By Tinashe Lindel
Earlier this year, five University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) students came together to host the first ever TEDx event in Pietermaritzburg, which occurred on the 22nd of August 2017, at the UKZN PMB campus. The TEDxUKZN event was envisioned by the students who, apart from being avid TED enthusiasts, also wanted to see Pietermaritzburg thrust into a global spotlight through the event. Most importantly, they hoped to see the spirit of sharing ideas and knowledge fostered on the UKZN campus and the greater Pietermaritzburg area through the initiative.
The organising team, Tinashe Lindel Dirwai, Nkululeko Africa Mabila, Muga Onyando, Linet Kimathi and Andrew Akpan, hail from various countries across the continent (Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa.) It is from this vein that the first topic– Immigration- was chosen. The speakers for the night, Joan Akob, Dr Heidi Matisson, Father Frank Neil OMI, Pierre Buckley and Dr Cythia Chiang would focus on two topics: immigration and astronomical world. The second topic, astronomical world, was inspired by Dr Cynthia Chiang.
The diverse group of speakers were brought together to impart a varied, and enriching learning experience for the 150+ audience members. To start the night, Joan Akob, a Cameroonian Masters student at UKZN, shared her experiences as a foreign national living and studying in South Africa. From the experiences she has had of languages, to people wanting to touch her hair, or some assuming she’s Zulu only to be affronted when she does not respond in kind, Joan conveyed how she eventually came to realise that social cohesion could be shaped and altered through one’s perception.
Dr Heidi Matisson brought a thoughtful layer to the proceedings, sharing with the crowd her take on what it means to belong in general, and what it means to belong as a white person in South Africa today. Matisson, in an impassioned conclusion, urged the listeners to the advantages of engaging on formal education in Philosophy. Matisson was followed by Father Frank Neil, a catholic priest with wise eyes and an oddly comforting voice. It is no surprise then that his talk was also centred in just that, wisdom and comfort through the reality that we know through words, symbols and silence and how those bring meaning to our lives. The overarching question he brought for the audience to ponder on was how their words and constructs influence their personal meaning and reality.
Pierre Buckley gave an account of the experiences of a young boy, becoming a man, transitioning through life and growing into an awareness of his mind, body and soul. To the audience’s surprise, that young man turned out to be Pierre. Thus, in essence, his life story became a focal point and a source of inspiration. Finally, Dr Cynthia Chiang spoke of how a tiny island close to 2000km off the mainland coast of South Africa, is an entire world on its own; a world where ground breaking research is happening, in the field of Astro Physics and Cosmology, and where attempts are made to understand how the universe began, what it’s made of, and what it’s fate is. Her tales were of her adventures in sub-zero degrees with purpose, passion and a little bit of pain, isolated from everyone but discovering much more from those ‘out there’ (yes, I mean space). She ended by informing all of a young UKZN researcher, continuing the work on that island, braving the cold and the quiet for 8 months or more!
On Tuesday evening, people from the UKZN campus and Pietermaritzburg, gathered to gain knowledge, network, and be a part of hopefully, a first of many TED-like experiences. As the organisers played their various parts in bringing the event together by sourcing sponsors and partners, speakers, and advertising the event, the most rewarding aspect of it all was seeing the audience revel in the talks and absorb the entire program. It was a night of sharing, learning, growing in the collective and gaining knowledge from each other. Here is to many more chances of doing just that.