Hello Internet, do you speak Zulu?

“Not yet, but I’m learning”.

There is still a noticeable lack of online content in Zulu, despite the fact that over 11 million South Africans list Zulu as their first language, according to Census 2011. The New Wave report notes that the growth in Internet usage in South Africa is driven by young, mobile users, 66% of whom speak an African language. As a results, the demand for local content in local languages is only going to increase.

Zulu as an online language

Having run the Ulwazi Programme – a Zulu/ English website – for the past four years, I think South Africa should actively be publishing more multilingual websites.

The Ulwazi Programme is a local content project, run with the eThekwini Municipality. Articles are written by the core project team but content submissions – from the general public, community journalists and researchers – are actively encouraged. Indeed, the Ulwazi Programme’s content is largely user-generated.

The project has been a success, with the website receiving over 190,000 visitors in 2012. Two thirds of these visitors are from South Africa, with the majority coming from Gauteng and the eThekwini Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

Map of South Africa, showing visitor locations.
Map of South Africa, showing majority of visitors from Gauteng and KZN.

75% of visitors find the Ulwazi Programme’s website through search engines, mainly Google, and more than half of the Top 50 search terms are Zulu. People, mainly South Africans, are searching for content in Zulu, and finding this content on the Ulwazi website.

Making the case for online publishing in Zulu

The future of the South Africa web will be a more diverse place than it has been for the past years. The New Wave report shows that this shift has already started to happen. People are searching online in their home languages and the winners, in terms of increased traffic, will be those websites that provide content in local languages – a win-win situation for both publishers and readers.

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