When you come from a society with a lot of issues, you tend to neglect the small things you can do. But that one small change you help someone locally make could help them grow exponentially.
When you come from a society with a lot of issues, you tend to neglect the small things you can do. But that one small change you help someone locally make could help them grow exponentially.
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GabyV: So we're here with Andile Nopapaza. This is going to be our first interview with someone directly in the motherland in South Africa. So we're happy to have you with us Andile. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day.
Andile Nopapaza: Thank you so much, Gaby, for having me. It's an absolute pleasure.
GabyV: Yeah. This is going to be awesome. Even in the pre-interview we did, before we started recording, I had done a little bit of research on you, but then you filled in some blanks was like 'Wha..!?' So this is going to be a very interesting discussion.
Andile Nopapaza: I hope. I hope will be. I'm very excited for it as well.
GabyV: Yeah. South Africans are some amazing peeps, even if you know a little bit of their history. But as a mechanical engineer in training from the University of Johannesburg first, I want to ask how you're doing because there's a lot of drama going on in South Africa right now with the President Zuma riots, COVID, they already had problems with the legacy of apartheid a little bit.
Every country is having some issues that have been magnified by COVID. So how are things over there?
Andile Nopapaza: I would say things for the majority of what's happening, and thank you so much first and foremost for that introduction, and taking the time. We have been learning about each other quite a lot, and I appreciate that.
But I would say first and foremost, the situation in South Africa it's one where people have taken matters into their own hands in terms of rebuilding. What we are seeing now it's a bottom up type of movement where it is the community that's saying
'No, not with our infrastructure, not with our livelihoods. We will rebuild our country. It's hard enough as it is. So we'll protect what we currently have. We'll clean up after the mess we have made. Yes, we do make mistakes as a community, but right now is the time to build.'
That's what we are currently seeing now as South Africans. There was a period in time where I was very shy to say that I am one because of the chaos that was happening.
But after a few conversations with friends and also observing how things have played out, I'll say that I'm proud to be one because I've seen the resilience of our people and how going forward people who don't have resources, people who don't have the political might nor the connections are saying,
'You know what? I have a broom in my house. And I have children with me who are active and are not going to school. Let's go clean up the neighborhoods.'
So I've been admiring that.
GabyV: Yeah, it's been amazing. Even watching some of the limited stuff we have on BBC. There were people who formed a community watch group and they weren't letting any of the rioters into their neighborhood. So it's a lot of teamwork that's happening.
But teamwork is not as easy as it seems. South Africa just like any other country is not a homogenous society. It has many different ethnic groups, tribes, people from different backgrounds. The country itself has...is it 11 national languages?
Andile Nopapaza: Yes, That's correct.
GabyV: That's a lot!
Andile Nopapaza: Well, it's a very diverse nation. And I can only imagine from maybe an outsider's point of view to say, 'How many languages do you guys have?!?' But from an insider's point of view, it's very interesting because as you go through many different parts of the country, you get to see how people interact with different languages.
So where I am from, which is almost the economic center of South Africa, Gauteng state or the province of Gauteng. You had a lot of people going there because of the gold mines they discovered. So now you have lots of other clans that came together in order to work at those places.
So what you would often find in Gauteng is maybe their home language is Sotho and also speaks Xhosa because in that community your next door neighbor's Xhosa many different ethnicities living with each other.
And then you get out of Gauteng and then you go into the more remote areas. Then you see more homogenized societies. So now you need to navigate that and know how to handle that. In some instances, you find that people speak their home language and they don't speak any English at all.
And even for the Caucasian South Africans, there are some communities where you go there and they only speak Afrikaans. That's the only language that they're instructed in school. That's the only language that they speak at home and the people that they interact with, even with Black South Africans, it's Afrikaans. You might find a Caucasian male or Caucasian female in South Africa, surprising you with a bit of Sotho, Zulu, Xhosa.
It's a very diverse and dynamic society.
GabyV: We hear about Afrikaans sometimes in school in North America and Europe, but what exactly is it? It's not an indigenous African language. So what is it actually?
Andile Nopapaza: Yeah, so Afrikaans I don't know, what's the correct word. It kinda evolved from the original Dutch settlers who came to South Africa. If you listen to the Dutch language itself, you can pick up a bit of Afrikaans, a lot of words, and the sentence well is the same even the mannerism in which people speak them is almost the same.
