WikiIndaba 2017, A Meeting of African Wikimedians in Accra, Ghana

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Hotel Urbano, Accra, Ghana.

The African continent has about 1.1 billion people with all of its 14 major cities having access to internet. This means there are more Africans who read or have had interaction with Wikipedia than those who are contributing to the website.

This then raises the questions, why are Africans themselves not contributing to Wikipedia?  Who is contributing there? And what challenges are Wikipedia volunteers facing in the African continent? What are the successes and what can be learned from other African Wikimedians? And what needs to be done going forward?

All these were questions raised at the WikiIndaba 2017 conference in Accra, Ghana. A biannual regional conference of African Wikimedians that took place between 20 and 22 January 2017 where about 50 Wikimedians were in attendance.

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First day of plenary session, WikiIndaba 2017.

Several key plenary sessions explored the ideas of why Africa’s growth depends on cross collaborations of open movements, how to choose the right partnership and how to communicate with partners? Ingo Koll, began discussing with a hard-hitting presentation on the situation of African languages. He argued that African languages are as important as the dominant European languages, particularly with regards to Wikipedia. He pointed out that the reason why some African countries aren’t able to develop their own languages is because of too much linguistics diversity. However, Wikipedia and other open media can preserve these languages and give them a chance to survive. Later he shared statistics of how many African Wikipedia languages were there since 2014 and how many are there currently. This presentation renewed my interest in editing and improving my small language Wikipedia which also is my mother tongue, SiSwati Wikipedia.

Community experience and the need for partnerships emerged as the key theme on the 2nd day of the conference. The conference was divided into two group discussions where my group tackled the question of how to run a successful partnership? It emerged that Wikipedia is a well-known brand and with the right kind of communication skills it’s not difficult to sell it to potential partners. Once you are able to form a partnership, that will also allow you to gain access to the wider community of the partner. Some of the challenges that were shared by the group entailed not being able to convince active community Wikimedians to take part in volunteering efforts as a result you find that there are very small number of volunteers in usergroups. There were however solutions that were identified to solving some of the challenges, these included identifying your strengths as a chapter or user-groups, this means that you don’t need to be many in number but those who are good with administration can focus on tasks such as filling, bookkeeping, planning and drafting of grant application and reporting, while those with communication skills can deal with anything that has to do with the media, organising of events and public relations.

Having realised the dearth in Wikipedia volunteers and African content, the South African Wikimedia chapter conceived and held the inaugural WikiIndaba in 2014 as a pilot with support from the Wikimedia Foundation. The aim of that regional conference was to establish where to begin with supporting African Wikimedians and what were the pressing issues that needed urgent attention. Different challenges and successes were shared amongst volunteers and a decision was taken to have a team that will monitor progress of African usergroups and provide help where needed. It was also decided that there needed to be more open communication between African Wikimedians and WikiIndaba needs to be a continuous conference. The African Wikimedia mailing list was set up and the next host city was awarded to Accra, Ghana.

In 2014 I was a Wikipedian In Residence (WiR) with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF). Hence I had an interest on the break out session about GLAM and WiR. I was not doing a presentation on this session but I shared my experiences on the work I did at the JHF and some of the participants got to ask detailed questions around how did we got to partner with JHF? What were my daily tasks? Was I paid? How did JHF benefit from that partnership? And what was in for Wikimedia ZA? Firstly,  I shared how we identified JHF which are an archive institution with an interest in heritage sites and buildings, this was important to us since we were running Joburgpedia, a wikitown project which aims to increase Joburg’s content. JHF has hard copies of original pictures and archival material at their disposal. My daily task entailed digitizing the pictures and old documents, create Wikipedia articles for sites tagged as heritage, generate Wikipedia qr codes for the blue plaques which were to be installed at those heritage sites so that when someone scan the code it directs them to the Wikipedia page. I explained that I was based in JHF for 2 or 3 days a week from 9am to 12 noon depending on whether I’m off from my real job that week. I was a volunteer which meant that I was not paid but received compensation  for transportation, data and other expenses I might have incurred that week I was at JHF. Sometimes it required me to go to the actual proposed heritage site etc. Digitization helps preserve the originals and makes them easy to access while generating interest. 

