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Coded History by Barry Dwolatzky

On December 23 1987 Barry Dwolatzky was told he had hairy cell leukaemia and less than a year to live. Luckily he survived the dire prediction and in 2020 used the enforced quiet of COVID to write the absorbing story about how he found himself unexpectedly lying in a hospital bed in London more concerned about the contents of his briefcase stashed under his bed than the prospect of his life ending in a few months. The mystery of the briefcase’s contents and his presence far from South Africa forms the pivot of much of his story.

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It begins in a conventional middle class white suburb in Johannesburg in the 1950s as a bullied but clever outsider and stretches through to his eminence as Emeritus Professor of Software Engineering at Wits University and founder of the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct. His path is deceptively ordinary but the evolution of his personal commitment to social and economic justice and the consequences for his life choices were anything but ordinary. His opposition to Apartheid shaped and distanced him from his professional and much of his personal world. Supporting the ANC and seeking active service in social projects in Mozambique his life took unexpected turns which in hindsight have symmetry but at the time appeared bewildering. Barry’s personal choices were not easy nor simple but his commitment to South Africa and the ending of Apartheid was profound.

Told with the sensitivity and self deprecating voice of someone discovering his place in what became the fourth Industrial Evolution, Barry shares his vulnerability and delight in finding the world of IT and discovering his ability to teach while pursuing his own commitment to political change.

The story of Barry’s less than ordinary life is proof of the adage never judge a book by its cover. His coded history is complex yet simple, curious yet obvious and proof that a life well lived is both inspirational and worth sharing.