When academic genius and budding entrepreneur Wandile Mabanga starts talking about what he studied at university, the average person’s head starts spinning and their eyes glaze over. Phrases like “Gauge Gravity Dualities at Finite N” get casually thrown out. It’s a study of the theory of everything, involving mind numbing concepts like D-branes which even mathematics doesn’t have the language to describe. “It’s something like a black hole. Looking at the building blocks of matter and time. Time is actually an illusion of gravity and Einstein’s theory only goes a certain distance in explaining what it’s all about.” OK. Whatever you say Wandile, I’ll take your word for it.

Wandile’s favourite childhood memories from growing up in the East Rand township of Kwa-Thema are playing. “We played tops, kites, marbles, spinning, Pokemons, wrestling, cricket, soccer, hide and seek, ‘mom and dad’, tins, ‘umgusha’, Super Mario, Tetris, soccer, swimming games, boats (using matches sticks in rain), making fun of each other, hunted pigeons, grasshoppers, …. the list goes on.” But he realises now that there was a serious lack of resources in his community to help young people reach their full potential. “There was a lack of facilities, access to information and good male role models. Everyone who made it tended to move out of the community. Having access to good facilities is a major challenge I only realised as I went to varsity.”

Without being fully aware of it, Wandile took charge of his own development from a young age. “I was always very curious and hungry to learn. Star schools on TV helped a lot with my maths and I used to tune in to National Geographic on SABC 3 every Sunday at 6 to learn more about the world. To say he excelled at school is an understatement. He earned six distinctions, 100% in maths and 97% in science, coming in the top three learners in Gauteng. A combination of a brilliant mind and a lot of hard work. With a bursary from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, Wandile went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Maths and Physics and an Honour’s and Master’s degree in Theoretical Physics. To show how complex his choice of subject matter was, there were only four people in the world qualified enough to supervise Wandile’s post graduate studies.

DON’T STOP DEVELOPING YOURSELF, EVER.

Naturally, everyone expected him to continue studying after finishing his master’s, but Wandile had other ideas. “I had the choice between doing a PhD and entrepreneurship and I chose to explore the latter. I could always go back and study later but for now I wanted to try business.” And he knew exactly the kind of business he wanted to start.  “It needed to be educational, fun, engaging and new. I used to love playing board games as a kid so I started experimenting with using board games as an educational tool.”

After 18 months of trial and error, and working long hours lecturing and tutoring to raise start-up capital, Map Blitz Moments was born. It’s an educational puzzle in the shape of Africa which teaches history, geography and culture as you put it together.  For Wandile, the kind of thinking needed in business is similar to the kind of thinking used in science. “In business, I don’t use the technical knowledge I learnt at university but I do use the method of thinking. It’s about developing a theory, testing it, assessing results and continually improving it.”  

I FEAR THE MISTREATMENT OF ANOTHER BECAUSE THEY LOOK DIFFERENT.

Wandile’s goal is to go big. “I want Map Blitz Moments to be a household name and grow internationally. I’ve always wanted to contribute to the amazing work that people continue to make. Life seems trivial today until one really has a look at what we have achieved as a species! The fact that one can meet a stranger and exchange information was unheard of when we were still making fire with rocks.”

His greatest fear is injustice of any kind. “I fear the burning of another human being because they speak differently. I fear the mistreatment of another because they look different. I fear prejudice and abuse towards another because their mammary glands are useful. I don’t like any form of fundamentalism. It makes me very angry when one loses open mindedness in any aspect of life and shoves this down another’s brain.” Unsurprisingly, his greatest joy comes from connecting. “Connections with people, with nature, and with myself are what make me come alive.” His greatest inspiration is nature. “It is the most successful system, yet it still improves, always! Nature is the best teacher. Our greatest advances are from observing her.”

Someone with Wandile’s drive and ambition is bound to have role models who have inspired him and he lists four. “Richard Feynman is one – he is an American physicist in the area of Quantum Electro dynamics who really became and lived. The second is Allan Gray and the third is any good parent – they push the human race forward. My final role model is me. Given time and resources, I can learn anything and do it well. Seriously.”

Wandile believes that self-acceptance and self-development are the most important steps towards personal freedom. “The worst that can happen to you is extinction, and it will happen. Everything in between well…” Wandile epitomizes the old SA tourism slogan “Alive with possibilities”. He’s one of Africa’s sons, and his genius, attitude and approach to life are an inspiration and a source of pride for all of us. His advice to readers: “Don’t stop developing yourself, ever. Don’t be influenced by friends, listen to elders, become good at something. Don’t waste your resources – you are one of a few who have access to become anything you want. Excel.”