South Africa Uses ICTs to Create a Knowledge Network Among Indigenous Communities

As the world is rapidly globalizing and developing, there is a common trend of cultural convergence. It seems the more advanced or modernized the society is the more other wish to emulate it. The research published in those countries becomes sacred knowledge that is more common than not valued more than traditional knowledge in the less so-called “developed” countries.

This week in class, we talked about the different trends in development. One I found highly-intriguing was the Postdevelopmentism approach.  It seeks to pursue an alternative road to development in which indigenous values and knowledge systems are preserved, and rather than being destroyed, are built upon. This is also what Unwin refers to as the people-centered model of development.

Annie just posted about ICTs being used in India to preserve knowledge on traditional medicine. This is not an isolated incident. There are many archival projects like these emerging all across the globe, and I hope to illustrate the expansive scope of this approach by presenting another notable example taking place in South Africa.

In this project, public libraries around the Durban area are pursuing an ambitious initiative to digitalize all the indigenous knowledge from agricultural methods and medicine to traditional clothing and Zulu culture, so that all the communities that depend on this knowledge can have access to it. It is trying to ensure that this valuable knowledge does not get lost in word-of-mouth. By sharing this information, different communities are also learning to use ICT tools.

The process of collecting this information, along with more specifics is explained in this article (

Indigenous knowledge is collected from local communities through community journalists, members of the public who can register an account and submit a story on a more ad-hoc basis, and through direct engagement with local residents often through community groups.  The community journalists collect stories through personal interviews, in the form of audio recordings and video interviews. As such, this ground-level approach generates a much richer quality of content than external researchers could collect as they already have a relationship of trust with members of the community

There does seems to be issues with the process, however:

While the decision to embrace a multilingual approach towards content has been successful, this has also created the need for selective translations. Content management takes time and requires a certain set of skills and relevant experience. Training and development of volunteers and community journalists has proven to be time-consuming, as the development of ICT skills is generally slow among rural communities in the municipality.

This just serves to show the important role ICTs play in not just diffusing information from central developed areas to remote regions but also the other way around. While some see ICTs as potentially interfering with the traditional way of life for some communities, it seems that it might also enhance these traditional communities, as Annie alluded to in her blogpost. Also, should we prioritize the use of ICTs in developing countries to introduce new skills or enhance the skills and knowledge already in place (or both as is arguably the case in this example)? What do you all think?


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