I liken Afrikaans to the Dutch language and also the German language to be almost in the same bucket because they are very direct. There's not a whole lot of euphemisms, if you would say so it's very direct, to the point, very precise. So Afrikaans it's a descendant.
GabyV: That's very interesting. What about your mother tongue? Let me try to say **trying** Say it one time. (laughs)
Andile Nopapaza: *says it quickly**
GabyV: *tries again...and says it right! Yes** XD
Andile Nopapaza: Yeah.
GabyV: So how about your mother tongue? What is the grammar like? How many speakers are there?
Andile Nopapaza: Xhosa, as you can tell, has a lot of kicks. But similar to Zulu, it is very poetic. So it has a lot of items. It has a lot of expressions that they use in order to describe a couple of things, a lot of Proverbs.
So, if anyone in South Africa were learning this Xhosa and they would speak it coming from a township perspective, it will be difficult for them to transition into that because the original Xhosa which people from the Eastern Cape speak is much more poetic. It's not very direct when it comes to the words expressed, but it's a very fun language to speak.
And one thing I'm liking currently about the culture in South Africa, the musical culture is that or the pop culture, the nightlife style is that you see a lot of Xhosa phrases being used. It's like a cool language. And that's what I'm liking about South Africa right now is that we're seeing our own indigenous languages feature into pop culture.
I speak Xhosa when I'm at home. So primarily my grandmother's house and my great grandmother's house. Then also when it comes to elderly family members, that's where I speak Xhosa most of the time. Because of how things are structured in my home state, Gauteng, I normally speak Zulu.
GabyV: How was that growing language and a school language? Did you have switching back and forth?
Andile Nopapaza: I think it was fluid. For most South Africans that grew up in a non-homogenized community it is very fluid. I think it becomes harder later in life. Like right now, I tried learning Venda which is another language in South Africa, one of the eleven. Now that became hard because as we grow up, we tend to become more rigid and become more afraid of saying the wrong thing.
But at five years old, reading small English books that were bought by my aunts and my grandma. That was much easier. Speaking Xhosa, imitating what my grandma was saying, that was much easier. Going to a couple of friends that were non-Xhosa and speaking Zulu or Sepedi, that was much, much easier. So I would say it's very advantageous if you grew up in that type of society where there's five languages just circulating around.
It enables you for later in life to be able to interact with almost everyone and be able to not only interact with the language, but also interact with the culture. Another thing in South Africa as well. There's still a lot of African tradition that is still in there. So even though the majority, in terms of a demographics point of view, are practicing Christians, you'll find that there's still a lot of African folk tradition that is in there.
So I think it's very advantageous to grow up in that environment.
GabyV: That's very nice to even hear about the mixing of the cultures. It's now coming up almost 30 years since apartheid was ended. Do you still feel some of the legacy in your day-to-day or not now?
Andile Nopapaza: A lot of it is context. So from a big picture, yes. You still see the effects of apartheid, I would say without expressing a polarizing opinion, I would say most of it has become the transfer of governance, the transfer of skills. That's another thing too. The transfer of education, because as you know, apartheid was a system whereby there was segregation across different sectors. So, with settlement, you were dictated as to where you would stay. So that's why you have townships in South Africa, which most of the time are further away from the city centers.
So like the township that I'm from is Gautama also a mining town, but then that town is a further 60K, kilometers, away from the city center where all of the business is happening. So what you will see back in the day, if you trace back South African history, is that a lot of our parents, a lot of our grandparents, if they were working in the city by a certain time, they were supposed to be out of there.
And for weekends, maybe they wouldn't conduct their shopping. They wouldn't be able to conduct any leisure activities that maybe the other groups were privileged to have. So you still see that. So a lot of young professionals in South Africa, if they are watching this, most likely, they are living in the outskirts of the townships and transportation to go into the city is very hard for them. So those are some of the things in terms of infrastructure, point of view, town planning point of view.
And also education because you also see it in how schools are governed and all of that. Because another legacy of the apartheid regime as well was that people were capped at the ninth grade. So there were only certain carriers that you were limited to doing. So I have stories from my grandma, she would tell me that either you are going to be a teacher, a policeman, or a nurse or a lawyer, or a doctor. It is still a legacy that we are trying to fight and same thing with the current situation that we're in. You can't do it only by pointing fingers and further dividing the nation. No. We can just do it by helping whoever we can. So your brother, your sister, going and volunteering and teaching people maths, science, technology, if you can do that, definitely do that.
