Earth (Arts and Literature) Fire (Social)

South Africa in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index

It’s been a while since I looked at the World Press Freedom Index. South Africa was ranked 21st in the world when I first started looking back in 2003, and had slumped to 52nd back in 2013.

Looking at the rankings since, there has been a notable improvement from 2013 until 2017. While the Nordic countries are as usual on top, South Africa has been ahead of the United States each year since 2013, is currently ahead of the UK as well, and is fourth in Africa, behind Namibia, Cape Verde and Ghana.

2018 press freedom rankings2018 Press Freedom Map

Looking at 2019 index specifically, of the BRICS countries, South Africa is far ahead, with Brazil 105th, India 140th, Russia 149th and China a dismal 177th.

While the trend has been positive, the last two years have seen setbacks, in particular 2018-19. The report attributes this to harassment by state security agencies spying on some journalists, as well as intimidation campaigns by politicians. Much of this has been of ruling party politicians accused of corruption, but particularly noteworthy was the EFF’s attack on journalists, with their supporters making death threats and rape threats, fueled by their leadership.

As far as media diversity goes, there’s been some shift, with online-only media starting to make an impact. Daily Maverick, which launched in 2009, gaining prominence as an alternative media voice, and Ground Up, which launched in 2012, a small media house focusing on high-quality, ethical journalism. The once-dominant Independent News and Media is a shadow of its former self, with accusations of interference in the editorial process by its owners, and many credible journalists leaving. 2015 also saw the launch of the first Xhosa-language newspaper, I’solezwe lesiXhosa.

Below is the table since 2003. Note that a lower score is better, and also that the scoring system has changed over the years, particularly in 2012 and 2013.

Year Score Ranking
2019 22.19 (-1.80) 31 (-3)
2018 20.39 (-0.27) 28 (+3)
2017 20.12 (+1.80) 31 (+8)
2016 21.92 (+0.14) 39 (=)
2015 22.06 (+1.13) 39 (+3)
2014 23.19 (+1.37) 42 (+10)
2013 24.56 (-12.56) 52 (-10)
2012 12 (=) 42 (-4)
2010 12 (-3.5) 38 (-5)
2009 8.5 (-0.5) 33 (+3)
2008 8 (+5) 36 (+7)
2007 13 (-1.75) 43 (+1)
2006 11.25 (-4.75) 44 (-13)
2005 6.5 (-1.5) 31 (-5)
2004 5 (-1.66) 26 (-5)
2003 3.33 21 (+5)

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

March 2019 African language Wikipedia and Wiktionary update

It’s been quite a long time (four and a half years in fact) since I looked at the state of the African language Wiktionaries. For those new to Wiktionary, the idea is that it will describe all words of all languages using definitions and descriptions in the particular language edition. An ambitious task!

So, how are the projects progressing?

A portion of the Octateuch in Ethiopian

African Language Wiktionaries

Language 30/5/2010 15/5/2011 29/10/2014 22/3/2019 % +
Malagasy 4,253 3,599,084 5,482,632 52.33%
Afrikaans 14,669 14,731 15,794 20,831 31.89%
Swahili 13,000 13,027 13,903 14,029 0.91%
Wolof 2,689 2,693 2,310 2,312 0.09%
Somali 1,635
Sotho 1,389 1,398 1,343 1,343 0.00%
Lingala 673
Zulu 131 510 586 599 2.22%
Igbo (incubator) 375
Kinyarwanda 306 306 367 366
Tsonga 359 363 92 359 290.22%
Oromo 218 264 322 335 4.04%
Swati 371 377 290 292 0.69%
Amharic 319 377 206 217 5.34%
Egyptian Arabic (incubator) 195

In short, although it’s been so long since the last update, there’s not much to show. The only project to more than double its articles in four and a half years is Tsonga, off a minute base. Malagasy has always had a huge amount of bot activity, and is still growing from a large base, and Afrikaans shows some signs of life. But overall, the state of the African language Wiktionaries can be described as dormant.

Perhaps the African language Wikipedias will fare better?

