Mignon Hardie – Fundza: Getting teens and young adults reading and writing on cellphones

This month Mignon Hardie from Fundza will be speaking to us at the ICT4D Digital Participation Lab monthly seminar.

Date & time: Friday, the 17th of April from 1pm (sessions usually go on until 3pm) at the TB Davie room in the Post Grad Centre on Upper Campus, University of Cape Town.

Earlier this year Alette Schoon and I attended  a networking meeting (the mLiteracy Network Meeting) for South African organisations working in the mobile literacies space. The meeting focused on mapping work in mobile literacies in South Africa and was hosted by the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg in January 2015. The starting point was the UNESCO study Reading in the Mobile Era which presented new quantitative data around the prevalance and implications of reading on mobile devices in developing countries. I enjoyed discussing the implications of our research findings with NGOs, publishers, mobile developers, librarians, and authors working to develop  and understand literacy in the mobile space.

Mignon Hardie

Mignon heads the FunDza Literacy Trust, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to growing a culture of reading and writing among South Africa’s youth. She has been involved in the organisation since inception and has been instrumental in ensuring FunDza’s growth and success in getting young people reading for pleasure. The organisation is hailed for its innovative use of mobile technology to disseminate locally- generated, exciting content and for developing a new generation of writers. The organisation has received various accolades for its work. In 2014 it was selected as a finalist for two international awards: The WISE Awards and The Tech Awards.

In addition to her work with FunDza, Mignon is a director of Cover2Cover Books, an innovative for-profit publishing house. Previously she has been involved in the start-up and management of a number of small and medium enterprises. Mignon has a BA (English and Economics) from UCT and an MBA (distinction) from Stellenbosch University.

Mignon will be presenting on “Getting teens and young adults reading and writing on cellphones

Please RSVP to anjaventer AT gmail dot com for catering purposes. We look forward to seeing you all there!

Centre for ICT for Development

As a field of research and practice, Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) aims to harness information and communication technologies to achieve economic, social and political goals in low-resource or low-income regions. A crucial aspect of ICT4D research involves developing ideas that can broaden access to modern communications technologies.

Digital Participation Lab

People around the world are embracing computing and digital media, using an array of devices, operating systems, local media sharing and cloud-based services. Increasingly affordable consumer electronics have expanded the number of contexts in which media, games and other software can be accessed. This technology has also improved our ability to create, share and interact with and around various forms of media. Many new voices can make themselves heard particularly through social and mobile media as they converge with mass media. Nonetheless, key voices in society are still silenced or struggle to gain attention. Digital surveillance, monetisation and algorithmic controls also threaten freedom.

By taking user-centred, ethnographic and action-research approaches our Digital Participation group studies technologies in use in field contexts such as homes, libraries, clinics, classrooms, community broadcasters, after-school and holiday programmes, as well as in controlled settings at the university. Such fieldwork allows us to understand the economic, social and power dynamics that come into play as people access, use and create digital media, in addition to highlighting areas of need and allowing a close focus on the usability, communicative value and cultural significance of specific designs and communicative strategies. Through a variety of methods, technical and creative, we explore these relationships and tensions, with a focus on implications for practical designs. This research, at the intersection of creative arts, anthropology, linguistics, information technology, and media studies, is inspired by the need to understand agency and obstacles to digital participation.

Talking politics: Young South Africans and political participation in mobile and social media

I was part of this very enjoyable panel  at IAMCR2012 on on 17 July in Durban, South Africa

Chair: Milagros Rivera

Respondent: Herman Wasserman

Over the past decade, Southern Africa has witnessed rapid growth in access to mobile communication and, more recently, the expansion of mobile internet has introduced a prolific variety of affordable messaging genres. Young people in Southern Africa have claimed mobile messaging as a space for everyday gossip, flirtation, friendship, youth culture and media-sharing. Like other young people around the world, the early adopters of mobile internet in these countries increasingly use their mobile phones to browse news shared by their friends, deciding whether to pass on news-related links and occasionally sharing cartoons, videos and visual mashups with political themes. Search, social media aggregators and mobile instant messaging and chat platforms are new political players, with roles as both gate-openers and gate-keepers to content, participation and mobilisation. As local print media circulation falls, mobile and online channels are important sources of political news, functioning often as a back-channel to young people’s use of mass media, as a form of viewer and listener participation in broadcast programmes or social media pages of stations and programmes. Political parties and organisations have responded to the accessibility of mass mobile audiences with a range of mobile-centred campaigns, although official attempts to engage interaction via mobile phones have met with uneven success.

