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SA student champions the exposure, preservation of African languages

Chido Dzinotyiwei, 25, is on a mission to preserve African languages. Picture: Supplied

Chido Dzinotyiwei, 25, is on a mission to preserve African languages. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 26, 2022

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Johannesburg – Chido Dzinotyiwei, 25, a student at UCT, has finished in the Top 6 of the EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) 2022.

Open to entrants who run a business while attending tertiary institutions, more than 65 finalists were selected earlier this year. Dzinotyiwei represented the continent through highly competitive rounds, making it to the last stage.

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Out of the many candidates from the more than 25 South African tertiary institutions who submitted their businesses this year, she went on to win the local division of the awards and was then shortlisted to present her idea on the global stage.

Dzinotyiwei feels that winning some of the local competitions gave her the impetus she needed to go on and enter the international competition.

“This is not the first competition we’ve entered, we’ve entered other ones before that. I think the success in those local competitions in South Africa validated our idea and made us believe we had something that could go this far,” she said.

A Mandela Rhodes Scholar, Dzinotyiwei’s love for languages began in early childhood, where she was first exposed to different linguistic scenarios.

She is the co-founder of Vambo Academy, an online teaching platform that aims to preserve and promote indigenous African languages.

Virtual lessons are offered for 13 of these – 10 South African languages, two Zimbabwean languages, and Swahili, which was added to the platform recently.

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The platform is continually expanding its offering through self-learning tools, tutors, informative blogs, regular podcasts, among other things.

Dzinotyiwei does not see Vambo as just a language learning platform but also as a way to educate and conscientise the public about different cultures.

“I really want us to champion the cause for African languages because through the work we are doing we are not just teaching people words and vocab but we are actually exposing them to so many different cultures,” she said.

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“I think our hope is to is really to represent and preserve as many African languages as we can.”

Entrepreneurship is in Dzinotyiwei’s blood. She is a third-generation entrepreneur; both her grandfather and father have always been self-employed. Her father encouraged her to start her own business when she pitched her idea to him.

“I’ve always grown up thinking I’d take over the family business but when it was time to start my own business I felt that maybe I'm turning my back on the family business but my father encouraged me to go ahead and start my own thing,” she said.

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Dzinotyiwei cites support from the Entrepreneurs’ Organization as the primary reason she’s in the position she is today.

The EO is a global network of 14 000-plus influential business owners, with over 190 chapters in more than 60 countries.

She believes that the more seasoned, successful entrepreneurs give back generously through their experience, the more the world’s nations and societies will benefit and grow as a result.

Dzinotyiwei admits that it can be a challenge at times and takes a lot of dedication to start a business while she is studying and credits those around her with helping her through the tough times.

“I'm fortunate to have a great support system in my institution – the University of Cape Town – as well as in my personal life, through family and friends,” she said.

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