African Language Wikipedias > 1000 articles

Language 26/6/2015 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 2/4/2019 % +
Malagasy 79,329 84,634 84,996 91,528 7.68%
Afrikaans 35,856 46,824 50,275 76,965 53.11%
Swahili 29,127 37,443 42,773 49,555 15.86%
Yoruba 31,068 31,577 31,672 31,867 0.62%
Egyptian Arabic 14,192 17,138 18,605 20,405 9.67%
Amharic 12,950 13,789 14,286 14,558 1.90%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,823 8,050 8,018 -0.40%
Somali 3,446 4,727 4,898 5,456 11.39%
Shona 2,321 2,851 3,630 4,278 17.85%
Hausa 1,345 1,525 1,856 3,494 88.25%
Lingala 2,062 2,915 3,023 3,113 2.98%
Kabyle 2,296 2,887 2,844 2,986 4.99%
Kinyarwanda 1,780 1,810 1,823 1,821 -0.11%
Kikuyu 1,349 1,357 1,358 0.07%
Igbo 1,019 1,384 1,320 1,392 5.45%
Kongo 1,176 1,179 1,193 1.19%
Wolof 1,023 1,157 1,166 1,184 1.54%
Luganda 1,153 1,162 1,169 0.60%
Zulu 683 942 959 1,067 11.26%
Language 26/6/2015 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 2/4/2019 % +

The Zulu Wikipedia is the latest addition to the 1000 club, having reached this milestone just before Wikimania last year, and progress has been steady since then.

At first glance, Hausa looks like it’s in great shape, with an 88% increase in the number of articles. But this is misleading, as many of these are one line articles on football players, the entirety of which translates as, for example, “Kenny Allen (footballer) is an English football player.” No disrespect to Kenny Allen, but I’m not sure he and the 100s of other footballers listed there are critical components of Hausa knowledge. There’s a move to delete these articles (you can see the impressive list here while it’s up), but even if they survive, it’s not a sign of a healthy project.

Leaving aside Hausa, it’s once again Afrikaans, growing at an impressive 53% over the period, that provides an example for the rest. At current rates, it’s on track to pass Malagasy and reclaim its position on top in about a year or so.

Besides Afrikaans, only Shona, Swahili, Somali and Zulu show a growth rate above 10%, while quite a few sit idle.

Moving on to the South African language editions specifically:

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 26/6/2015 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 2/4/2019 % +
Afrikaans 35,856 46,824 50,275 76,965 53.11%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,823 8,050 8,018 -0.40%
Zulu 683 942 959 1,067 11.26%
Xhosa 356 708 738 789 6.91%
Tswana 503 639 641 641 0.00%
Tsonga 266 526 562 585 4.09%
Sotho 223 523 539 546 1.30%
Swati 410 432 439 467 6.38%
Venda 151 256 256 265 3.52%
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12 11 -8.33%
Language 26/6/2015 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 2/4/2019 % +

Afrikaans remains the only project that could be described as a usable Wikipedia – the other languages are still very much in the formative stages. Zulu is also showing signs of life. Besides these two, only Xhosa and Swati see growth rates above 5%. It’s sad to see the stalling of Northern Sotho, while Ndebele shows no signs of getting out of the incubator anytime soon.

2019 has been proclaimed the Year of Indigenous Languages by the UN, but so far there’s not much sign of a change in the status of the African language projects. Later today sees the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources, in collaboration with the Academy of African Languages and Science from the University of South Africa, present an interactive day workshop on contributing to Wikipedia in South African languages. It’s great to see this initiative, which arose with no help that I’m aware of from Wikimedia South Africa. I’m always hopeful with events like these. Generally very few people to stay around to edit Wikipedia, but as projects like Northern Sotho and Swahili show, one person can make a huge difference in the early stages, and it justs needs a committed editor to stick around. It’s a lonely job editing in the early stages, wondering if it’s worthwhile, no community, no idea if their work is being read. Hopefully someone will take on the challenge!