One of the highlights of the conference for me was Peter Gallert’s presentation, where he argued that oral citations don’t need to be recorded as it’s accepted practice on the English Wikipedia. He reminded the conference about the very existence of Wikipedia by quoting Jimmy Wales, the cofounder of Wikipedia when he is quoted as saying ” Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” His emphasis was in “the sum of all human knowledge”. Gallert pointed out that there’s more to oral citations than what is captured on visual or audio recordings, also, the recordings are usually something used by someone who doesn’t have authority over the local language or culture of the local people and might misrepresent or misinterpret what he’s being told. Framing questions the correct way is important as well. I was in particular fascinated by the examples he gave of his experience in Namibia about interviewing a village elder, “instead of asking which year was electricity brought in the village, one must ask under which chief did electricity come to the village? And it would be easy for the tribesman to respond since he might not be counting the way you are counting.”  The focus of the presentation was to show the stark difference between Western way of citation and the African way of citation and how each can learn from the other. Also, it was to show that Wikipedia needs to accommodate all kinds of knowledge sources. Compounded by a culture of speedy deletions when Wikipedia users don’t agree with your views, the conference realised that this was a difficult feat to accomplish.

On the third day I attended Asaf’s presentation on conflict engagement. This presentation was about giving Wikimedians the necessary tools to deal with or handle conflict better. Asaf, Head of Global South & Relationships at the Wikimedia Foundation, argued that as humans we cannot avoid conflicts, it’s part of human behaviour. He made an example of an elephant and a mahout, the elephant being your emotions and the mahout being yourself. ” As Wikipedians we must strive to control our emotions, that’s what the mahout does to the elephant.” One thing I’ve learned from this talk was that Wikimedians are people too and sometimes they loose their cool but when you are confronted by someone who deletes an article you’ve just created or revert your edit, try to deal with the person on the merits of his action rather than personal attacks, bring as much facts as you can to the table and if it happens that you win your case, don’t crush that person’s ego by bragging about your win. An important aspect that came out of this presentation is that conflict can be prevented by clear and open communication where one frames what they want to say by clearly letting people know the subject topic of what they want to address, they then have to advocate their claim by supporting their statement, then they would have to illustrate how their idea will work, lastly they would have to enquire others opinions to what they think of the idea. “If you don’t reach consensus you can always solve a dispute by a vote, that’s the culture at Wikimedia “… I realised as Asaf was presenting that this is not an easy thing to do but it’s something that can be learned over time.

An advantage of having Wikimedia Foundation staff attending the conferences is that you can interact and ask them questions and get detailed answers. This is what was happened at this conference. Participants got to ask Kacie Harold, Grants Program Officer at the Wikimedia Foundation, questions around Wikimania Scholarship Applications, how to go about applying for them? and what’s the criterion for awarding scholarships? Previous grantees of the Wikimania scholarships shared their experiences and what one needs to do in order to be awarded one. Peter Gallert gave an answer which I thought summarized the whole process beautifully.  He said when you do the application don’t fight to finish it in 10 minutes,  Hence it’s important to do the application early and save your answers to fill them later. When you write your answers to the questions, think more like you are writing a CV. Members of the conference were encouraged to speak to those who have been granted scholarships before in order to check if their applications were correctly answered before they submit them for vetting.

Another break-away session I decided to attend was Wikidata, presented by Asaf. Before he got to the nitty gritty of how Wiki data actually works and how one can contribute to it, Asaf explained the importance of data and how it helps Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects by using codes which makes it easy to distinguish text therefore limiting ambiguity on searches. He continued to explain how Wikidata can determine same names that might mean different things e.g Ushaka on the Zulu Wikipedia can mean a Zulu king and the founder of the Zulu nation and Ushaka can also mean a Shark which is a fish. He then went on to explain about the different ways to contribute on this Wiki where you can play different games that were designed to encourage contribution. Questions were raised and experiences were shared by other members but what I took from this presentation was perhaps we can introduce Wikidata games to our editathons especially when we are doing schools outreach. I think the games are something that can encourage learners to contribute to Wikidata. 

The latter part of the conference was open to questions from the floor. It gave an overall view of what participants were thinking about the conference and what they think needed to be done going forward. A point of concern was that there’s not much representation from all the regions of African continent. It was determined that more activation work needs to be done by participants in their respective countries to activate more volunteers for better representation. Katherine Maher, Wikimedia Executive Director gave closing remarks thanking all who participated and the organising team with a congratulatory note to Tunisia as the next host country for Indaba 2018.

 

If The Teacher Only Knew!

During my school days, the teachers used to beat us like crazy. Many kids dropped out of school because of corporal punishment. They called this truancy. It was a system inherited from the apartheid era. Teachers ruled by fear.

