Ulwazi Programme subject of PhD Research

The Ulwazi Programme is the subject of University of Cape Town doctoral candidate Grant McNulty’s research, abstract below.  We wish him well with his project.

In post-apartheid South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) government’s efforts to create a new national identity, a more inclusive heritage and to address past imbalances have contributed significantly to the reshaping of the South African heritage landscape, entailing the revision and restructuring of old museums, heritage sites and memory institutions. These political and institutional changes have also generated new sites. The focus of my research is one such site, the Ulwazi Programme (UP), an online archival initiative that has been set up by the Ethekwini (Durban) Municipal Library to provide opportunities for communities actively to record and share their contemporary history and culture.

The programme model uses the existing library infrastructure and Web 2.0 technologies to create a collaborative online indigenous knowledge resource in the form of a Wiki. Fieldworkers, selected from the immediate communities, are trained by the library to collect digital audio and visual material (such as recorded oral histories, intangible heritage, material culture etc.) in their areas and to add it to the Wiki with the libraries serving as Internet access points.

My interest in the UP lies in its uniqueness as a digital initiative that offers a new approach to archiving and heritage in South Africa. More specifically, the research focuses on the Mbumbulu branch of the UP. Mbumbulu is a peri-urban area located approximately 45km southwest of Durban that has deep historical disassociations from a centralised Zulu identity, traditionally focused on the Zulu monarchy and more recently as mobilised by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), as well as a long history of in-migration of people opposed to centralised Zulu power. In Shakan times, chiefdoms in these regions were required to maintain identities clearly separate from those of the Zulu royal house and as part of the IFP-run KwaZulu Bantustan during apartheid, Mbumbulu was subject to IFP propaganda and the promotion of a politicised notion of Zuluness. In the 1980s and 1990s the area was wracked with political violence stemming from disputes between members of the ANC and IFP.

Therefore, Mbumbulu has a long history of complex relations with central Zulu authority and has been the on-going site of contestations around Zulu identity and political power. This suggests that contemporary archival efforts in the area will yield rich material about the relevance of new approaches to heritage and how they might relate to ideas about identity.

By focusing on the UP as a post-apartheid initiative born of changed political and institutional settings, the study considers the articulations of a project of this nature and how these engage the local contexts of Mbumbulu and the wider heritage fields of KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa. The study explores the UP – a site that employs new technologies and new approaches, which in turn generate new content and perspectives – as an aspect of continued transition in South Africa.

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