Wikipedia aims to bridge information inequity in SA using local artists

The #WikipediaByUs campaign will see local creatives contributing to Wikipedia and highlighting a variety of topics. Stock photo.
The #WikipediaByUs campaign will see local creatives contributing to Wikipedia and highlighting a variety of topics. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF

As one of the world’s top 10 most visited websites, Wikipedia is a source of knowledge for billions of people across the world.

Despite this status, the online encyclopedia has information gaps when it comes to Africa, with the history largely written by people in other regions of the world. This means that many articles are missing perspectives from Africa, leaving large content gaps.

But this is about to change, thanks to a new online campaign, #WikipediaByUs, that will see a number of South African writers, film makers, fashion designers and influencers from different background contributing local knowledge to this global resource.

The brainchild of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organisation that operates Wikipedia, the campaign launched on Tuesday to coincide with international day for universal access to information.

Over the next four weeks, the foundation will release online multimedia content built by the local creatives who will highlight a variety of topics, from popular culture and social politics to the evolution of African cinema.

The public can follow the campaign online using #WikipediaByUs.

Anusha Alikhan, senior director of communications at the Wikimedia Foundation, said the campaign will invite these content creators to explore Wikipedia as a place to “freely share knowledge, and introduce them to its model of open collaboration, which allows anyone, anywhere to add well-sourced, neutral content to the site”. 

Content creators will use their creativity to contribute to the knowledge ecosystem, emphasising that information can be conveyed in many ways, from writing and pictures to sound and music.

“Aligned with Wikimedia’s goal to break down the social, political and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge, the campaign also aims to draw attention to the South African stories, contexts, history and experiences missing from Wikipedia,” she said.

The foundation is collaborating with the Bubblegum Club, a cultural intelligence agency to showcase writers, film makers, thought leaders and other influencers in SA as experts and knowledge producers in a variety of subject areas. 

Alikhan said out of more than 280,000 global volunteer contributors to Wikipedia, only 1.5% of these editors are based in Africa, and an even smaller percentage are South African.

“As a result, Wikipedia articles are missing perspectives from Africa; history written about SA and other countries is being documented by people in other regions of the world, making them less representative and leaving large content gaps.

“When more people from diverse backgrounds collaborate on Wikipedia, they move us closer to achieving our vision of ensuring our projects reflect the diversity of knowledge from people, cultures and languages around the world.

“South Africans have a role to play in shaping this global resource, telling their own histories, and creating content about SA by South Africans,” said Alikhan.

SA has a history of societal inequality, which has created barriers to accessing knowledge. Initial data from research conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation illustrated that 91% of South Africans believed that knowledge is synonymous with freedom, while 94.5% of them believe that knowledge is truly power. 

Monde Gumede
Monde Gumede

Some of the creative collaborators participating in the campaign include: 

  • Monde Gumede, a filmmaker who will create a short film about how misinformation fuels panic and social divide in a South African social and digital context;
  • Zayaan Khan, a multidisciplinary ecological thought leader who will provide a sociopolitical perspective on how we navigate natural environments;   
  • Kabelo Kungwane, the storyteller behind The Sartists, who will develop a knowledge-sharing series around culture and fashion in the country; 
  • Amogelang Maledu, an art practitioner interested in popular culture who will share a video essay reflecting her work on sound cultures in Southern Africa and their influences;
  • Khensani Mohlatlole, a writer and video essayist who will unpack themes in South African popular culture;
  • Ridhwaan Suliman, a mathematician and Twitter influencer who will illustrate the importance of accurate information and how information is distributed in a pandemic; and
  • Zandi Tisani, a filmmaker who will create a short film about the history of African film and how we have come to consume or create content.

Khanyi Mpumlwana, the Wikimedia Foundation’s creative director, said access to knowledge and information in SA has too often been limited by class barriers and divided along racial lines.

“Through this campaign, we want to show all content creators across the country that knowledge can take various forms and that we can all play a part in its creation,” she said.

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