The Ulwazi Programme is an online media project established in 2008, which is collecting and disseminating local knowledge in English and Zulu. It is run from the eThekwini Municipality's Libraries and Heritage Department in Durban, South Africa, in partnership with McNulty Consulting. The vision of the programme is not only to preserve and disseminate local Zulu knowledge, but to encourage local communities to take ownership of the website and to become actively involved in the developing of a resource of local knowledge.
The main objective of the programme is to provide an opportunity for ordinary members of the Zulu community in Durban to preserve knowledge about their culture, history, and environment in their own language. A second objective of the programme focuses on transferring information technology (IT) and skills to local citizens. This is designed to enable the people of eThekwini to become part of the global information society, benefiting them through economic advantages, and contributing to the building of a caring and empowering city.
The Ulwazi Programme centres on a collaborative online database, which is part of the Public Library's digital resources. The database relies on community participation for delivering content and posting the content on the project wiki. Web 2.0 technologies enable collaboration at all levels in the building up of the database, which is in the form of an online encyclopaedia such a Wikipedia, but with the project’s own branding.
Existing library infrastructure in the eThekwini Municipal area, comprising 90 public libraries of which most have Internet access, is used to bring the programme to local communities. Community workers collect oral and visual material while members from the community are taught at their local library how to add local content to the website. Indigenous knowledge is collected from local communities through community journalists, members of the public who can register an account and submit a story on a more ad-hoc basis, and through direct engagement with local residents often through community groups. The library acts as moderator and custodian of the online knowledge resource.
The community journalists are actively recruited. They are generally younger people from the communities with some information and communication technology (ICT) skills, an interest in heritage and culture, and a desire to acquire new skills and gain work experience. The community journalists collect stories through personal interviews, in the form of audio recordings and video interviews. They are trained in oral history research and protocols, digital media production, and internet literacy skills. Their submissions consist of short journalistic reports, but can be supplemented with oral histories and stories recorded as audio or video files. Community journalists are required to submit at least three stories a month and attend the monthly feedback meetings, where they discuss new entries. The real checks and balances are made by the community, whose knowledge it is.
The programme was rolled out to township and rural schools, with support from the Goethe Institute, in an effort to create opportunities to enhance ICT skills among the youth and generate interest in their own history and culture. The school’s project was run at four township and rural schools. Mentors worked with a group of 10 students, one school at a time. They introduced the programme, showed students how the website works, provided training on interviewing and story-writing, and provided mentorship to the students for their story writing. Working with the teacher responsible for this project, the mentor also set weekly themes for story collection (i.e. the story of my family, the area I grew up in, etc.) and helped mark the stories. Students loaded their own stories and images onto the Ulwazi website and learnt to assign appropriate categories to them.
According to the Ulwazi Programme, people of all social and age groups are employed to steer the programme at ground level while volunteer contributions to the database is encouraged. The Ulwazi Programme keeps the costs to a minimum through the use of open-source software, existing government infrastructure, and volunteers.
McNulty Consulting, Goethe Institut, eThekwini Municipality