Highway Africa New Media Award for Ulwazi Programme

We were part of the team that came runner-up in the ‘Innovative Use of Technology for Community Engagement’ category at the recent Telkom-Highway Africa New Media Awards.

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 Highway Africa New Media Awards were presented at a gala dinner on the 11th of September. These are unique and prestigious awards that reward innovative use of Information Communication technologies (ICTs) in journalism that serves Africa and its citizens. The awards were pioneered to highlight the role that ICTs play to enhance journalism and the media, in the process uplifting communities.

We were recognised for our work with the Ulwazi Programme, 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 asumemelo, a traditional 21st birthday celebration for girls – which suggests a need for local content online.

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