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Features & Columns
by Palesa Madumo

Into The Future

Innovation, activism and technology - get in on the action

Fees must fall. Credit Drew Soglo
FeesMustFall Please credit Drew Soglo EDIT.jpg

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) boom is here, and the threat to human jobs is here with it. When respected South African trend analyst and owner of Flux Trends, Dion Chang got served by a robot at a hotel on a recent trip to San Francisco, California, he was fascinated. “Of course, this is a very exciting trend, however, it’s automatically juxtaposed by a worrying trajectory for emerging markets called premature deindustrialisation where, unlike in the industrialisation era where people were given lots of work, the production of robotics or automation is happening faster than it can give or provide jobs. A trend that creates concern for a country like South Africa where there’s a very small technologically skilled workforce,” he explains.

This concern is exemplified by the reaction to Pick n Pay’s announcement that they would be trialling self-service till points at their Observatory branch in Cape Town. There was a huge uproar because of potential job losses. Although the retailer sees the till points complementing rather than replacing the traditional checkouts, the company has said that there will be no impact on employment. So while innovation may be well received and even seen as a convenience in some parts of the world like in America, where consumers can now order a Whopper using the Burger King bot through Facebook Messenger, the loss of a job for a person in a country like South Africa with our high unemployment rate can be seen as a threat.

Socio-political protest

This year, the world has been gripped by a universal black consciousness movement that would’ve fascinated the late Steve Bantu Biko and Malcom X. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #FeesMustFall have been fuelled by a relentless social media force that has transformed the use of such platforms. And Twitter has taken the lead role in the movement of being “woke” (being aware, knowing what’s going on in the black community, especially in relation to racism and social injustice). This very powerful community is called Black Twitter. An August 2010 article by Farhad Manjoo in Slate Magazine, “How Black People Use Twitter”, brought its attention to the wider community: "They form tighter clusters on the network – they follow one another more readily, they retweet each other more often, and more of their posts are @-replies – posts directed at other users."Manjoo cited Brendan Meeder of Carnegie Mellon University, who argued that the high level of reciprocity between the hundreds of users who initiate hashtags (or ‘blacktags’) leads to a high-density, influential network.

Twitter has reinvented protest action in South Africa and America and has created a new form of digital weaponry to combat social injustice. “It’s been so interesting to see how two different generations fight for similar causes…” From apartheid in South Africa to the civil rights movement in America, both… “have achieved their purpose. The #FeesMustFall movement has not just moved the nation and called leaders to account (for their actions and decisions), but it has made the entire world so much smaller because of social media,” said Chang.

Consumer activism

Calling out businesses, brands, governments, celebrities, journalists and any member of the community who steps out of line is a strong growing trend in South Africa. Gone are the days when consumers had to interact with lethargic call centre agents, they now have social media, and at a click of a button can destroy a reputation – one tweet can cost a brand its place on the shelf. This goes for “misbehaving” celebrities as well – as Simphiwe Dana found out when she got slammed for asking why more is expected from South Africa than other SADC countries – ‘African Twitter’ fetched her (“fetching” refers to when a Twitter community launches an attack on an individual), forcing her to apologise for her careless utterances.

Cultural appropriation and the African print

This year, 25 years after her first collaboration with BMW to paint the exterior of a BMW 525i sedan in her signature bold Ndebele-inspired patterns, Esther Mahlangu has embellished the interior wooden trims of a BMW 7 Series in her own striking way. The vehicle was sold in a private online auction on 5 September 2016 with profits donated to the charity project The Art Room.

Mahlangu also teamed up with Grammy Award-winning musician, John Legend, who was recently announced as an ambassador for Belvedere (RED) to design the limited-edition vodka bottle for the #MakeADifference campaign. Mahlangu once again used her signature Ndebele tribal art. The limited-edition bottle has been available worldwide since September at selected retailers and 50% of the profits go to the Global Fund to fight HIV/Aids in Africa.

