Ackeem Ngwenya

Ackeem Ngwenya

The Roadless wheel system, brainchild of South African-born Ackeem Ngwenya, is a wheel that adapts to different terrain conditions typically found in rural areas like those in which he grew up in Malawi. 

Today, Ngwenya is a product designer focussed on African development and founder of Roadless Ltd. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Jewellery Design at the University of Stellenbosch and went on to complete a master’s in innovation design engineering from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London in 2014.

For his graduate project, Ngwenya designed Roadless. The wheel’s design addresses the difficulties locals experience moving goods, accessing markets and making a living. It expands to create more contact area for muddy conditions, or contracts to give better ground clearance for rough terrains. It was on display at the Africa is Now exhibition at Design Indaba Expo 2014 under the Africa is Resourceful theme. 

Ngwenya’s design approach is to explore the scarcity of basic services and infrastructure as a playground for innovation and creativity, and apply design and technology to achieve development through creative solutions to crippling and persistent problems faced by Africa. "With Roadless I want to establish a capacity-building platform that will allow and offer the users of Roadless products opportunities to escape the grasp of poverty, become self-sufficient and attain a decent quality of life," he says.

 “I’ve developed a few prototypes,” he says. “So I think it has developed quite a bit. The prototypes are getting better all the time.”

Ngwenya says Africa’s problems should be seen as opportunities to develop new, innovative solutions, even if they’ve already been addressed in the developed world.  “These problems give us a blank canvas from which to work from,” he adds.

Instead of designing for the elite, Ngwenya focuses his energies on those at the bottom of the pyramid. “I like projects that let go or leapfrog [existing] infrastructure.”

“My project Roadless is about rural transportation – providing rural transportation for communities that do not have access to adequate transport infrastructure,” says Ngwenya.

Ngwenya believes that designers from Africa must work with challenges that other parts of the world have perhaps already found solutions for. There is a lot of space for innovative products and solutions to the problems of everyday rural life.

“These scarcities which we have, give us a blank canvas on which to work on. My design is focusing on people on the base of the pyramid. I like projects that leapfrog infrastructure. There is quite a lot that can be done there." Source: