Next week the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival opens its doors at the Tshimologong Precinct digital hub, transforming Braamfontein into a nexus for anyone fascinated by technology. There’s a palpable buzz on Juta Street on an average day, but the atmosphere kicks up a notch when the festival begins, drawing local and international techies like moths to a floodlight.
Attendees range from entrepreneurs, digital startups, lecturers, game developers, makers and graphic artists to coders — and more. All of them descend on Fak’ugesi for a week of collaboration, workshops, hackathons, art exhibitions, gaming arcades and, arguably most important of all, parties.
Although its billing as a digital festival may put off anyone who isn’t a native to this space, Fak’ugesi’s biggest strength is how welcoming it is to even those who consider themselves novices or curious onlookers.
“The joy of Fak’ugesi is that it’s not just for the tech heads,” says festival director Tegan Bristow.
“You will walk away having learned something new, whether you’re tech oriented or not. People who attend are here to engage and have fun.”
The activities at the festival are aimed at both nerds and noobs; in truth they’re a bridge between the two camps. Accomplished coders and makers will find much here fun and familiar, but if you have never considered yourself technologically proficient, there’s a lot for you too.
Don’t play games? You can give them a try. Think that coding is beyond you? There’s a workshop to help you with that. Interested in 3D printing? Makers want to get you involved.
Try out Market Hack at the Neighbourgoods Market where experts can teach you to 3D print your own festival pass or build a small robot.
If you fancy beautifying the local surroundings, you can take part in Block by Block, in which experts and the public can use the game Minecraft to redesign Eland Park. You can then see your work overlaid on the real world through a mixed-reality headset. If games are your thing the A MAZE installation is a showcase of indie games and digital art. And if you have ever had any aspirations to start on projects of your own there’s a raft of workshops and lecturers willing to help. There really is something for everyone.
Fak’ugesi has also been instrumental in giving South Africa’s tech community a much-needed sense of camaraderie. It has helped it to grow in leaps and bounds and, as such, the festival has grown in size and attendance each year.
“When I held A MAZE for the first time in Johannesburg in 2012, I brought pretty much all of the games and speakers for the installation with me from overseas,” says Thorsten Wiedemann, A MAZE’s director. “But the community locally has grown a lot since then. A MAZE brought a bit of a bright light to the local scene. This year we still have international games but there are lots of games made by local developers as well as developers from around Africa.”
Ask 10 festival regulars to describe Fak’ugesi and you will probably receive 10 different answers. It’s a pop-up commune. It’s a hackathon. It’s a games festival. It’s party central. The definition remains nebulous.
“We never wanted to be too strict in defining the festival. Every year we explore new avenues where culture and creativity can come together,” says Bristow. “We work with engineers, with makers, with artists, with game developers, and it really is about providing a space for those people to collaborate with each other and members of the public.”
The theme for this year’s Fak’ugesi is collaboration; the motto flying on 2017’s banner is “Brave Tech Hearts Beat as One”. Bristow says it’s the organisers’ hope that different skill sets will come together to see what help they can be to one another in achieving many goals.
But she’s quick to add that attendees don’t need a tech background to get stuck into the festival’s huge catalogue of activities.
“We’re all about skill sharing, so we want to make sure that anyone coming to the festival, whatever level they’re at, can engage and learn something at Fak’ugesi,” she says.
So get involved next week. Make things, learn things, meet people and join the party.
For a complete list of activities, go to fakugesi.co.za