GabyV: Yeah, definitely. Can't wait to see what you guys come up with next, the next generation.
Andile Nopapaza: no pressure.
GabyV: Yeah, no pressure, right? Yeah. Trying is better than not doing anything. So that's already a plus, right there.
Andile Nopapaza: Thank you. It's true.
GabyV: But it's amazing how you mentioned those who have had opportunities they need to go back and share that with the community. A documentary I saw recently with Zainab Badawi that was talking about the history of Africa, many of the experts that they interviewed from different research societies, all across the continent, they said one of the main issues that is still affecting Africa's development is of course colonialism that mindset, but that many still have the scarcity mindset where like 'I have to think about today and only about me.' And what's the third thing they mentioned? And also just taking the quickest option, not really focusing on long-term.
So have you seen that change in generation? Or are you still working on it?
Andile Nopapaza: I'll be honest. I've seen it change with me personally. I'll admit that I also had that mindset to say, 'First secure myself, secure my family. I'll probably immigrate to maybe a European country and I'll be set. I'll be earning a different type of currency and things like that.'
But I had my thoughts challenged by a good friend of mine and we had a very lengthy conversation about this. So my friend was trying to say that,
'Look, you can't change the old infrastructure. You're just only one guy, only one young man, but there's someone who's looking at you without you noticing, and there's someone in your community that might be struggling with one small item. You helping with that small item will yield exponential results for them.'
And I see this now with kids that are two or three years younger than us. It's a very humbling experience when you pick it up that they are trying to emulate something that you did. Like in my community, there were people that went to higher education before us. So I completed my high school in 2013. So there were people that completed it before us. But we didn't have access to those people anymore. So they moved to the suburbs and we've never seen them again. And growing up, we didn't have that interaction with them.
Our peer group that matriculated or moved from grade 12 in that era, we are able to have interactions with the younger peer group and not make them feel like they're the younger peer group. And I wouldn't credit this to myself. I don't know how that happened, but the results are absolutely amazing because you're seeing these younger guys and girls doing careers and doing things that are way more than what we would have imagined.
And this friend of mine made this example to me to say that 'Now, look, if you do that with two people, look at how much change it brought to two families. Now, if you look for ways to scale that and do it with ten families, a hundred families maybe you could plant something in their mind, such that they will be able to bring what was happening in Johannesburg to Springs [township].'. And with working from home and people studying from home, this is definitely what I'm seeing. Being exposed to different ideas because we more tethered to the internet, we are communicating with each other.
I held to that idea to say that
'I'm just going to secure myself and move to a much more affluent continent.'
But then I also had that self-reflection and that correction from a friend to say that,
'No, you can't change everything but the small that you can change, even though it's going to be difficult, try to do that.'.
GabyV: Yeah, that's excellent. We have a term for it now, brain drain, where everybody learns and then they move away. But it's not just colonial societies that have been doing that. At least not "recent time" colonial society. Different kingdoms have been doing that for thousands of years to keep the people who are under - to keep them there.
So we have to overcome that mindset. If we're going to continue to improve ourselves.
Andile Nopapaza: So I would say that's absolutely true. And you'll see it in the smallest of things. What I tend to do these days is to scale back my thinking, because the danger of ambitious thinking, especially when you come from a society that battles a lot of systemic things is that you tend to neglect the impact that you would have. And we tend to neglect small things that you can do.
So the phrase cleaning up your room speaks to me because you're then [scaling down] to say, 'Okay, wait. There is the whole issue of education in South Africa and literacy and all of those things. Yes there's that. And how can I start from my own house?'
I have siblings. I'm the eldest of four children. So how can I start that culture from my own house? And how can I encourage my own siblings to teach that to their friends? Or maybe their friends see by mistake and they try to emulate that. And with these platforms that we have, podcasts and things like that, what can I share on there that someone else can press the share button and share to another person?
So I think with those types of systemic issues, it's best to downscale and the network effect will take care of itself.
GabyV: Yeah, that's a good reminder. You don't have to be Elon Musk or have a million followers, or start an NGO to do something.
