The Ulwazi Programme recognised by the Highway Africa New Media Awards

The Ulwazi Programme has been recognised (for the second-year running) by the Highway Africa New Media Awards in the category  ‘Innovative Use of Technology for Community Engagement’. The 16th Highway Africa conference took place from the 9th – 11th September 2012 at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, in association with the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD). The awards highlight the role that ICTs play to enhance journalism and the media, in the process uplifting communities. Congratulations to 3Bute, an innovative mash-up of journalism and comic-art, that came first in this category.

The Ulwazi Programme is an innovative initiative of the eThekwini Municipality that uses Web 2.0 technology, the local community and the public library infrastructure to collect and disseminate indigenous knowledge. This is done through training citizen journalists in digital media production and oral history skills, who then return to their communities and collect stories, which are inputted to the Community Memory website (developed as a wiki) through computers at any of the ninety public libraries in the Municipality. The project has been in operation for four years and has made a real difference to the community it serves, through the preservation and dissemination of culturally-specific local knowledge and the development of useful and transferable ICT skills.

Local knowledge and ways of doing things in Africa have historically been transmitted orally from one generation to the next. In South Africa, various factors like urban migration and the AIDS pandemic in younger generations have contributed to a disruption of these chains of cultural transmission. Digital technologies, in particular, mobile phones, offer some ways in which this information can be recorded and circulated. These technologies can facilitate the preservation and dissemination of local knowledge, through audio recordings, photographs and articles. The technology allows for multiple contributions from a variety of perspectives, male, female, young and old. A focus of the project is to record the knowledge of the older generation and make it available to the younger generation. This includes the history of local areas, details of traditional practices and ceremonies, and the ways in which things were done in the past.

The project has been a great success, receiving up to a thousand visitors a day. Most of these visitors are interested in Zulu-language content (the local vernacular) and information on traditional ceremonies and practices – such as umemulo, a traditional 21st birthday celebration for girls – which suggests a need for local content online.

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