Tshepiso Malema, a University of Pretoria (UP) student who at 19 is already a motivational speaker and award-winning entrepreneur, is using his skills and passion to increase computer literacy in some of Johannesburg’s most densely populated townships.
The second-year Bachelor of Information Technology (Information Systems) student founded Gamer’s Territory – a space where young people in his home of Ivory Park, Johannesburg, can learn about computers, gaming and coding, and take typing and robotics classes and get their first exposure to virtual reality technology – after winning a laptop in a school competition in 2018.
After formally launching the Ivory Park branch earlier this month, Malema plans to extend his vision of bringing the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) to the townships by opening a Gamer’s Territory branch in Alexandra, Johannesburg, soon.
Malema’s energy and drive have already brought him a string of accolades, including representing UP on the national stage through Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE), being a first-place winner at UP’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Academy, meeting with UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe, and being nominated for an Africa-wide Founder of the Year Award (FOYA) in the Under-30 category. All this while also maintaining a solid academic record.
“At first I was driven by a desire to change my family situation, which went from bad to worse when my father, the only breadwinner, passed away five years ago,” Malema says. “It was a trigger for me to improve my results at school and not let my circumstances determine my success; I chose to take his passing as a blessing in disguise rather than let his death be the death of me.”
When he shared his journey of self-discovery on a blog, the feedback received showed him that his experience could be a source of inspiration to others. The platform soon mushroomed into Tshepiso Malema Speaks, a blog which helps young people find their purpose, and moulded Malema into a popular motivational speaker before he was 18.
The idea for Gamer’s Territory came to him after he first played with an Xbox console at his cousins’ home. “The experience was magical, and l realised that technology is another area where people living in the townships are left behind, due to lack of exposure.” He says Gamer’s Territory is more than just a digital leisure facility. “It’s about unlocking dreams. Through gaming you can be transported out of your reality to places across the world and broaden your horizons.”
The planned second branch in Alexandra is part of a bigger goal. “My vision is to expand across South Africa’s townships. Township children need to have the opportunity to engage in esports, which is now considered a career, and to do coding development classes. I want to get the message out that success doesn’t need a visa; no matter where you come from, you can believe in yourself and make a unique difference.”
Malema is humbled by the many opportunities that have come his way as a result of this positive mindset. “It is an honour to be in such a great space at the University of Pretoria, as the first person in my family to attend a higher education institution. Coming here was one of the best decisions of my life – to learn, meet new people, and be challenged. I appreciate that UP invests in its students; they are investing in me.”
His goal when choosing UP was not just to get a degree, but also to build a portfolio. “As an entrepreneur, I immediately connected with [UP’s technology business incubator] TuksNovation, and identified competitions that I could take part in. It was amazing to represent the University as part of an intervarsity contest, as well as to win first place for the Young Corporate Leaders Dragons’ Den. I also got an amazing opportunity to participate in the Study of the US Institute at the University of Washington through Meridian International Center and Foundation for International Understanding Through Students.”
He is thrilled about his Founder of the Year Awards nomination. “It was a surprise. But it’s just God, who’s been with me through this entrepreneurship journey, which started when I was 12 and sold ice by the robots in order to buy soccer boots. I haven’t been given anything on a silver platter, and don’t take anything for granted. I believe it will open more doors and confirm for others that it is possible to achieve their dreams.”
Malema says his age can be a challenge in the entrepreneurship arena, as people doubt his abilities. “Imposter syndrome can be strong when up against doctors and professors in competitions. But I’ve decided to use my age as an advantage, and emphasise it through the brand I’ve built.
“My ‘why’ used to be about changing my own circumstances, but now it’s about changing communities. My advice to young people is to never be afraid to expose who you are – that’s what makes you unique, and in order to make a difference in life, you need to stand out.”