Andile Nopapaza: True. That's true.
GabyV: And you've already been doing a lot. You have your podcast Push Start and also the productivity tips that you've been sharing on LinkedIn. So we might feel like, 'Eh, it's not anything special'.
But for someone else, it'd be like, 'I needed that so much. Thank you for sharing that with me.'
So you never know.
Yeah. Even some of these I learned from you, I was like, 'Ah, okay.' I had to use this one actually this past weekend (laughs) because you had a post about preventing a bad moment from being a bad day, week, month, or quarter. And I had to use it this weekend because... I just... we're now almost to the end of year two of the pandemic and a lot of the plans that I had didn't go the way I was thinking they were going to go. And last week I was getting so frustrated. Then I saw your post. And I was like,
'Okay, I'm just going to take the weekend and not think about it and try and figure out what is exactly that I'm frustrated about and move on.'
But that was from your point. So who knows who else that helped, but it did help me.
Andile Nopapaza: Thank you so much. I wouldn't say I'm the originater of that particular point. Maybe I just took a soundbite from a lot of the stuff that I read. But mostly I would attribute it to stoicism, Greek philosophy.
Yes, it's not perfect how I've been handling the past three years, not two years. Because I would say the difficulty for me on a personal level started in 2019 when I started facing difficulty with my studies, and paying for them, I would say. So that's where it all started. That's where I stumbled across stoicism. And thank you so much that you came across that post and shared it with someone else. That's the culture that we are trying to promote.
So in essence, stoicism, and this is something that I included in the link where you asked me a question that I would like to speak about, there are many different types of languages and philosophy is the language of life. It's how you perceive it, how you hear it, how you see it.
And then also how you speak your mind into it and you speak your actions into it. So with stoicism, the main underlying core principles say bad things happen and bad things happen to everyone. It happens to good people. It happens to not so good people. But then again, the principles that guide you in how to navigate that is where you change the world.
So, whether it's a global pandemic, whether it's civil unrest, whether it's floods, yes some of it is not your fault. Some of it, you never had guessed how it's going to impact you, but there are certain things, certain principles that you can apply.
So for example the issue of not letting a bad moment dictate your week or dictate your month. There are certain instances where very a unexpected event comes into your life yet you still have to carry out your daily responsibilities. You still have to go to work. You still have to go to school. You still have to tend to your children and all of those things, right? So stoicism says,
'No, you don't have to be a stone. You don't have to be rigid and say, no, this does not affect you.'
You sit down and you journal and you write down,
'Ok, I'm feeling sad right now. I'm feeling anxious. I'm feeling angry. I'm feeling outraged,' right? So this was something that I've started seeing this with the pandemic. The anxiety's increasing and the social media is getting much worse. It's multiplying. So for me, exercise is my reply, my language to say, 'I'm not saying anything. I'm not thinking about anything. I'm exercising and that's how I respond.'
It's a pandemic and a lot of things we started indulging in social media, inactivity, all of those things, right? Social media in and of itself, it's a place where we need to practice temperance. So that's where you say,
'Okay, instead of having maybe LinkedIn on my phone, I can have it on my PC.'
I've seen with a lot of things that we've interacted with in modern [times] going back to the basic sometimes is the best thing. As with language learning, maybe you are not ready yet for the complicated sentence structures. You can start speaking that language and not only for linguistics, but also for languages that you to speak in life and other areas. So for example, in engineering someone might say,
Okay, yes, you post this productivity content. So that means you always know what to do.'
No, I didn't. My first attempt at studying engineering was absolutely horrible because I had gone in there with a fixed mindset. So now then you start learning other languages of managing your life and, you know, getting your things in order and resting and recovery and all of those things.
So boiling it down to the basics for me, that's what I've found that in difficult times hit back onto the basics. They will never fail you. They've carried so many great people throughout life and they carry you too.
GabyV: Yeah, that's true. That's always good to remember. Now for someone who might be in your position Andile, why is it so important to have short form and long form content available?
Andile Nopapaza: Wow. That's a very good question. I'll firstly, start off with long form content. I'm a big fan of Dr. Carl Newport, he promotes what is called the deep life. So a life of focus, a life of being very deliberate and intentional with how you do things.
