Domestic workers and seamstresses in Ocean View have two women computer-science Honours students to thank, for new work opportunities.
UCT students Mapule Madzena and Ndinelao Iitumba have created apps that are being trialled in Ocean View.
And while Covid-19 lockdown may have paused the practical work in the community for now, the students have adapted by having meetings and getting feedback online instead.
Ms Madzena is developing an app to link domestic workers with potential employers, while Ms Iitumba is using technology to connect community members with customers who are keen to make or buy face masks.
Ms Madzena, 22, grew up in rural Limpopo. She said she was committed to using her talents to drive change.
“I love working and interacting with people. I want to use my skills to engage and help the community.”
Ms Madzena spotted a need in unemployment-plagued Ocean View that struck a chord with her.
“I grew up in a community where there is very little technology. Domestic workers go from door to door looking for work. People often slam the door in front of them. It can be very discouraging. I wanted to find a better way of doing things.”
She has been working on Maid4You, an app that matches job-hunting domestic workers with employers.
The app lets them set preferences, such as the area where they want to work; load references; and list their skills. The app displays jobs matching their preferences, and employers can post jobs and give feedback.
Ms Madzena said computer science could create real change. “I was initially curious about it at school and now I’ve fallen in love with it. It sometimes feels like solving the impossible. With our
world moving into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where so much is tied up in technology, I figured out this is where I want to be. I want to be part of the change in the world, especially in South Africa.”
She is the first person to go to university in her family.
“Making an impact in people’s lives is what they always taught me to do when growing up.”
The app wasn’t just for her Honours project, it was actually going to help people in Ocean View, she said.
Building something that both domestic users and employers could use had been tough during the pandemic, she said.
“This means constant interviews which will have to be over the phone due to the Covid-19 constraints.”
Ms Iitumba’s time at UCT had barely begun when Covid-19 arrived in Cape Town. She is from Namibia and had also only been in the country for little more than a month.
However, Ms Iitumba said she had seen the need in Ocean View immediately.
By rallying seamstresses to make masks, her research project aims to keep people free of Covid-19 while creating work.
“Many people from bandwidth-constrained communities can make suitable face masks, but they do not have access to people who want to buy face masks,” Ms Iitumba said.
Recognising a need and an opportunity, her app brings the two together. The app is being co-designed with community members and has guidelines on how to make comfortable, washable face masks.
Beyond linking sellers with buyers, it will also help people donate face masks or fabric and materials. The donated face masks will be given to those who cannot afford them, and donated fabric will be given to the community’s seamstresses.
Seamstresses will be able to upload photographs of their masks.
For Ms Iitumba, it’s a win-win. “I love this project. It goes beyond just earning marks. It’s about helping the community.”
Both apps are part of the broader goal of iNethi, which translates to “network” in Xhosa.
This organisation, started by UCT’s department of computer science, works with partners and communities to help locals to tap into their creativity, innovation and other resources, and has set up local servers connected to wi-fi access points in Ocean View.
Ms Iitumba has remained in Cape Town during the lockdown, while Ms Madzena has wrapped up her studies around family life at her home in Limpopo, but both are keen to get back to Ocean View in person once lockdown regulations allow.