Tintswalo was instrumental in the inception of South Africa’s Smart ID card.
With a career spanning more than two decades, characterised by transitions between various government departments, Tintswalo Shilowa now holds the position of chief information officer (CIO) at the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency. And there, she is driving innovation.
When you consider Tinstwalo’s current fascination for efficient transportation, including smart border posts, it comes as no surprise that her top priority is finding innovative ways to ease the congestion that plagues South Africa’s border posts and the African region.
She elaborates that this challenge fuels her drive, and to solve it, she seeks inspiration from global peers, particularly in Europe and Asia, who have successfully addressed similar issues.
A career defined by agility
Following her studies at Tshwane University and the successful completion of her Master’s degree at the University of Pretoria, Tintswalo eagerly immersed herself in the realm of information technology as a budding software developer in 1997.
Her career was marked by fluid transitions between departments that have now become highly digitised, such as Statistics SA and the National Treasury.
Tintswalo was promoted to director when she moved to Home Affairs and took care of the business systems, including the national population register, refugee systems, passport systems, and the department going paperless by digitising paper records.
She also had a stint at the South African Bureau of Standards as head of IT before moving on to lead the National Health Laboratory Services as CIO. There she stayed for 18 months before taking over the reins at the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency.
“It’s an exciting time to be involved in the transport industry, especially concerning interactions between South Africa and its neighbouring countries,” she says.
“In terms of border management and systems, we find ourselves lagging behind, particularly when compared to regions like Europe and parts of Asia. In Europe, they’ve adopted what they call ‘one-stop border posts,’ relying heavily on technology. In South Africa, we’re still grappling with the infrastructure itself.”
According to Tintswalo this means that even if the entity wanted to implement certain technologies, such as dedicated lanes or ‘green lanes’, where vehicles with specific statuses don’t have to stop at the border because they’ve already been pre-cleared for customs, Home Affairs, and compliance checks, it would not be a seamless exercise. “The problem is that if the border is congested, vehicles have to queue, often for long distances.”
A global perspective for local solutions
To tackle some of the challenges, Tintswalo and her team are collaborating with other entities, including SARS, SANRAL, the Border Management Agency (BMA), which falls under Home Affairs, and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC).
“Our goal is to find solutions that will alleviate congestion at the borders in collaboration with our partners. As the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency, our mandate is to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic and remove constraints at the borders, extending all the way to the SADC regions. Currently, we issue permits to operators up to the DRC, and would like to expand further.
In addition, Tintswalo’s team has introduced a system they wish to implement across the region while leveraging artificial intelligence (AI).
“This system is used for issuing permits, and the goal is to alleviate some of the constraints we currently face. The challenge lies in the fact that each country has its own set of requirements, processes and procedures making the process complex and time-consuming.”
To resolve this, the proposal is a unified platform that simplifies this process by providing a common ground for all countries.
“Several countries, including Angola and Lesotho, have in principle agreed to pilot this system. We’re also planning to include Ethiopia and are in discussions. Additionally, we will include the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They’re dealing with congestion at their borders and are seeking a more efficient technological solution to address this issue.”
Tintswalo credits her knack for problem-solving to her inquisitive disposition. She openly shares her fascination with aviation and flying, but she also holds a deep admiration for Elon Musk’s unconventional approach, noting that he disregards conventional norms and boundaries.
“When I immerse myself in documentaries or follow Elon Musk’s endeavours, it truly astonishes me to witness the astounding capabilities of the human mind,” she remarks. “I’m in awe that we possess the potential to accomplish so much. Our only limitations, it seems, are those we impose upon ourselves.”