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Wiki Africa placing SA on the map

Published Sep 17, 2013


Cape Town - Wikipedia is today what the encyclopedia was about 20 years ago. But when it comes to the South African story, there are still many digital pieces missing.

In the run-up to Heritage Day next week, LeadSA has started an initiative to address this problem.

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This week will see LeadSA partners the Cape Argus, The Star, and Primedia Broadcasting team up with academics from UCT and the University of the Witwatersrand to help improve South Africa’s digital footprint on Wikipedia.

The venture has the support of Wikipedia and their staff will help curate all content to ensure it meets their style standards and other requirements.

Wiki Africa project manager and board member, Isla Haddow-Flood, says while there have been groups of people getting together to make contributions, this is the first time major media organisations will come together to upload information.

She says this will translate into an improvement of articles, or the starting point of new ones.

Haddow-Flood says among the expected outcomes is creating awareness that Wikipedia can be edited and contributions can be made by anyone with knowledge about South Africa.

Even if it means transferring that knowledge from a book, to the digital sphere.

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“Most of the content is written by people not from South Africa, or Africa. A lot is written by the global North, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the contemporary reality of South Africa,” says Haddow-Flood.

She says it’s important that South Africans start taking the initiative and begin to write their own stories.

Jermaine Craig, Cape Argus executive editor, echoes her sentiments and says there is a lot more to South Africa that the world has not been exposed to.

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“We have a come a long way from the days when ‘Nelson Mandela’ and ‘apartheid’ were the only words that the international community identified South Africa with.

“Our country’s artists, sports stars, innovators, designers, rich history and our ability to host major events of global significance has ensured the world now has a better understanding of just what our country offers – and is capable of,” says Craig.

He adds that Wikipedia is one of the world’s leading sources of information and an important platform on which to ensure the South African story is accurately and strongly represented.

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“This is why we at the Cape Argus, with our LeadSA partners at Primedia Broadcasting, so strongly support this initiative, which we hope will lead to new facts and insights from our country being better represented and projected internationally,” says Craig.

Colin Cullis, Primedia content producer, says the idea was born ahead of Mandela Day in July. Cullis was researching the 1956 treason trial, and found that Wikipedia had named only 30 of the 156 people who were arrested.

While it was one of the landmark trials in apartheid history, the rest of the names were nowhere to be found and there was little reference to them. Cullis wanted to update the entry.


He says that a lot of history is out there, but it is not accessible. When it comes to web entries, people need to know exactly where to look, or they won’t be successful in their searches.

Wikipedia, however, has become the first point of reference for many internet users looking for information. “It’s the central, go-to place,” says Cullis.

He says that media organisations and academics have access to a wealth of verified information that can be shared with the world.

UCT spokesperson Kylie Hatton says: “The University of Cape Town supports initiatives in the digital space that ensure that accurate, relevant and up-to-date information is available about South Africa, and crowd-sourcing information is an area that is of growing importance.”

The Cape Town teams have been researching their topics of interest and will meet on Thursday to upload various articles and update pages.

The initiative will be continuing, and LeadSA will try to get other academic institutions to make contributions.

But they also want to encourage ordinary South Africans to add information.

Cullis says the way to get rid of bad data, is by adding more data from credible sources.

He hopes that the contributions will become the starting point of a “massive catalogue” so that South Africans can finally start telling their own stories to the world. - Cape Argus

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