Sparks are flying from a guard rail as builders solder the last few mesh panels into place on a catwalk. Below them, a clutch of individuals sit in a pool of sunlight tapping furiously away on laptops, barely aware of the welding above or the hammering noises in rooms several feet away.
There’s a palpable hum of urgent activity taking place throughout Tshimologong Precinct ahead of the facility’s media event and eventual launch this evening. Even though Braamfontein’s new tech hub officially opens its doors tonight – kicking off what promises to be a massive block party – there’s still much work to be done.
Not so much, though, that it’s not immediately apparent that Tshimologong Precinct is going play host to the bleeding edge of digital innovation in downtown Johannesburg for years to come. A lot of special things are going to happen here.
Situated at 45 Juta Street, Tshimologong Precinct occupies the space that used to belong to a couple of Joburg’s nightclubs.
Walking through its wrought-iron gates, visitors step into a courtyard named ‘Founder’s Square’, which is flanked on one side by a massive fishbowl open plan office – The Glass Room. It’s currently serving as a space for makers, but it’s been earmarked as a space for developers to showcase their creations. While full membership (for a monthly fee of R1 500) puts Tshimologong’s full set of assets at one’s disposal, Founder’s Square remains open to the public.
A second courtyard in which multi-coloured lights covered with uniform square shades connects a pop-up coffee shop (which will be made permanent) to The Space, a massive room currently playing host to the A MAZE. games festival, and the Tall Room, a screening room filled with beanbags and couches.
Tshimologong Precinct also boasts offices, retail spaces and several large warehouse spaces. The largest room, the IBM Research Lab, sits behind The Space.
The facility is part of a massive urban regeneration project by Wits, and is being spearheaded by JCSE director Professor Barry Dwolatzky. He is also the driving force behind Tshimologong Precinct’s sister hub, the Digital Innovation Zone (DIZ), which is situated just a block down the road.
Like the DIZ, Tshimologong offers a versatile and connected space for Braamfontein’s digital startup scene. Coders, developers, artists, makers – in fact anyone who wants to expand their digital creations – can make use of the Precinct’s facilities. Simply walking around Tshimologong, one can imagine it playing host to massive conferences, hackathons, brainstorming sessions and even movie screenings.
“This is a chance to look at the modern things that are taking place in the ICT sector” says Dwolatzky. “When we speak digital we’re speaking about hardware, software and content and how they all come together in an increasingly connected world.”
To hear Dwolatzky tell it, Tshimologong is geared towards aiding the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the Digital Revolution – by providing tech entrepreneurs with everything they need.
“I’ve always said that the fuel that powers the digital revolution are coffee, pizza and bandwidth,” he says.
Tshimologong has all that and more.
Makers and more
The Precinct has already been the scene of a fair number of such events as part of the Fak’ugesi Art Tech Riot Festival ahead of its official launch.
Last weekend, Makers Market took place, offering attendees a crash course in how to enter the scene and the chance to have a crack at Making (some of them for the first time). The day before, Hacks/Hackers hunkered down in Tshimologong’s coffee shop to hack the constitution, starting on the path to making South Africa’s Bill Of Rights accessible to all.
Even though, at the time of this writing, builders are still laying down tiles on floors and ensuring the fixtures and fittings all work, Tshimologong’s potential as a tech hub and part of Braamfontein’s rejuvenation is already being realised.
As its name in Setswana implies, Tshimologong is a place of ‘new beginnings’. This is what it looks like inside.