Mautse, South Africa — A week after his 24th birthday, Mohlolo Eric Katsana resigned from his corporate job as a marketing consultant to pursue his dream of being the head of his own IT business while making a difference in the world.
Born in Welkom, the second largest city in the otherwise mostly rural Free State province, Katsana discovered a passion for technology in the fifth grade. After winning the science and technology award at Ithabiseng High School, he decided it was something he wanted to pursue.
“I decided there that I would like to see myself working on it and developing that particular technical skill,” Katsana said.
But Katsana didn’t touch a computer until he was in his first year of college at the Boston City Campus in Bloemfontein. In 2014, he obtained a networking specialist certificate, the first of nine academic and professional certificates in the field of IT and business.
After leaving his job in marketing at Blackbird Trading in Bloemfontein, Katsana founded Independent ICT Consultant, a company providing IT support, training and media development services. But Katsana also uses his IT knowledge and his business to pursue his other passion: activism.
A current resident of Mautse, an apartheid-era black town in the Free State, Katsana has brought his technological skills to the community. With the help of mentors, Katsana secured 20 donated computers that went to Taung High School and the Tshepo Generation Soup Kitchen, a non-profit organization that helps Mautse youth facing food insecurity and poverty.
Local children use computers to practice and learn digital literacy. According to a 2020 report by Statistics South Africa, 26.8 percent of South African homes have computers. (By comparison, in the US, 91.8 percent of homes had a computer in 2018, according to a 2021 report by the United States Census Bureau.)
Hossana Twinomurinzi is Head of the Center for Applied Data Science at the University of Johannesburg. He said it was rare for South African children in secondary and primary schools at that age to have access to computers, let alone learn how to use them.
“It’s a big challenge,” said Twinomurinzi. “It is not enough to be able to have them. One must also be able to use them productively.”
At Tshepo, Katsana teaches children basic computer literacy, including how to type their name, how to set up a profile and what the components of a computer are. On a recent Wednesday afternoon in mid-June at Tshepo Generation Soup Kitchen, Katsana set up several desktop computers in the corner of the room. The five children gathered around as Katsana showed them what each button did.
Katsana’s efforts at Tshepo align with his larger goal of building a community computer center.
“The plan was to set up a center where I can teach and the community can come and be able to learn computer skills,” Katsana said. “They may be able to break through the unemployment rate, where they can even get a certificate and try to get a job with that certificate.”
Both at the school and at Tshepo, funding has been a problem to this end. Much of the donated equipment is outdated and in need of repair. Moreover, the internet connection is poor.
“There are many things to do,” said Katsana. “I have to replace the server. I have computers, but now the server is too old. If that can be replaced, then I will be able to establish full capacity.”
Katsana said he knew that with all his qualifications he could return to the corporate world and make a lot more money.
“I can get a job,” Katsana said. “I can apply now, and trust me, in three weeks, I’ll get it. But since starting the business and starting the programs, I’ve seen the effects of it.”
At the university level, there is a growing interest in people studying information technology ((T), according to Muni Kooblal, Ph.D, chief academic registrar at Richfield College in Durban.
“The biggest intake in our college is in the IT field,” Kooblal said. “The number of people who are employed, the largest percentage, is in the IT field.”
But something bigger drives Katsan as he works to make the technology accessible to more members of his community.
“I believe in making an impact not only in business but also in society,” said Katsana.
The longtime Katsana said he dreams of establishing a college focused on entrepreneurship, innovation and technology.
“I’m looking at the future of this country and making an impact not only on South Africa, but on Africa as a whole,” said Katsana.
For now, a small group of Mausta youths sought Katsana’s attention as he explained the parts of the computer. With a screwdriver in hand, Katsana opened up an old CPU and assigned each child a part to help them remember.
“Motherboard.” “Hard drive.” “RAM.”
As the children repeated his names correctly, Katsana danced and sang for them, as he had promised them she would, with a smile on her face.