If you are looking to contribute, but don’t know where to start, please reach out to Wikimedia South Africa and we’d be happy to assist.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Earth (Arts and Literature)

Six days of the Merry Wives of Windsor

Falstaff and the Wives
The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of Shakespeare’s less well-known, and less well-regarded, plays. Some believe this to be because Queen Elizabeth instructed Shakespeare to write a play featuring Falstaff (the lecherous main character, who also appears in the two King Henry IVs) and complete it in fourteen days, in which case it’s a remarkable achievement.

Thanks to my son’s class putting it on as the school’s annual Class 9 Shakespeare, and me taking the opportunity to see more of him than usual, I went to see it 6 days in a row, as well as read the play for the first time.

In spite of at least one online review stating that the play is highly unsuitable for a family audience due to its adult themes, it’s a great play for teenagers, starring the hopeful Falstaff as he attempts to woo two married women, and the desirable Ann Page being wooed by multiple, mostly unsuitable, suitors.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve never seen a Shakespeare, or any other play, 6 days in a row, and I really enjoyed the intense experience of seeing it daily. Each time I picked up more subtleties, plot features I’d missed, and more puns that had previously gone over my head. And I got to see the students grow in confidence and develop into their roles.

There were two casts, so each student got to play a reasonably major role, and it was fascinating to see the different dynamics on stage, and the different touches both casts brought. The students were clearly told to express themselves, and many had fun improvising in the last performances in particular.

The purpose is not to put on the best play possible, but as part of the curriculum for the children, who’re around 15 years of age. They learn to express themselves in new ways as they take on their own unique roles, all as part of something much larger.

I read the play over the last two days, and seeing it in text helped me understand even more, as well gain a greater appreciation for the edits that the director made to the script and how it was directed on stage. Parts that would read quite drily on the page came alive on stage.

The director did an excellent job. Most of the audience are parents, relatives, friends and the greater school community, unfamiliar with Shakespearean English. So the play lives to a greater degree on the children’s physical performances, rather than their verbal expression.

Take Sir Hugh, a Welsh parson in the original, and Doctor Caius, a French physician. Much of their time on stage involves having fun poked at their accents. With the school version being set in the 70’s, and with most unlikely to distinguish a Welsh accent these days, Sir Hugh became an Afrikaans priest, and many of the lines were rewritten.

From the original:

Pless my soul, how full of chollors I am, and
trempling of mind! I shall be glad if he have
deceived me. How melancholies I am! I will knog
his urinals about his knave’s costard when I have
good opportunities for the ork. ‘Pless my soul!

To shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sings madrigals;
There will we make our peds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies.
To shallow–
Mercy on me! I have a great dispositions to cry.

The first part works quite well with an Afrikaans accent, but the song…

Here’s a version of the song I could find:

Probably pushing it!

In the school’s version, the song is changed to “By the Rivers of Babylon”, with some comic relief added by Simple, a servant.

While Welsh cuisine would have gone over most people’s heads, jokes about biltong and koeksisters hit the spot.

Or take this piece, which pokes fun at Caius’s French accent:

Sir Hugh
If there is one, I shall make two in the company.

Doctor Caius
If dere be one or two, I shall make-a the turd.

The joke is easy to spot written, but could easily be missed when spoken out loud. A small minority in each audience got the joke immediately, but thanks to a pause and a helping hand from the band, everyone had time to realize what had been said.

Some lines I just couldn’t understand, even after the multiple viewings and reading the play.

There’s a part where the boy William is being tested by Sir Hugh.

William, how many numbers is in nouns?


Truly, I thought there had been one number more,
because they say, ‘Od’s nouns.’

I had no idea what Od’s nouns was referring to, but it turns out that in Shakespeare’s time, nouns and wounds would have rhymed (it seems English once made more sense) and Mistress Quickly has misheard the colloquial form of the oath, “God’s Wounds”, or “Od’s ouns”.

She then mishears “pulcher” as “polecat” (a slang term for a sex worker), “vocative” (as in vocative case) as “fuckative”, “horum” as “whore”, and “genitive case” as “Jenny’s case”. “Case” euphemistically means vagina, so “Jenny’s vagina”. She’s outraged at what Sir Hugh is teaching the child!

