Joan Joffe on building Joffe Associates – and helping launch Vodacom

21 May 2024 – Joan Joffe, the founder of Joffe Associates who would later play a pivotal role in the launch of South Africa’s mobile industry, began her IT career writing machine code on an ICL (then ICT) mainframe. Joffe, who introduced the IBM PC to South Africa in the early 1980s (much to IBM South Africa’s chagrin), has a storied career going all the way back to the late 1950s. Indeed, one of the first projects in which she was involved was developing the very first computerised payroll system for the SA Railways (now Transnet). In this latest episode of the popular TCS Legends interview series, Joffe tells TechCentral editor Duncan McLeod about her early career, what led to her striking out on her own with Joffe Associates, and how she eventually became marketing director for Vodacom during its start-up years. What many people might not know about Joffe is that she even had a stint as a technology journalist at one point in her career, writing a column for FinanceWeek, a now-defunct business magazine. In this episode of TCS Legends, Joffe chats about:

  • Her studies at Wits University;
  • Her early programming career;
  • Her time in the US, where she worked for Wells Fargo Bank and Standard Oil;
  • Her time as a saleswoman for HP selling pocket calculators and how that led to her securing an HP dealership and the formation of Joffe Associates;
  • The launch by Joffe Associates of the IBM PC in South Africa and Joffe’s clashes with local IBM management at the time;
  • The sale of Joffe Associates to Datakor, and why it was a disaster;
  • The Vodacom opportunity and what was involved in launching South Africa’s first mobile operator;
  • The battle over Vodacom’s advertising agencies;
  • Working with Vodacom’s founding CEO, Alan Knott-Craig; • Meeting Nelson Mandela;
  • The early skirmishes with MTN; and
  • The launch of the Vodacom Foundation.

Joffe, who succeeded in a male-dominated industry, went on to become a founding member of Nozala Investments. She has also served on the boards of various organisations, including the CSIR, Datacentrix and a number of non-profit organisations. Among other accolades and awards, she is a recipient of the Wits University Lifetime Award for Entrepreneurship. Don’t miss this fascinating interview with a pioneering woman in South Africa’s IT industry – and a true legend of the sector.