South Africa Constitutional Court - all eleven languages
South Africa Constitutional Court – all eleven languages

Over the past year I’ve noticed an interesting trend in the Analytics statistics for the Ulwazi Programme, one of the online projects I manage. There has been an increase in the number of web searches in Zulu (the local vernacular in eThekwini, where the project is based) and a corresponding increase in the Zulu content accessed on the Ulwazi Programme’s website. This in turn has led to an increase in the number of Zulu comments we receive on the blog and emailed enquiries we receive from users. For those who are interested, I go to into the case of the Ulwazi Programme in a bit more detail in the paper ‘Local Users, Local Language, Local Content’, presented at last year’s IAMCR Conference, which can be read here.

So what is happening? In short, I think the web in South Africa has moved from a predominantly English, fringe media to a broader, more mainstream media, with people now searching for content in their home language. This argument can be backed up by the recent release of ‘The New Wave’ report, which states that in South Africa “one in three (34%) adults now use the Internet; two out of three Internet users (66%) speak an African language at home; and four out of ten live on less than R1,500 per month.” The full report can be read online here.

The decision by News24, South Africa’s largest online news portal, to start publishing an Zulu version of the portal – located at http://isizulu.news24.com – also seems to support this argument, suggesting that a business case can be made for publishing in other South Africa languages. We’ve been involved with a project that provides high information content, in this case insurance, in Zulu (see www.umshwalense.co.za).

There is still a long way to go until we have a fully multilingual South Africa web; for example, the Zulu-language version of Wikipedia currently contains only 573 articles. However, there has recently been a promising attitudinal shift, with a project we are involved with – enanda.co.za – requiring a completely bilingual website as part of their project proposal.

In the next posts on this subject I look at the increase in the use of Zulu by users of the the Ulwazi Programme in a bit more detail, followed by a post on the importance of local content in South Africa.