Naturally none of this was understood or garnered many laughs, and I’m not sure how it would have been possible to convey without major rewriting.

Although those ones would have been missed, the play is full of suggestive jokes, often physically highlighted by the children, and part of the humour for me was in seeing the reaction of some of the more shocked members of the audience, as well as how the cast gained in confidence, embarrassed and very aware of the audience in the first performances, to confidently playing up the jokes in their later performances.

I found myself enjoying the play more with each viewing.

In writing this post I almost got side-tracked and watched a 2011 version by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I did however come across The Cockerel Song. I suppose the line had to be drawn somewhere, and this wasn’t performed by the children, but some of them may have had fun with this version!

While some of the cast, and probably most of the staff, may have been relieved when the run finally came to an end, I found myself mildly depressed the next night, and wishing for more. I’ve never come close to wanting to go back to my own schooldays. But wanting to go to Dorje’s school? I think Dorje and I would be happy to trade…

Since it did take up about 24 hours of my week, it’s probably a good thing it came to end when it did.

Well done to everyone involved for what I thought, in my totally objective opinion, was a magnificent showing.

And if you do happen to be in London, this version looks hilarious too:

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Earth (Arts and Literature)

Cape Town Wikimania, and some Wikidata observations

The 2018 Wikimania was held in Cape Town from July 18 to July 22.

Wikimania is the annual conference of the Wikimedia Foundation, the foundation supporting Wikipedia and other hosted projects, such as Wikimedia Commons, WikiVoyage, Wikidata and Wiktionary.

I’ve never been to a Wikimania before – the closest I came was almost going to Taipei in 2007, and leading the Cape Town bid in 2008, which I’m very grateful ended up second to Alexandria.

Wikimania session

It was the best conference I’ve attended, and according to a few anecdotes, the best Wikimania for some of the regular participants as well. It was hosted in the Cape Sun in the central city. The entire hotel was booked, with a second nearby hotel for some of the overflow, so most of the attendees were right there, and had easy access to various tourist activities. For some participants, it was their first visit to Cape Town, South Africa, or even Africa, and judging from the stream of photos on videos on some of the channels, people were enjoyed the experience of visiting a new place.

The wifi was excellent, surpassing many other, even commercial, conferences I’ve attended before. Food was great, and the masterstroke of serving lunch from 10am to 4pm meant lunch fitted into everyone’s schedule. And yes, if you arrived at 4pm, there was still ample food.

Another huge benefit was that, to my knowledge, everyone that wanted a visa got one. The last few Wikimanias have seen delegates, even on full scholarships, not able to attend after experiencing visa hassles. Last years Wikimania in Canada was particularly disastrous in this regard. The local organisers put effort into ensuring visa applications proceeeded smoothly, and of course South Africa, being a poorer country, is far more welcoming of visitors than most previous hosts.

There was some talk of making visa accessibility a priority criteria for upcoming Wikimanias, so we could see a number of new locations on the schedule in future. While attending in a location such as the USA is great for attracting lots of people already involved, the Wikimedia projects need to grow beyond their traditional strongholds. About a quarter (by my visual reckoning) of attendees were at their first Wikimania, so Wikimania Cape Town certainly helped reach a whole new audience.

I didn’t want the conference to end. I was torn between attending multiple great sessions, meeting lots of new people, and the role I took on for the event, tweeting up a storm for the Wikimedia South Africa Twitter account, which felt like a fulltime job at times, with tweets pouring in from multiple sessions at once. Wikimedia South Africa also signed up lots of new members.

I was happy I got time to make progress on helping integrate Wikidata into the Siswati and Xitsonga Wikipedias in particular (and if I can find people to work with for the other South African languages, will help there as well).

Wikipedia has always been unstructured data, and Wikidata corrects that by structuring the data, making it much easier to use across projects. Before using Wikidata, updates had to be done on each individual Wikipedia language edition.

