90% of jobs are estimated to need some level of digital skills and there is a shortage of skilled people to fill all jobs in technology. In South Africa, many young girls are not given the opportunity to obtain these skills and thereby attain an interest in STEM`(science, technology ,engineering, maths ).
I was never one of those pupils who was ever very “good” at computers or what I I would have described as “tech stuff”. At 13 years old, if anyone had asked me to perform onstage or attempt a sport I would have readily agreed. In direct contrast, If you had asked me to write a code/programme, I’m quite sure I would have laughed, proclaimed it “impossible” and told you how I was sure I would never need coding. My reluctant journey with coding continued to decline well into adolescence and concluded with my failing CompSci 101.
Since then, I have done everything I can to avoid all things tech related till last year. I was approached by technology entrepreneur Janneke Niessen about localising The New Girl Code; a book aimed at young femmes and women, providing visible role models to highlight the potential of working in tech. Like me, many young women lose interest in STEM while believing it to be something exclusive, expensive and that can only be done alone.
Initially, I was hesitant about taking on the project (how could a self-proclaimed tech failure edit a book whose premise was to code!?!) but with very little time to think about it, I agreed. The book was previously released in the Netherlands, Sweden, UK and the US so I realised from very early on that I would have to reimagine the protagonists world entirely to make it relevant in a South African context. I also realised that I would have to open myself up to the world of tech in order to achieve the projects aim to encourage young girls into STEM.
Literary and tech representation can often be elitist and in order to inspire young girls towards STEM, I knew they would have to see characters and people who embodied them in the book. I was sure I could create an authentic and relatable South African voice.
So, I reimagined the protagonist as a “15year old melanin kween” called Tumi Letsatsi who goes through all the challenges, setbacks and successes that any technology entrepreneur faces. Simultaneously, she negotiates the pains of adolescence in all their awkward glory with her diverse group of friends. I journeyed with the character through her discovery of coding and naturally, learnt about it through her lens and narrative.
I included artists, influencers and tech specialists I admired in the books landscape which makes it all the more accessible and “real” in a South African context. I also took this is an opportunity to highlight the incredible work of many South African women in tech so that readers could be informed about the “real” women who continue to thrive in this field so that they know that it is possible!
Gradually, I began to recognise the potential for innovation and creativity within tech. I finally began to understood it to be no coincidence that coding as well as storytelling both rely on their inventors creating a “language” that can be understood by audience. This discovery allowed for me to create a literary landscape in which tech, creativity and storytelling could exist as they should: simultaneously.
The New Girl Code is a necessary step towards changing the perceptions of the landscape of tech for many young girls in South Africa, thereby granting access to greater opportunities in STEM.
Buhle Ngaba is an actress, activist and author. She studied Acting and Contemporary performance at Rhodes University.