South Africa’s Drone Diva Programme founder dies

The South African drone industry was engulfed in tragedy at the weekend, following the death of Kelebogile Olivia Molopyane, the founder of the Drone Diva Programme, last Friday.

She was 45.

The CEO and founder of Africa Beyond the Fourth Industrial Revolution (AB4IR), Ms Molopyane’s passing was announced by her organisation, which expressed its heartbreak at losing a visionary CEO.

“It is with extreme sadness that we confirm the passing of our esteemed CEO of Africa Beyond 4IR (AB4IR), Ms Kelebogile Olivia Molopyane, who passed on this morning, Friday September 22, 2023.

“An immense loss to our organisation and the entrepreneurship ecosystem, Ms Molopyane was not only the CEO of AB4IR, but also a visionary leader who played an instrumental role in nurturing and shaping the development of entrepreneurship and creative industry agenda in South Africa and globally.

Information on the cause of her death was not immediately available.

We published this story yesterday, of Inhlanyelo Hub at UNISA celebrating the latest intake of a cohort of young women into the Drone Diva programme, which was part of AB4IR’s vision to induct as many women as it could into the realm of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) careers – an area that has so far been dominated by mostly young men from privileged backgrounds.

Ms Molopyane and her colleagues at AB4IR sought to change that.

They founded the non-profit digital innovation hub in 2019, premising it on the market need to redress the digital divide apparent in previously disadvantaged communities of South Africa.

“Our programmes expose disadvantaged communities to the ICT sector focusing on gaming, animation, virtual reality, and drone technology,” the organisation says.

“We introduce start-up entrepreneurs to new trends in technology and advise them on how to incubate their ideas for market access and commercialise their innovations.”

The hub focusses on harnessing young people’s entrepreneurship skills and innovation in coding/programming; gaming; digital art and animation; and virtual as well as augmented reality.

Affectionately known as Ms K in the tech and business community, Ms Molopyane’s death as come as a particular shock as she was part of the festivities alongside other stakeholders at the launch of this year’s Drone Diva programme in Johannesburg just a day before she passed.

“Kele was such an incredible human being with such a big heart,” said Sam Twala, the Managing Director of drone services company Ntsu Aviation, which has partnered AB4IR on the Drone Diva programme since 2021, and who attended this year’s launch alongside Ms Molopyane and other stakeholders.

“The drone industry has lost an incredible, phenomenal and visionary leader. She will be dearly missed.”

Another industry colleague, UAV Aerial Works director Kim James has worked with Ms Molopyane, helping set up the Drone Diva programme trainees into internships, as well as collaborations on various drone industry-related events.

“Our world has lost a giant,” Kim said

“Miss K, Kelebogile Olivia Molopyane leaves an indescribable void where she was the light, the spark and the dynamite. Miss K did so, so much for local communities, entrepreneurs and the tech industry all round, it’s hard to put into words the incredible impact she made over the years.

“The Drone industry had the privilege of her thoughtful leadership and innovative approach to bringing young women into it through AB4IRs Drone Diva Programme; a programme so close to my heart, as two of our Aerial Works superstars came from her first cohort.

“Kele was also a friend of Women And Drones Africa and featured in many of our Fire Side Chats. This powerhouse of a woman was a networker of note and many of my current relationships are as a result of her introductions.

“Our thoughts are with her two beautiful children, her family and friends and of course her colleagues at AB4IR and beyond.”

To underline the impact Ms Molopyane had on the technology space as a whole, tributes have been coming in from stakeholders beyond just drone technology, including from Wanga Mbasa, the World Business Angels Investment Forum’s International Partner for South Africa, who reminisced the last time he met Ms Molopyane, at the US Embassy’s South Africa Heritage Month celebration.

“I arrived late, and as I was coming into the entrance Ous Kele was on her way out as she said she wanted to get some rest and had to leave early,” Mbasa said in his tribute.

We were happy to see each other as all our engagements this year had been virtual. We briefly spoke about meeting next week and running initiatives in the Northern Cape again and said our goodbyes.

“I didn’t know that hug goodbye was a final farewell and this is what makes this that much more painful.

“The initiatives she pioneered and barriers she broke through in such a short space of time are a legacy that many would take decades to achieve.”

Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, the Chief Operating Officer of City Lodge Hotel Group – who has known Ms Molopyane since the turn of the millennium – had this to say;  

“Kelebogile Olivia Molopyane was a legend. She was bigger than life. Her vision to bring the 4IR to the townships and previously disadvantaged communities was amazing.

As CEO and the founder of AB4IR, she lived the mantra of changing lives and communities every day. She was generous, hard-working, energetic, courageous, intelligent, a visionary and just simply amazing.

“Kele was also a loving mother who doted over her daughter and son, and always said that, “They were the reason she breathed “

Ms Molopyane’s organisation has vowed to continue the work she had started, and keep working with current and future stakeholders to realise her dream of bringing modern technology innovation to the townships

“Her dedication, passion and unwavering commitment has left an indelible mark in the company, AB4IR partners, entrepreneurs, and the industry as a whole,” AD4IR said.

“As we navigate through this challenging period, we are humbled and comforted by (the stakeholders’) nurturing words. We want to assure you that the organisation will continue the path she has started. We will continuously interact with our stakeholders in the course of our business.

“Her impactful contribution to the organisation and the entrepreneurship ecosystem will be remembered for generous to come.”

We wish to convey our condolences to Ms Molopyane’s loved ones at this difficult time.

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