For example, in mid-July, the latest South African population estimate was released. At the time of writing, Wikidata and the English Wikipedia have the updated figure, 57,725,600. The German Wikipedia has the figure from 2017, 56,521,900. The French Wikipedia states the figure from 2016, 55,653,654. The Sotho and Afrikaans Wikipedias give 54,956,900, the 2015 estimate. Xhosa and Northern Sotho go back to 2013, giving 52,981,991. Zulu goes even further back, to 2011, with the census figure of 50,586,757.

Swati, thanks to Wikidata, gives the 2018 figure. It’s a huge boost for everyone, with content needing only to be updated in only one location, and filtering through to all language editions.

However, there are downsides.

Installing the templates require admin permissions. I am not an administrator on any Wikipedias, and some of the smaller South African language Wikipedias don’t have any admins at all, so installing them needs a helpful person with rights. Luckily it’s a once-off task, and Wikimania was a great place to find help – thanks to User:Theklan, from the Basque Wikipedia, for his assistance.

But there are other downsides. Firstly, of course the templates themselves will need to be translated (you may have seen some of the terms in the Tsonga and Swati Wikipedia templates are still in English). This is inevitable, whatever method is used, and is also a once-off task, but what makes it tricky is that its’s unlikely an inexperienced user will know where to translate them. Translations can be done on either Wikidata, on the template, or on both, and without personally showing someone how and where to do this, it’s unlikely an editor will discover this by themselves

Once the templates are translated, the results may need to be translated as well.

Editing Wikipedia is supposed to be as simple as clicking the Edit button. It was in the early days, but now with nested templates within templates, or with templates pulling in data from an entirely different project, it’s not nearly so simple anymore. The English Wikipedia has built up a great deal of complexity, all with good reason (to remove needless repetition), but it can be difficult to make a change, even for experienced editors. Introducing Wikidata introduces similar complexity to smaller Wikipedias, where there can be little expertise to overcome obstacles.

There is no simple link to click, so a user has to navigate to Wikidata, find the correct term themselves, and then navigate the slightly more difficult Wikidata interface, in order to edit a value. I don’t see this happening easily.

The next downside is customisation, which is very limited. The format of the numbers, which fields are shown, which order, are all not possible or easy to customise. There’s no easy way to hide fields that are still in English, or fields that the language community decides are not necessary in their edition.

Making things even more tricky are that there are different implementations of Wikidata templates. I attended a workshop demonstrating something I really needed, but the demonstrated solution was not available in the implementation I’m using.

Still, overall using Wikidata is extremely positive for the Wikimedia projects, and hopefully with some attention to simplicity in actually making edits, they can live up to their potential.

Thanks to everyone involved for making Wikimania Cape Town a great success, and leaving us inspired as we build a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Earth (Arts and Literature)

Zulu Wikipedia reaches 1000 articles

Just in time for Wikimania, the Zulu Wikipedia has reached the 1000 article milestone. Congratulations to user Njabulo19 who created the 1000th article. Njabulo19 started editing actively in 2017 and has continued into 2018, and has paid particular attention to article categories.

isiZulu 1000

Well done Zulu Wikipedia community for having reached 4 figures – wishing you speedy progress to 5 figures!

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

Better than the Beatles

I’m not sure I’m going to sleep tonight.

I’ve discovered a classic album, one of those new discoveries that sears itself into your consciousness, leaving you forever changed. Kurt Cobain listed this as his fifth favorite album of all time. Frank Zappa apparently called them better than the Beatles. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of them before.

I introduce The Shaggs, with their influential 1969 album, Philosophy of the World.

The Shaggs

Musician Cub Koda writes: “There’s an innocence to these songs and their performances that’s both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them … being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one.”

Not all reviews were as appreciative. “Like a lobotomized Trapp Family Singers, the Shaggs warble earnest greeting-card lyrics (…) in happy, hapless quasi-unison along ostensible lines of melody while strumming their tinny guitars like someone worrying a zipper. The drummer pounds gamely to the call of a different muse, as if she had to guess which song they were playing – and missed every time.” went a 1980 Rolling Stone review.

A later Rolling Stone review takes it further: “It may stand as the worst album ever recorded.” and the New Yorker called the album “hauntingly bad”.

If you think that’s hyperbole, track 4, My Pal Foot Foot, takes the album to a new level.

