Dr. Mmaki Jantjies – One of South Africa’s admirable technology thought leaders

Dr. Mmaki Jantjies – One of South Africa’s admirable technology thought leaders
5 min read

Dr. Mmaki Jantjies is currently the Head of the Information Systems department at the University of the Western Cape. She previously served as a Head of Department at the North West University – being one of the youngest academics to have headed that department.

Dr. Mmaki Jantjies, Head of the Information Systems academic department, University of the Western Cape.

Dr. Mmaki Jantjies became one of the first and youngest black female PhD graduates in computer science, and has since continued to contribute to this field, developing technology which addresses South African context challenges.

In 2016, she was listed as one of the Mozilla top 50 people in the world making the internet a better place.

Dr. Mmaki Jantjies

Dr. Jantjies is passionate about youth education and works with various national and international NGOs to up-skill teachers in high schools with ICT skills, to use in classrooms. She also mentors graduate students to open and run technology clubs in underprivileged schools in South Africa with most of the clubs focusing on training young women and girls. (Source: Inspiring Fifty)

“I am one of four children and was blessed to be raised by parents who had so much faith in education, particularly mathematics and science education. And so my high school subject choices where physical sciences and mathematics and I was fortunate enough to also do computer science as a subject in high school. This influenced my career path decision as I was always intrigued by the solutions that computer systems could bring in an organisation and in a community.”

  • When did you realise you had a passion for technology?

“I realised early on in my life after completing high school during the technology boom, the lack of female representation in the field, and I enjoyed the challenge that came with designing and developing a computer programme. I think this was influenced by growing up amongst boys. I was adamant that they would not outshine me as we all had to study science and computing subjects in school.”

  • You became one of the first and youngest black female PhD graduates in computer science, in South Africa. What motivated you to pursue this?

“In the previous South African government, black people were only allowed to go into nursing and teaching professions. Many of my family members were thus teachers. I think coming from a family of teachers, continuous education was such a fundamental of my growth. My partner is also so passionate about education and thus also played a role. I also fell in love with research as I continued my studies and felt that black voices in research were lacking. Research drives innovation, it drives policy, it drives thought leadership, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of the technology thought leadership in my country.”

  • What one accomplishment achieved are you most proud of, and why?

“I think for me, inspiring and influencing young children to consider a career or start a business in tech and science as a whole, particularly children of colour, is what excites me. If I can be that representation that I lacked when growing up to young children to actually pursue fields which our ancestors could only yearn for, this is what makes me proud.”

  • The objective of technology is to make life better, faster, smarter or less expensive. We leverage technology to improve processes. Tell us about a recent project you are working on using technology to solve challenges in South Africa.

“I’m currently working on a MOOC project to develop content for teachers who want to introduce technology in schools. I think that if we can up-skill and empower teachers to have a passion in tech regardless of their background of specialisation, we can see an increase in the use of basic technology in classrooms.”

  • Do you think South Africa needs a female perspective in technology? Why/why not?

“I think any country needs a diverse representation in technology. Representation drives diverse perspectives, innovations and solutions. Embracing the importance of having various voices can only mean growth, expansion and increasing participation in a field for a country. “You feed a woman you feed a nation”, equally you bring a woman to the table, you bring a world of perspectives to tech.”

  • Who is your role model, and why?

“I have such an array of role models. From my family, to women in business, to women in academia and women in politics! “Celling Breakers”, and those who ensure that they open the door for others to get a seat at the table influence my life to a great extent. I think seeing these pioneers always reminds me that you are only as successful and able to fulfil your God-given talent to the extent that you push yourself to.”