I used to have panic attacks every Sunday evening on the thought of Mr Mabuza alone, the Maths teacher because Maths was not my strength.

I in particular remember this other day when we were doing oral reading. This is where you were required to stand in front of the class and read a story assigned to you by the teacher.

A number of children didn’t know how to read. These were particularly the older kids of the class! Who were known to have repeated every grade. The teacher would then ask, what’s wrong with you? Are you brain damaged? Are you retarded? and the class would laugh at them, HARD.

Those were hostile and dark days, If you would have asked the teachers if they knew about ADHD, ADD, Autism or Dyslexia they would in fact beat you for thinking that you are smarter than them.

Thinking about all of this now I feel very sorry for those poor kids. They are adults now, I’ve seen one of them some couple of weeks back when I went to Nelspruit my home town. He used to sit with me in class and I would deliberately let him copy my work. We never spoke about me letting him copy my work, it was something we both knew I had to do because we both knew his struggle with learning!

This guy is now running one of the biggest shops and butcheries in the township, he also has a tent business, where he hires out tents. He is indeed a very successful business person. A thousand folds better than the teacher who used to make fun of him.

And I’m thinking but this guy couldn’t read in class in fact I’m pretty sure to this day he still can’t read because he dropped out of school because of his struggle to read!

This write up is to say I’m sorry for laughing when the teachers made fun of our friends. THE TEACHERS DIDN’T KNOW THAT THEY DIDN’T KNOW!

“It’s all in your head.”

Seeing the picture of Rashied Staggie, the (former) leader of the notorious gang “The Hard Livings” from the Cape, reminds me of one of the ferocious killer and criminal we’ve ever had in Pienaar, the township I grew up in.

His name was Skara,

You see, as a kid I was tall and my name????… Let’s just say I was bullied a lot because of my height and name as a kid and so, I tended to be a loner.

Skara on the other hand was one of the most feared criminals in my township, he spent half his life in prison. He was particularly known for his violent temper. You really didn’t want to cross paths with him!

Skara was my neighbour, and the day he was stoned to death by the whole community I was there! Before he died he asked for water from me. And everyone was astonished to hear him mention my name and asked for water because Skara didn’t have any friends and didn’t talk to anyone!

This though was not an accident or came as a surprise to me because I only and only I, was privy to a side of Skara not everyone knew. His softer side.

Skara grew up a tall child like me, and the name “Skara” was a nickname from jail, so he identified with me but didn’t say anything. And me being me as a kid didn’t figure out why the notorious thug liked me so much!

He sure was thinking that I was gonna turn out like him. Full of extreme anger and hate!

Skara didn’t figure out one thing though. That it’s not about how you look or your name, even where you come from or your sexual orientation or what people think of you. It’s about your mindset! It’s all in your brain!

I realised this from an early age!

Words.

There’s a connection between the body and the spirit.

I don’t feel OK in the spirit right now, and I can feel it in my body. Which reminds me, Marcus Garvey died from reading about his own death!

Which goes to say that words alone have the power to heal and words alone have the power to kill.

Right now, you are reading this blog because you are captivated by the words I’ve written. Your very existence happened because someone exchanged words with someone and they fell in love with them and you were born.

The very nations we live in exists because particular words were said, they were written down and we live by their code. You were able to vote for the head of state because he said words that impressed you, that convinced you, that gave you hope.

Apparently God is the word and he also spoke words to create the universe and all the animals on it.

Whenever they are facing adversity a couch will be there to give words of exhortation to his team.

Words.

Is there a true democracy?

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What is democracy?

Democracy (in simple terms) means majority rule.

If the majority is homophobic, a true democracy is bound to legislate hatred towards gays and lesbians. If the majority is atheist and also happens to hate religion, a true democracy would vote to outlaw religion. If the majority is racist and anti semitic, a true democracy is bound to legislate against the hatred of different races. If the majority are xenophobic, a true democracy is bound to legislate against the foreigners.

Is there a true democracy?

Am I A Monkey or A Man?

This is my respond to Penny Sparrow a real estate agent woman from KwaZulu Natal (KZN) who shared a post on Facebook comparing holiday makers that flock to beaches in KZN on New Year’s Day to monkeys.

