UKZN Community Engagement
Engineers without Borders Student Project
Interview with Asanda Ngcobo
January 26, 2021
UKZN EWB helps set up a digital classroom in southern Mozambique
Villagers living in a remote – but idyllic – coastal village in Mozambique are looking forward to the growth and development of their tourist, agriculture and handwork industries as UKZN engineers link them to the digital highway.
While the coastal village of Tofo in the Mozambican province of Inhambane may have the outward appearance of an idyllic tropical getaway, for those who live there, the reality is very different from the luxury accommodation and Indian Ocean beach experiences on offer.
The tranquil and leisurely façard hides grinding poverty, high incidences of alcohol abuse, exposure to malaria and regular sub-tropical storms or cyclones which often leave paths of destruction in their wake – as cyclone Eloise did recently.
Scars from the 15-year-long civil war which ended in 1992 remain visible while the growing threat of terrorism attacks – which have reportedly left over 500 000 people displaced in the north of the country – are having a negative impact on Mozambique’s reputation as an attractive tourist destination.
Tourism provides much-needed income for residents of Tofo, as does fishing and agricultural production. But, for the tourism industry to thrive, specific sets of skills are required and if villagers want to increase their fishing hauls they need reliable switch engines for their boats rather than the pull-rope motors commonly used now!
But, in this relatively remote region, schools provide teaching only up to Grade 7, there are no mechanics for the sophisticated boat engines, while craftsman who create wooden souvenirs are without tools, and farmers keen to diversify their crops have neither the capital or the know-how to turn their ideas into reality.
The problems facing the Tofo village have been identified by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Chapter as a project ideally placed for the implementation of Industry 4.0 – the name now commonly used for online exchanges particularly when creating a smart factory – under the auspices of EWB South Africa’s Social Impact Project.
The Project was developed nationally to encourage awareness of socio-economic problems and how they can be solved by various university chapters.
EWB-UKZN has joined churches, NGOs and the honorary society Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers-HKN UKZN Chapter to develop and set up a digital classroom at Tofo.
Mr Asanda Ngcobo, who heads up the EWB Chapter at UKZN, said the real need in Tofo was online access for training and skills development.
“We have developed an interactive digital classroom at Tofo which will provide online and continuous training ranging from basic mechanical skills, to carpentry designs and agricultural solutions.
“Tofo does have very good access to electricity and telecommunications infrastructure which is ideal for this project,” he said.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has halted any cross-border travel effectively putting the project temporarily on hold, Ngcobo said work was still ongoing to complete the digital training facility as soon as the pandemic restrictions eased or were lifted.
“This project is a real success. The interactive classroom will not only provide social support but those who want to develop themselves and further their education have access to online training.
“As the project grows we will include accreditation and hopefully assist with employment opportunities and placement,” he added.