The visionary band was formed and promoted thanks to a palm reading given to Austin Wiggins that claimed his daughters would form a popular band. He withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments, and arranged lessons for them.


Image from Wikipedia

Earth (Arts and Literature)

June 2018 African language Wikipedia update, 50 000 articles for Afrikaans

African language map

There are only 19 days to go until Wikimania in Cape Town, so it’s a good time to look at the state of the African language Wikipedias again, as always based on the imperfect metric of number of articles.

The following tables show the number of articles for each language on a particular date, as well as the percentage growth between the most recent two dates.

African Language Wikipedias

Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +
Malagasy 79,329 82,799 84,634 84,996 0.43%
Afrikaans 35,856 42,732 46,824 50,275 7.37%
Swahili 29,127 34,613 37,443 42,773 14.23%
Yoruba 31,068 31,483 31,577 31,672 0.30%
Egyptian Arabic 14,192 15,959 17,138 18,605 8.56%
Amharic 12,950 13,279 13,789 14,286 3.60%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,605 7,823 8,050 2.90%
Somali 3,446 4,322 4,727 4,898 3.62%
Shona 2,321 2,638 2,851 3,630 27.32%
Lingala 2,062 2,777 2,915 3,023 3.70%
Kabyle 2,296 2,847 2,887 2,844 -1.49%
Hausa 1,345 1,400 1,525 1,856 21.70%
Kinyarwanda 1,780 1,799 1,810 1,823 0.72%
Kikuyu 1,349 1,357 0.59%
Igbo 1,019 1,284 1,384 1,320 -4.62%
Kongo 1,173 1,176 1,179 0.26%
Wolof 1,023 1,058 1,157 1,166 0.78%
Luganda 1,082 1,153 1,162 0.78%
Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +

The Malagasy Wikipedia still leads by number of articles, but most of the articles were bot-created. 95% of all edits on that Wikipedia were made by bots, the fourth highest of any Wikipedia, indicating that there’s not much of an actual human community.

Shona, Hausa and Swahili saw good growth, with Swahili particularly impressive coming off a high base. Congratulations too to Afrikaans for reaching the 50,000 article milestone, a target they had set themselves to achieve before Wikimania.

Egyptian Arabic, Lingala, Amharic, Somali and Northern Sotho all saw moderate growth.

Otherwise, the other African languages are mostly static, with Yoruba having barely moved since 2013 (and 79% of all edits made by bots).

Igbo and Kabyle have actually shrunk, which is possible due to the cleaning up and removing non-notable articles.

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +
Afrikaans 35,856 42,732 46,824 50,275 7.37%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,605 7,823 8,050 2.90%
Zulu 683 777 942 959 1.80%
Xhosa 356 576 708 738 4.24%
Tswana 503 615 639 641 0.31%
Tsonga 266 390 526 562 6.84%
Sotho 223 341 523 539 3.05%
Swati 410 419 432 439 1.62%
Venda 151 238 256 256 0.00%
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12 12 0.00%
Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +

Onto the South African languages. In spite of being far ahead in terms of number of articles, Afrikaans is also growing at by far the fastest rate, even off this high base. It wouldn’t take much to get, say Ndebele to grow quickly – just the addition of one new article would see its percentage growth outstrip Afrikaans, but sadly it’s been static since its early days in the Incubator (the Incubator being a staging area until a project can show it has enough to survive as a stable project).

Tsonga has been growing steadily. User:Thuvack, who was previously president of Wikimedia South Africa, but now works for the Wikimedia Foundation, has personally created 293 of them, the most recent being in April.

Xhosa, Sotho and Northern Sotho have seen moderate growth, while there’s some life in Zulu and Swati. Tswana, Venda and Ndebele have all been static recently.

User:Aliwal2012 continues to be a standout contributor in a number of South African languages, in particular Afrikaans, Northern Sotho and Sotho, and has edits in most of the South African languages.

With so many African languages still in the startup stages, one to two regular editors can make a huge difference. All it takes is clicking “Edit” and getting started.