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When apartheid died, the millions who firmly believed in it didn’t die with it, in fact they are still here with us hiding behind pseudonyms secretly pushing the apartheid agenda everywhere from schools to corporate to public spaces. I’ve been called all sorts of racial names by racists like ‪#‎PennySparrow‬ and I’m just glad that finally there’s a face

Asking for a bland forgiveness

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No madam, apology not accepted madam. Not only because it is loaded with sarcasm instead of sincerity but also because your initial statement was truthful to your thoughts. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Your initial post is not a bad joke, or a distasteful utterance, it is the honest truth of how you really think and feel about black people. The problem here is that you are not the only person who sees us as stupid monkeys who deserve nothing better in life. White supremacists like yourself keep raping this forgiveness that we as black people are extending to your kind. We are expected to “move on already” because it doesn’t matter anymore, when there are people like you who will not gracefully share a public beach? If you’re disgusted by the presence of black people in a public beach, how repulsed and revolted are you when you have to spend days on end selling a house to them? Oh! Wait, you wouldn’t sell a house to a monkey!

We live in a society where we have to scrape our way to get basic things like education, housing and medical care. We work in industries that try their best to exclude us. Our intelligence and leadership skills will not be acknowledged without government legislature like BEE. We continue to be sidelined and denied opportunities because we are black. We have a generational poverty inheritance to undo while still trying to obtain economic freedom and accumulate our own wealth that we will leave for future generations.

This whilst racism and fascism is blocking our every endeavor. It is extremely hard for us to live everyday hoping and working hard to make this country a better place , letting go of the justified resentment and grudges that we should be holding. We extend a hand, we are civil and welcoming to white people,we give you the benefit of doubt by not assuming that not all white people are racist. Then comes you, insensitive white supremacist racist, in the nature of the monkey you call us, you swing feces at us! How long must we forgive the same people who insist on poking the same wound we are trying to heal?
So no madam, your apology doesn’t mean anything to us, because it means nothing to you either. Apology not accepted. In isiXhosa we say uyasinyela straight.

A way forward

The only reason that so many people are shocked by comments made by this Penny Sparrow is because of the fact that as South Africans we pretend as if all is well, things are not okay in this country, racism is still rife in this country, majority of black people live in extreme poverty, yet we pretend as if everything is okay. We pretend that black and whites live together in harmony, no it is not like that and we all know it. Deep down, behind closed doors we all have issues that we still have to deal with. In the dawn of democracy in 94 we pretended that we like each other, but we knew it that it wasn’t the case.

We pretend under the so called Rainbow Nation. South Africans racism is alive and we all now it, but we pretend as if it doesn’t exist because we don’t want to look bad in the eyes of the world. We pretend that it doesn’t exist because we don’t want to upset the spirit of Mandela and his reconciliation. Stuff that, let us face issue and deal with them head on, because this pretending will never take us anywhere as a nation. So stop acting so surprised when the likes of Penny Sparrow and co reminds us of the brutal truth. South Africa is still far from being racism free, unless we wake-up, stop pretending and do something about it.

If only South Africa was hard on drugs, if only!

I’m a seldom overseas traveler. I’m stunned by the stories here. I’ve bumped into this site (lockedup) while looking up for Minister Siyabonga Cwele which eventually led me to his wife’s arrest and I found myself exploring South Africans in foreign jails. It is heart-wrenching to read these stories and eye opening at the same time. In particular because when they give a description of how a drug mule looks like, they simple say ” Just stand in front of the mirror, that’s how a drug mule look like”!

I’ll make do visit South Africans in prisons whenever I go abroad, just to give them emotional and moral support and maybe some financial support as well. Thanks for starting the site, and warning us of the realities out there Belinda West!

Speaking of which!


I lived in Indonesia for a while. The first thing you are constantly reminded of when you’re reading the brochures to go there is “Don’t get yourself in trouble by doing drugs” and when you go for your visa at the embassy they will dedicate some 2 to 3 minutes to warn you about doing drugs in Indonesia!..When you are about to land, the airline hostess will clearly announce in English and Bahasa that drugs have a heavy penalty in this country. When you step in the airport, the first thing you see is a big sign, I remember it well it was all in red and the words ” PENALTY FOR DOING DRUGS IS DEATH SENTENCE” were in white and I thought to myself, these people mean business about this drugs thing! Only to see on the news the very next evening that 4 Nigerians and an Australian were caught with drugs at the Soekarno-Hatta Airport, the very spot I passed through, and they hastily received the death sentence in a much publicized case. I thought to myself if only in South Africa we were this hard on drugs if only!