Both these collaborations are worthy social causes. However, this kind of cultural appropriation as it’s known, is not always welcomed, especially by Africans who feel that their culture is being used for profit by those beyond the borders of the continent.

Thulane ‘Twiice’ Radebe, Co-Creative and Managing Director of Book of Swag, a South African creative agency that specialises in youth culture, content marketing and social media had this to say; “I don’t appreciate outsiders taking advantage of our art, prints and stories and retelling them to please their markets. At the same time, it doesn’t necessarily anger me because I believe we need to share our art with the world. We just don’t need people who feel entitled telling our stories in their way, distorting our narrative and missing very important nuances.”

One brand that isn’t waiting for anyone to “nab their culture” for their own profit is KISUA, a South African-based e-commerce fashion platform that sells its own clothes and collaborates with other designers to create collections for its label. They, in fact, have a customer in Beyoncé who has donned one of their signature jackets and a few other pieces as well.

Corporate South Africa, which seems to constantly drag its feet when it comes to transformation, has in the past discouraged employees from wearing African prints because they’re “too loud” or and didn’t quite “fit in” with corporate culture. But when a television station executive in Johannesburg tried to stop an employee from wearing a doek (headscarf), the whole country stood up in her defence and created the hashtag #RespekTheDoek. After all, Africans have been wearing their prints forever and it’s about time this trend rubbed off on fellow South Africans.

Watch this trend grow stronger in the new year as Africa continues to enjoy the attention of the world.

Renewable energy

No, don’t stop reading! We know energy is not deemed a ‘sexy’ topic but if load-shedding makes you want to move to Australia then this story is for you…

Ouarzazate is a buzzing city in Morocco that‘s been the scene for big Hollywood productions such as The Mummy and Game of Thrones. Now it’s going to be home to what will be the largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant in the world once completed. Alongside hydro and wind, it will help provide nearly half of Morocco’s electricity from renewable energy by 2020, and it’s hoped there’ll even be some spare to export to Europe.

Since South Africa’s headline-hogging blackouts in 2008, more and more of us are becoming familiar with renewable energy. Not only is it a trend but a growing necessity, and it makes dry, open desert areas much more fashionable than they ever have been.

French multinational electric utility company ENGIE, with consortium partners SENER and ACCIONA, have begun work on Kathu Solar Park, a 100-MW Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project equipped with a molten salt storage system that allows 4.5 hours of thermal energy storage to extend the operational capacity of the plant after sunset. Kathu Solar Park, located in the Northern Cape, will produce enough power to supply 80 000 homes when it becomes operational in the second half of 2018.

Internet of Things

The idea of a washing machine connected to phone is no longer just a technology forecast but a reality as more people become digitised. This trend has grown steadily and will take off in 2017. According to McKinsey Global Institute research, the majority of US retailers strongly believe that Internet of Things (IoT) will drastically change the way companies do business in the next three years. This means that there’s a wide range of new security risks and challenges to the IoT devices themselves, their platforms and operating systems, their communication, and even the systems to which they're connected, which makes for opportunities to create new kinds of security apps. And with the Internet not affected by borders, African app developers can also get in on the action.

Trends that should stay in 2016

  1. Twitter fetching – its rude and unnecessary.
  2. Racist social media comments – grow up South Africa!
  3. Donald Trump (May his campaign and anything Trump-related stay in 2016.)
  4. Red carpet naked dresses (Gosh, this trend it just sooo boring!)
  5. Overly exaggerated Groucho Brows (Yep, that’s what those huge brows are called, but getting the style right is a skill – the badly drawn huge ones have got to go.)
  6. The Whip/Nae Nae – it was fun, really it was, but can it please stay in 2016?
  7. Emoji talk – Write it out already…
  8. Influencer Marketing – no-one believes it.
  9. Any news on Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
  10. The drought in South Africa (May rain reign!)

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