With Wikimania coming to sub-Saharan Africa for the first time, it’s a great opportunity to meet and interact with others in the project. The preconference to Wikimania starts in Cape Town on July 18, and the main event starts on July 20. There’s still time to register!

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

Cape Town wiki meetup with Wikimedia Foundation’s Asaf Bartov

Cape Town was very lucky to host Wikimedia Foundation’s Senior Program Officer Asaf Bartov at the end of his Africa tour. We held a meetup, and it proved particularly inspiring to those attending.

Asaf spoke about Wikidata, discussed projects using the data, and demonstrated a number of tools that were new to most of us, such as, which uses the SPARQL query language to query Wikidata content.

Cape Town Wiki Meetup May 2018

Wikidata adds structure to the content which makes pulling out all kinds of related information possible. Wikipedia data is fairly unstructured. Numerous categories exist, so if you’re looking for, say, a list of South African politicians, there’s both a list page and a category page. However, if you want something more detailed, such as a list of South African politicians that have a father that was a politician, without lots of manual slogging, Wikipedia alone won’t be much help. That’s where comes in, and once familiar with SPARQL, such questions are easy to answer.

Even more exciting to me was Quarry. Years ago I remember toying with the idea of downloading a Wikipedia database dump, but at the time the massive download would probably have ground South Africa’s internet to a halt. Quarry is an interface for running SQL queries directly on the Wikimedia Foundation’s backend MariaDB databases. The bar to getting something useful is a little higher than on, as to use it effectively requires getting to know the data structure, but since access is direct, it’s a tremendously powerful tool to extract almost anything you want.

The easiest way to get started is to take someone else’s query and modify it. For example, here is a query listing pages from the Afrikaans Wikipedia that don’t have an Afrikaans label on Wikidata, which I forked from Asaf’s demo run during the meetup:

I can already see myself diving in and automating and expanding the (semi) regular African language updates I do, or getting automatic notifications of activity in some of the small South African language Wikipedias.

And if those listed above are not enough, Asaf has a tool section on his user page listing yet more wonderful tools you’ve probably never heard of.

Thanks Asaf for taking the initiative to pay a visit to some of the African Wikimedia communities, and leaving a trail of inspiration in your wake.

Earth (Arts and Literature)

Black Panther

Tonight was the opening night of Black Panther. It’s been getting heavy publicity for being the first of eighteen Marvel superhero films to feature a black lead, and features a predominantly black cast.

For some this is just tokenism, an attempt to find a new angle to sell yet more movie tickets. So was there more to it than this? Mild spoilers ahead.

All I can say is, you should have been there.

It started with a mostly black audience (unusual in the southern suburbs of Cape Town), many dressed up for the event.

From the first appearance of Black Panther, in a trailer, the crowd was shouting and cheering. As the first isiXhosa words were heard, the crowd again broke into prolonged cheering and applause.

The script was great and hit all the right notes. The audience howled at “Great, another broken white boy for us to fix.”, and perhaps the line with the wildest audience reaction was, “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” From then on, every time that character spoke out of turn, the crowd shouted him down with cries of “Colonizer!”, and the movie was an interactive experience with the crowd shouting out encouragement and quips all the way through.

Later, when the “colonizer” was forced to stop talking by the guard’s gorilla grunting, the crowd was again shouting in encouragement, with years of racist monkey chanting being reversed to shut up the white guy.

I am certain the EFF will be co-opting some of the themes next time they want to make a symblolic statement in parliament. Who needs miner’s hats and red overalls when you have gorilla chants?

As the movie ended, the crowd broke into applause, with some getting up and dancing. The cinema stayed full for well after the credits started, and the cleaning staff had their hands full getting things ready in time for the next show.

The audience left, breaking into song, dance and gorilla chanting, and many of the the crowd waiting for the next show had cellphones filming the audience reaction.

It’s a euphoric time in Southern Africa, with Mugabe and Zuma both being booted out recently. Both tried to talk the talk, but steered their countries in exactly the opposite direction of the utopian Wakanda featured in the movie. Black Panther came at the perfect time in this part of the world. Someone commented that you could almost feel centuries of oppression being lifted.

Quite a feat for just another superhero movie.

