File image: Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab. (IOL).
File image: Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab. (IOL).

2019 SA innovations that may change the world

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Dec 9, 2019

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CAPE TOWN - 2019 has proven to be a challenging year for South Africans.

Some have lost hope that the countries challenges will ever be solved, however, some have developed innovative solutions to some of these challenges.  

They include solutions to some of South Africas major health, business and environmental challenges. 

These innovations will not only impact South Africa but the whole world. They include the following: 

  • 3D ear transplant
  • Sign language platform
  • Invoice tracker and 
  • Edible straw

It has been estimated that between four and six in every 1 000 South African children will be born with, or will develop, hearing-loss in their first weeks of life. Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and a team of surgeons at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in South Africa have been working on solving the hearing challenge. In 2019, they have managed to get closer to a solution not just for South Africa but for the world.

Prof Mashudu Tshifularo and his team have performed a middle ear transplant, which is considered to be a landmark operation for 3D printing in healthcare. The operation he led  is considered to be the first in the world. The operation was conducted on Mr Thabo Mulushiwa who has now regained 75% of his hearing after his ear was hit hard by a storeroom door in 1999 and thereafter in 2016 when he was also attacked with torchlight and his eardrum damage. His hearing challenge is partly over now, thanks to the innovative 3D printing solution developed by Prof Tshifularo and team.adr


Another South African who has focused his attention on this health challenge is,  Lucky Netshidzati, a 26-year-old entrepreneur who hails from Limpopo. He was born to two deaf parents and he spent his life thinking of ways to better the lives of both the deaf community and his loved ones. This challenge inspired Lucky to develop a glove that translates sign language into speech via the use of sensors and an app. In 2019, Netshidzati has managed to develop the prototype of his invention. He is at the end of his research and development phase and is now in search of funds to get the glove invention to the commercial phase.


Government is one area of our society that is grappling with challenges. For years, one challenge that has been a major headache for government is the timely payment of invoices. This challenge is considered by local entrepreneurs as a contributor to the early death of small businesses. In 2019, one government official in the Eastern Cape developed what could be a solution to late payments by the Eastern Cape government and other government entities. He developed a website known as HIBPEC, which stands for Have I been Paid Eastern Cape. The website is designed to assist small businesses to be paid timely by the government within 30 days. In view of small businesses that struggle to get paid by the government and the impact of late payment to businesses, this solution even though basic is worthy to be considered an impactful innovation.


On January 1, 2019, a ban on plastic straws in restaurants and other service businesses began in Washington, D.C.2019 . This ban was inspired by studies that pointed out that 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world's beaches. It is also estimated that eight million tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year, and straws comprise just 0.025 percent of that figure. Some South Africans have viewed this challenge as something that can be solved. This challenge has inspired many to do something about the environmental impact of products we use every day such as straws. A Stellenbosch University student, Leila Siljeur, has come up with the idea to create a biodegradable and edible drinking straws. Leila’s innovation may contribute to addressing the pollution challenge due to plastic straws.

Her example, as well as a pattern set up by other innovators in 2019, illustrates what can be done through technology to solve some of South Africa’s challenges in the future. Most of these innovators have jumped numerous obstacles to create innovative products. They will continue to face challenges that may even affect continued success of their products. 

What they need now is support from institutions that are designed to support real innovations. Local innovators matter and they need serious support. They need to be identified early in life from schools, throughout universities, in townships and in corporates. Once identified they need full support to solve major challenges in society. In 2020, South Africa will only have ten to achieve its National Development Goals. Innovation and innovators should be at the centre of means to achieve national goals in the next 10 years.


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