Posted to the Ethnos Project by on March 24th, 2012


The Ulwazi Programme is several things: a collection of technologies, social initiatives and research endeavors. On one hand, it is an online community-sourced website database and informative blog. On the other hand, Ulwazi involves programmatic aspects such as the School’s Project, a certificate project for secondary school students. A wonderful by-product of the Ulwazi Programme is the sharing of research by members of their team. You can find papers and presentations online about the Ulwazi Programme by folks such as Betsie Greyling, Udo Richard Averweg, Sipho Zulu, and Niall McNulty. Below, I have cobbled together a few bits that will serve to introduce the programme more fully.

An introduction to the Ulwazi Programme

From the Ulwazi Programme website: The Ulwazi programme strives to preserve and disseminate indigenous knowledge of local communities in the greater Durban area. It creates a collaborative online database of local indigenous knowledge as part of the Public Library’s digital resources, relying on community participation for delivering content and posting the content on the Web. Existing library infrastructure in the eThekwini Municipal area, comprising 89 public libraries of which most have Internet access, is used to carry 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. People of all social and age groups are employed to steer the programme at ground level while volunteer contributions to the database is encouraged.

Web 2.0 technology enables 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 Durban’s own branding. This provides the potential for collaboration from the whole community. The library acts as moderator and custodian of the online indigenous knowledge resource. The virtual resource that is created will be in step with the global information society and will provide universal access to local indigenous knowledge. At the same time the programme will empower citizens through digital skills development, through preservation of their indigenous knowledge and through fostering of a knowledge sharing culture. Ultimately a sustainable people-centered, Afro-centric library service will be established using modern ICT technologies. A pilot project with a two-year development period will target mainly the rural areas within the eThekwini Municipal boundaries, without excluding any social or cultural groups.

It is the vision of the programme not only to preserve and disseminate local indigenous 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 indigenous knowledge. The sharing of knowledge will strengthen social coherence within communities and enhance tolerance between cultures. A local informed society will become part of the global information highway.

There is a nice introduction article (page 24) about the Ulwazi Programme in a 2010 publication by the eThekwini Municipality’s Municipal Institute of Learning: “Innovations in Local Sustainability Good Practice from eThekwini“.

Last month, Niall McNulty gave a presentation at PechaKucha Durban where he showed these slides about the Ulwazi Programme. Niall is an Ulwazi team member – and one half of McN2, a digital heritage consultancy that does some very interesting work.

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