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Patreon meltdown

Patreon just made one of those decisions that look good when explained to investors in the boardroom, but are utterly suicidal when rolled out.

Patreon image

They changed their fee structure, so that instead of the finance fees being charged to creators, they are now charged to patrons. The motivation is sound. Previously, the actual amount paid to a creator was not clear. The patron is charged whatever they pledged. Patreon takes 5%. And then whatever finance charges there were would be passed on to the creators. Patreon saved fees by only charging the patron once, for all of their pledges. So a single $1 pledge would see a chunk taken taken off, but if the patron makes, say, 10 $1 pledges, the fees would be relatively lower.

All of this means that creators were never sure what their income would be. Patrons would change other pledges, and this would affect the amount the creators made. All in all, a bit messy.

After the change, finance charges will be added to the patron’s account. So a single pledge of $1 will now have finance fees added on top of it. What really makes the whole idea a disaster is that the full finance charges are added on to EACH $1 pledge. For those making multiple small pledges, it’s a noticeable increase.

I am still following all the threads, but it appears Patreon are doing this, not to gouge extra money for themselves (by keeping the savings on the finance fees when they batch them), but so that creators no longer get ripped off, with patrons pledging money, getting access to various tiers of rewards that many creators offer, and then cancelling their pledge before it goes off.

I can see the motivation. But the result is that far more of my donations would go towards finance charges. I’m happy to support artists. I’m happy to support Patreon as a platform. But if there’s anyone I would not like to be offering needless money to, it’s multinational financial institutions.

The results have obviously come as a surprise to Patreon – huge numbers of pledges being cancelled, especially those, like myself, that make multiple small pledges, and now see more of this being gouged by a middleman.

Many artists are alarmed, reporting on disappearing patrons, anxious as they see incomes they’ve worked hard to build now under threat, disappointed that Patreon would do something like this.

In March 2015, I started a series 30 Artists in 30 Days, experimenting with Patreon. It was fairly new to me then, and I loved the concept, the ability to support artists almost directly, with the actual artist receiving most of the donations.

It’s sad to see Patreon going the other way, and to see artists losing out.

I had consolidated some of the list since March 2015, but after this recent announcement will cancel most, if not all, of my pledges. I like to see my donations being well-used.

But I’d still like to support many of the artists.

I’m probably not the average patron. I support multiple creators for small amounts simply to support them in their art. Many artists have complicated tiers offering all sorts of rewards. I understand why they do that, and I’m sure most people like to feel they are getting something extra for their support. I am just happy to contribute something to reward artists that I appreciate. I listen to their music on SoundCloud, watch videos on Youtube, all for free. In this way I can give a little bit back. I don’t particularly care that I get to listen to their new release a few days earlier, or have an opportunity to appear on their album.

So what are the alternatives? There are many Patreon-like platforms, but one that appeals is Liberapay. They’re a non-profit organization, and the code is entirely open source. They don’t take a cut of the pledges.

That’s right. Nothing. 0%.

So that leaves just the payment processing fees. These look a little higher than Patreon’s, at least for credit cards, but overall the cut is still far lower, and payments are batched like Patreon’s used to be. There’s also the advantage for artists of free withdrawals to a bank account in the Single Euro Payments Area. So overall, a far higher percentage of the donation goes to the artist.

With no commission, how does Liberapay sustain itself? Liberapay relies on donations, and one can support the Liberapay project through the Liberapay platform. I still have concerns about sustainability, as Liberapay currently earns very little, but hopefully it can build itself up to be sustainable.

Liberapay logo

Liberapay is not Patreon. It’s missing many features, has an interface that could be greatly improved, and is also set up as a donations platform, rather than one to provide rewards and tiers. So it may not appeal to all artists. But it’s open-source, meaning that you anyone can contribute to the development of the project.

It’s a distressing time for many artists as they lose substantial numbers of small-scale supporters.

But as I said, I’d still like to support some of the artists. So here’s my commitment. To any artists that I used to support on Patreon, if you come across to Liberapay, I’ll match my old pledge to you there.

Hope to see you on Liberapay!

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