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Wits mourns the passing of Prof. Barry - SA's 'Grand Geek'

- Wits University

South Africa has lost an innovator, a strategist, a humanitarian, and a much-loved Professor who dedicated over 50 years of his life to Wits.

It is with great sadness that the University of the Witwatersrand announces the passing of Professor Barry Dwolatzky – an innovator, a strategist, a humanitarian, and a loyal Witsie who dedicated over 50 years of his life to Wits. His passing is a great loss to the Wits community where he touched the lives of students, staff, researchers, academics, industry partners, innovators, entrepreneurs and friends in so many ways. In addition to his many achievements and awards, he will be remembered for his humility and humanity, and his ability to make every person with whom he came into contact, feel special.

We extend our condolences to his family and friends, colleagues and students around the world, and those who knew him well. The Wits Flag above the Great Hall will fly at half-mast tomorrow in honour of Professor Dwolatzky. May he rest in peace, knowing that his legacy will live on for generations to come.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky has inspired generations of young people to pursue their dreams while at Wits for over 50 years.

Young people have the creativity and energy, the drive and the reason to build a new South Africa

- Prof. Barry

Professor Barry Dwolatzky was known as the ‘Grand Geek’ of digital innovation in South Africa.

Most recently he served as the Director of Innovation Strategy in the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, where he used his experience and knowledge and his network of local and international collaborations to drive the strategy that supports research, innovation and entrepreneurship at Wits. He was instrumental in conceptualising, developing and imagining the Wits Innovation Centre which was launched in April this year.

Dwolatzky was also an Emeritus Professor in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment. He was the Founder and the Director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and the Founder of the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, the University’s digital innovation hub located in Braamfontein.

A Wits alumnus, Dwolatzky started his undergraduate studies at Wits in Electrical Engineering in 1971 where he continued to excel until he achieved his PhD. After graduating, he left South Africa in 1979, and spent a decade in the United Kingdom as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Imperial College London, and the GEC-Marconi Research Centre. Over this period, he worked on a number of large software research and development projects. He returned to Wits as an academic in 1989, worked his way up the academic ladder and became a Full Professor in 2000. He continued with his teaching and research activities until very recently. 

His primary focus over the past 30 years has been the growth and development of the South African software engineering sector. In 2005, he was the major driver in setting up the JCSE at Wits. In 2013, he spearheaded the establishment of a major digital innovation hub in Braamfontein which became the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct. Tshimologong has attracted significant support from government and a range of major local and international companies, including the IBM Research Laboratory.

In recognition of his contribution to the South African IT industry, Dwolatzky was named the South African IT Personality of the Year in 2013. In 2016 he received an award for Distinguished Service to IT from the Institute of IT Professionals of South Africa as well as the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Academic Citizenship.

In 2020 Dwolatzky launched his own podcast series titled Optimizing: Leading Africa’s Digital Future. Last November, he launched his inspirational memoir, which smartly captured his extraordinary life. Coded History – A life of new beginnings captures Dwolatzky’s 'life of new beginnings'. The book revealed how he faced death at the age of 35, his life as an underground software engineer in the struggle against Apartheid, “the mission” that brought him back to South Africa from the UK where he lived in self-exile in the 1980s, and how, on the eve of democracy, he helped to build the country’s IT industry. He dedicated a chapter in the book to Wits that speaks to his love and connection with the University, and his reverence of young people. At the launch he said: “Young people have the creativity and energy, the drive and the reason to build a new South Africa, a new Africa and a new world. I believe in the future of our country. That is also the point of a university - to prepare people for the future.”

These are wise words from one of South Africa’s most influential academics that we take to heart, as we continue to celebrate his legacy. Professor Dwolatzky, go well – knowing that you have lived a fulfilled and well-lived life and that your impact and influence will reverberate through our society for decades to come.