The Ulwazi Programme: Bridging the Gap with Digital Skills and Local Content

The Ulwazi Programme, established in 2008 in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is a pioneering initiative aimed at democratically co-creating cultural and historical information with local communities. Through training community members in digital media tools and web platforms, the program encourages them to contribute articles in Zulu and English about the culture and history of Durban and the eThekwini Municipality. I helped launch the project with eThekwini Municipal Libraries and ran it for several years.

Main Achievements

  • Established a digital library of local history and knowledge in English and Zulu, with over 2000 articles.
  • Trained over 20 fieldworkers in digital media management and digital skills.
  • Promoted digital and reading literacy by providing access to locally relevant resources in local languages.

Project Components

  • Access to Information and Knowledge: The Ulwazi Programme provides access to public domain information and knowledge. Developing digital public library services ensures access to information and community engagement.
  • Capacity Building: The programme imparts essential skills needed in the information society, including literacy, digital literacy, and empowering local communities to use ICTs effectively.
  • Cultural Diversity and Identity, Linguistic Diversity, and Local Content: This component involves the promotion and respect for cultural identity, traditions, and religions, with libraries playing a prominent role in providing access to content and indigenous knowledge.

Supporting Data Collection

The Ulwazi Programme utilizes existing public library infrastructure as a platform. It operates from a central program office which handles training, data management, and other centralized functions. Branch libraries connect with communities to raise awareness, host outreach programs, distribute promotional materials, and assist in coordinating data collection. The programme fosters communication and collaboration between librarians, academic researchers, fieldworkers, and community members, allowing for knowledge sharing and ICT expertise.

Managing the Data

Contributions are stored online in a wiki-style database. A content manager oversees the editing, proofreading, translations, and categorization. Unlike formal library cataloguing systems, Ulwazi employs ‘folksonomies’, which allows contributors to create tags using traditional names for concepts unique to the community. This fosters a social network among web users and empowers communities to preserve and manage local knowledge.

Embracing the Mobile Web

There has been a significant increase in mobile phone usage in Africa. The Ulwazi Programme recognizes this trend and utilizes mobile web technology to connect communities to information. Most mobile phones today are sold with pre-installed web browsers. Coupled with the increasing availability of 3G networks, this has led to many South Africans accessing the internet through their mobile phones. The Ulwazi Programme aims to leverage this by using mobile phones as a tool to amplify decentralized interactions.


The Ulwazi Programme empowers technologically marginalized communities by providing online access to local knowledge in their language. This preserves cultural heritage and fosters cross-cultural understanding, social cohesion, and participation in the global information society.


The Ulwazi Programme was recognized at the 2012 Highway Africa New Media Awards in the category ‘Community Engagement through Technology’.

The Ulwazi Programme represents a remarkable stride in community engagement, digital literacy, and cultural preservation. Employing digital tools, local content, and mobile technology empowers communities, preserves local knowledge and culture, and fosters participation in the global information society. In partnership with the eThekwini Municipality, this innovative initiative is an exemplary model for similar programs worldwide.

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