Leila’s innovation may contribute to addressing the pollution challenge due to plastic straws.

Her example, as well as a pattern set up by other innovators in 2019, illustrates what can be done through technology to solve some of South Africa’s challenges in the future.

Most of these innovators have jumped numerous obstacles to create innovative products. They will continue to face challenges that might even affect continued success of their products.

What they need now is support from institutions that are designed to support real innovations. Local innovators matter and they need serious support. They need to be identified early in life from schools, throughout universities, in townships, and in corporates. Once identified they need full support to solve the major challenges in society.

In 2020, South Africa will only have 10 years to achieve its National Development Goals. Innovation and innovators should be at the centre of the means to achieve national goals in the next 10 years.

Wesley Diphoko is the editor-in-chief of The Infonomist.

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