First Wikipedia Academy in Africa

Today we held the first Wikipedia Academy in Africa. Held at the CIDA Campus, it was a great event, with inspirational talks by Jimmy Wales and Ndesanjo Macha. Ndesanjo’s talk on his path to Wikipedia through African spirituality, after being asked the question where is it written in response to his shared oral tradition, I found particularly inspiring, and I could see many of the students did too. Ndesanjo spent many lonely nights writing the first articles on the Swahili Wikipedia, effectively starting it from scratch. Now it’s a thriving community with over 6000 articles and numerous contributers.

But the emphasis was not on talking, it was on getting students to learn how to contribute, particularly in their mother tongue.

CIDA, situated in central Johannesburg, attracts students from 15 African countries, and all over South Africa. Asked what language, besides English, students would primarily like to contribute in, students listed almost every official South African language, as well as Swahili.

There were two students who wished to contribute in Northern Sotho (or Sepedi), but the language infrastructure hasn’t yet been set up, so the two couldn’t yet contribute in their own language. We’ll be making sure it’s up and running shortly!

The Zulu Wikipedia has also reached a milestone, becoming I believe the 3rd African language (after Afrikaans and Swahili) to contain over 100 articles.

The event also had its frustrations, with no internet access for the first half an hour, and with students experiencing frequent timeouts, effectively being unable to upload more than a few lines due to timeouts and the slow internet connection.

But overall, it was a great success, with students enthused and inspired about the idea of contributing Free knowledge in their own languages, and excited at seeing new articles they’d created.

These were the article statistics for the South African languages (excluding English) at the beginning of the month, and right now:

Language 1st October Now
Afrikaans 8374 8608
Zulu 107 109
Venda 43 80
Xhosa 66 80
Swati 56 66
Sotho 43 44
Tswana 40 41
Tsonga 10 16
Northern Sotho 0 0
Ndebele 0 0

There’s a great need for followup, as not everyone is yet comfortable enough that they can continue to contribute without support. There’s a risk that some of the new contributers will fall away if the event is not followed up.

But hopefully this is the start of some real progress in the local language Wikipedias, and the first of many such events.

It’s been extremely exciting to see a vision of mine for such a long time start to come to fruition, to be around people who share that vision, and to share the enthusiasm of the new contributers as they realise that they are part of the dawning of something very special for their own languages. Thank you in particular to iCommons for making it happen.

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  1. I’d like to know what this project all about and how we can provide input into development of Sesotho

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