How many countries are in Africa? If you have to consult Google for the answer, you’re who Wandile Mabanga had in mind when he created Map Blitz. His passion for promoting diversity and allowing people to access each other’s diversity formed the foundation for Map Blitz’s mission to gamify learning. The first game produced by Map Blitz is a jigsaw puzzle of Africa, consisting of 50 wooden laser-cut pieces. He believes such a physical interaction with knowledge is far more accessible and enjoyable than its associated Google search might be.
This belief perhaps stems from his own upbringing – a childhood spent in Kwa-Thema, playing with kites, tops and marbles in the streets and returning home with dusty and sometimes mud-smeared clothes. The spanking that ensued (because of the extra laundry burden) did little to deter him. In fact, despite doling out those spankings, Wandile’s mother and grandparents never discouraged him from venturing outside and satisfying his curiosity. Through the many games he played, Wandile learned to engage with people and with his environment. Did his family know that such a simple experience would lead to his pursuit of three degrees in the field of physics and an entrepreneurial venture based on games?
They didn’t and neither did Wandile. All he knew was that he enjoyed Science at school and wanted to continue studying it at university. Explaining, he adds: “I’ve always looked around and found inspiration from the environment … I could connect with nature through the equations.” The first two bursaries he received required Wandile to study something more practical like Chemical Engineering, but he couldn’t bring himself to commit to that course. That’s around the time when he learned about the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship. He could hardly believe that they supported his pursuit of Physics, echoing what his mother and grandparents encouraged him to do: to just be. “The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation allowed me to learn more about myself and do what I love … All they asked for at the time was that we excel in what we do. It is rare for one to learn and be encouraged to be, especially by a scholarship!”
After graduating from Wits with an M,Sc. in Physics, Wandile spent the next 18 months lecturing at Vaal University of Technology for six months and then teaching at the African Leadership Academy for a year. He then decided to take some time off in order to decide which direction his career should take: a specialised academic one or an entrepreneurial one. In the end he realised that it would be easier to make a contribution to society via entrepreneurship; physics is such a specialised field and the impact of his contribution might take years before being felt. It was also during this time of decision making that he stumbled upon or rather played his way to his business idea.
Sunday family gatherings at Wandile’s house have always been accentuated by board games and laughter. Seeing how much fun his family got from engaging with each other by means of games got him thinking. His cousins were the guinea pigs for the first game he came up with. They definitely had fun playing it, but he soon realised that it would not be as accessible to strangers. Towards the end of 2015 he fine-tuned his game to something that would bring people together, no matter their background. Wandile was able to secure funding and a spot in an accelerator. As a result Map Blitz has been operational for six months. His next step is to secure retail contracts so that the game is more readily available to the public.
Wandile hopes that Map Blitz will eventually morph into what he calls “Cultural Diversity Tours”, kind of like the world cup of culture and diversity, where people would be able to experience the richness of a continent under one roof – think Kenyan art, Moroccan food, Gambian literature and Sudanese dance for example. Before this step though, he hopes to expand his range of products to include the other six continents and offer an additional augmented reality function – accessing information and experiences by scanning a puzzle piece.
He hopes that his contribution to society would be somewhat like the invention of the chair – simple but ubiquitous. One could say that his life’s mission is “for people to access each other, understand and appreciate each other.” His journey thus far and his future ambitions are a true reflection of the Foundation’s Pillar Spirit of Significance: A weight of personality that comes from living a life personified by passion and integrity. Recognition that ultimate personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order that one might be able to serve others.