So I think long form content teaches you how to do that. Because if it's an interview, you're synthesizing the thoughts of two people that have thought about certain ideas for a very long time, and maybe they have done their research or they've lived it. They have skin in the game and they have lived it. The danger of the current world that we live in with social media, you get caught up in your own thoughts.
When you're listening to a podcast, most of the time you're expected to suspend your faults and act as a mediator and look from a bird's eye and watch these thoughts interchange. So while watching, or while listening to long form content, I believe for people in the developing countries, it teaches a healthy way to debate, right?
I'm sure you've tried to listen to a podcast while tackling something, that has always, for me personally, that has not worked because someone will mention something, a couple of phrases but now I can't apply the context to it. And that's where I think too short form social media platforms run the risk of making things very black and white, making things very binary, one or zero right? Where either you agree with me or you don't agree with me and you're gonn interact in 140 or 240 characters. Whereas in long form podcasts and long form books and videos, you're able to see the nuance.
And then with short form content, it balances out the danger that comes with long form content and that is analysis paralysis where you just thinking about things. You don't do anything. Yes. You listened to a two hour lecture about productivity, but are you going to implement it or just chill out to couch and veg out again. That's where I see short form content, bridging that gap to say,
'Look, I have a problem now. This particular problem that I need to solve is me getting out of bed quicker. And here's a five tips podcast to help me do so. '
And you're like, 'Okay, I'm going to take idea number five. And I'm going to implement that. And I'm going to test that out for two weeks.'
So it enables people in developing countries or anywhere else to take big ideas, like accountability, like self-discipline, and diffuse them into small ideas and make them micro to say, 'Okay, from this small bite-size idea, this is what I'm going to be experimenting with.'
GabyV: Yeah, that's a nice breakdown. I hadn't thought before. Okay.
Andile Nopapaza: I would recommend Deep Questions with Cal Newport. It's absolutely nice.
GabyV: I got to check that out. Is that a book or is that more of a video series? Where can I find that?
Andile Nopapaza: Also it's a podcast. You could find it on any of the streaming platforms. It's a questions format. So people ask him questions about productivity and he has a deep dive into it. Yeah.
GabyV: Oh, okay. I gotta check that out then. Let me write that down.
Well, Andile you have definitely blown our minds and giving us the other side of South Africa that we don't often see in the news. So I thank you so much for being willing to let us in, to see what's really going on. But how can people get in touch with you to learn more about your projects as a mechanical engineer, as a podcaster, as this person passing on knowledge, where can they find you?
Andile Nopapaza: Well, thank you so much. First and foremost, thank you so much, Gaby, for having me on. More than anything this was a very good conversation. You focused in on big ideas to make them approachable for everyone. I think that's a really great skill that you have. Another thing to learn about South Africa, we have beautiful coastlines. So this is me marketing South Africa to everyone else. We have beautiful coastlines. We have beautiful mountains. We have beautiful grasslands. There's a lot of animals that you can see if you're that type of person. We have a good nightlife if you're that type of person So that's another thing that you can learn about South Africa and yes, you can still have your favorite ride sharing services and make it to your place sharing service or Airbnb.
You could still do that in this beautiful African country. that's another thing you need to learn about South Africa. And lastly I'm humbled[by] this. You can check out my LinkedIn profile. every now and then short blurbs on productivity, engineering, or STEM, or STEAM. And the 'A' in STEAM is for art making engineering approachable and beautiful, like how you've done with your podcast.
GabyV: Oh, thank you. (both laugh) I see what you did there. Okay. That's good to know. It's like,
'What does the A stand for?'
Now I know, but yeah, everyone, Africa is not a country. Number one.
Andile Nopapaza: Yes.
GabyV: People have internet there. Andile is working from home with his wonderful connection here. So it's not uncommon for people to have very good internet, a lot of the same quote, unquote "basic services" that people maybe underestimate. So Africa is on the rise.
Can't wait to see what is going to happen in South Africa. And of course, inhe other big economies like Ethiopia and Nigeria. There's a lot of stuff going on in Africa right now.
But also everyone, if you get a chance, please check out on Andile's podcast, Push Start. There are a lot of good points there, as he said, there's some long form interviews and some short forms just to give you that next little bit of a snack of information to get you to the next step.
Andile Nopapaza: Thank you so much, Gaby.
GabyV: Yeah, no problem. Andile, I really appreciate it.