South African innovators embody the aphorism “necessity is the mother of invention.”
Our unique problems in South Africa have inspired inventions that are used around the globe.
South African innovators hold their own against the best in the world. From the humble automated pool cleaner, to highly sophisticated and specialised medical inventions, to companies working on the bleeding edge of blockchain technology.
Several outstanding South African tech inventions are listed below.
To overcome the lack of literacy skills amongst some of South Africa’s most talented animal trackers, South African scientists Louis Liebenberg and Lindsay Steventon created the first image-based user interface to enable these trackers to record animal behaviours in a geo-referenced database.
3D-printed middle-ear bones
Professor Mashudu Tshifularo of the University of Pretoria made history in 2019 by replacing the bones of a patient’s middle ear (anvil, stirrup, hammer, and ossicles) with 3D-printed analogues.
Following Tshifularo’s innovative approach, the University of Pretoria launched the Beautiful Noise Cochlear Implants Project, which has restored hearing to many people who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
Automated pool cleaners
Towards the end of the 1960s, South African John Raubenheimer created the Pool Bug Automatic Pool Cleaner. The cleaner used water pressure from the pool pump to generate suction.
The Kreep Krauly followed in 1974, created by Ferdinand Chauvier, who had been living in South Africa for 23 years at the time.
Computerised ticket systems
The world’s first computerised ticket system, Computicket, was created in 1971 by Benoni’s Percy Tucker.
Tucker saw an opportunity to “skip the queues” 17 years after opening his manual ticketing office, Show Service, on Eloff Street in Johannesburg.
Oil from coal
One of South Africa’s greatest success stories is that of Sasol, the company that invented and perfected the process used to produce petrol and diesel from coal.
The energy company, founded in the 1950s, developed its process from already-known coal to liquid technology.
Originally termed the Merrifield Block after one of its South African creators, Eric Merrifield, dolosse (singular: dolos) are reinforced concrete shapes used to protect harbour walls across the globe.
Merrifield, in partnership with draughtsman Aubrey Kruger, designed the first dolos in 1963.
Speed guns in sports
Using radar technology, Henri Johnson invented the world’s first “Speed Gun” that accurately measured the speed and angle of fast-flying objects, such as cricket balls, in 1992.
Johnson’s innovation was then improved by his engineering company Electronic Development House (EDH) and is used in sports tournaments worldwide.
Invented in the 1960s by South African George Montague Pratley, the epoxy putty adhesive was designed to insulate and secure brass terminals in junction boxes.
Pratley Putty was the first of its kind and was used on the Apollo 11 expedition’s lunar lander in the late 60s.
Custos Media Technology
The company uses forensic watermarks and offers cryptocurrency bounties to secure their clients’ media and detect leaks when they occur.
Quiet cellular antenna technology
Gordon Mayhew-Ridgers and Paul van Jaarsveld created cellular antenna technology which significantly reduces noise emissions from cellular stations while employed as principal engineers at Vodacom.
The invention was crucial to help provide cellular coverage to Karoo residents without interfering with Square Kilometer Array research.
Vaccine against yellow fever
The first African-born Nobel-laureate, Max Theiler, developed the vaccine for yellow fever in 1937.
The South African-American physician and virologist received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1951.