While a range of activist projects involve the use of SMS, users of basic phones remain limited by the costs of SMS, those who can afford slightly more expensive feature phone handsets have rushed headlong to adopt messaging platforms such as MXit, Facebook, and (to a lesser extent) Twitter.  Further up the commodity scale, the more complex functionality and greater affordability of smartphone messaging applications and the Blackberry internet service provides access to higher volumes of visual and audio media along with better privacy.

In the context of this massive expansion of access and functionality, young people in Southern Africa are growing up in some of the most unequal societies in the world, and are confronted by a wide range of political and social challenges. Our panel will refer specifically to examples of young people’s political and civic engagement in the inter-generational dynamics of the clashes between the ANC Youth League and the party in South Africa, Zambia’s 2011 elections and the failed April 12 Uprising in Swaziland. All the presentations will consider the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies for understanding young people’s use of mobile media, and their participation in social media sites.

From the street to Facebook: mobile publics, urban sociability and civic engagement during Zambia’s 2011 elections

Wendy Willems

Department of Media Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Mobile phones have either been conceptualised as technologies of freedom crucial in the mobilisation of demonstrations and protests globally or as ‘middle class fads’. The role of new media (and social media in particular) in political change has of course become even more hotly contested in recent protests part of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, which led to debates on whether or not the revolution was/would be tweeted. However, what has marked recent debates is the tendency to analytically separate virtual and physical spaces. The political implications of mobile phones have insufficiently been contextualised within the broader configuration of offline spaces. Furthermore, as Judith Butler (2011) has recently argued, we often consider public spaces as spaces that are already public, hereby ignoring the processes in which these spaces are claimed and constituted as public.

Butler’s call for a deeper understanding of the politics of the street is particularly pertinent in the context of Zambia’s recent general elections. The relatively smooth change of power from the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) to the opposition Patriotic Front (PF) represented a crucial moment in Africa’s political history, and was accompanied by mass celebrations in the street which evoked the atmosphere of a low-level revolution. However, the celebrations (which were largely ignored in global media) following the announcement of the results were preceded by a tense atmosphere in which Zambians were urged to stay put at home and not move. The call not to move turned the street into a space of unsociability, an abnormal situation given the crucial role of public talk in Zambia also known as ‘radio trottoir’, the everyday discussion of political affairs on pavements, in public transport and beer halls. Moreover, the limitations on physical mobility coincided with a court injunction on private media which were accused of publishing “speculative stories” on the election results.

The information black-out led particularly middle-class Zambians to resort to their internet-enabled mobile phones for updates on the elections on social media.  The Facebook page of the private television station Muvi TV in particular came to constitute an important, lively public space where Zambians actively discussed the elections. Within seconds, updates on the page elicited hundreds of responses. Muvi TV’s page is largely unmoderated and highly interactive which syncs with the station’s broader aim of providing a voice to Zambia’s working class as opposed to the heavy focus on hard news and political elites on the state-controlled Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation.

Drawing on an analysis of Muvi TV’s Facebook page coupled with participant observation and interviews in an up-market shopping mall and an informal market in Lusaka, this paper examines the fluid movement between online and offline spaces in the context of Zambia’s hotly contested elections. Echoing Sheller’s (2004) understanding of publics as fluid, momentary spaces and Butler’s (2011) work on the politics of the street, I argue that a more location-aware understanding of mobile phone use in civic engagement enables us to gain a better grasp of the shifting nature of urban sociability between virtual and physical spaces.

Prepaid social media and the mobile internet in Southern Africa:  Patterns in young people’s mobile discourse

Marion Walton and Pierinne Leukes

Young South Africans are growing up in one of the most unequal societies in the world, and are confronted by a wide range of political and social challenges. Poor service provision is a simmering cause of discontent around the country. Youth unemployment has soared by 20% since the economic crisis of 2008, exacerbating discontent about the lacklustre performance of the schooling system. In January 2012, young people caused fatalities by literally storming the gates of a university in a stampede to claim the few available places. Racial discourses have gained increased traction as South Africa’s post-democracy ideals of equality and opportunity prove stubbornly difficult to attain.

Mass appropriation of mobile messaging by young people in South Africa has placed texting and (more recently) many-to-many communication via the internet within the reach of many young people. This paper will tackle ongoing issues of differentiated access to and use of mobile communication, and particularly of access to the mobile internet. These differences have important implications for the mediatisation of talk in general and political talk in particular, given the role of aggregation and visual communication in new interfaces to political discourse.

We review some recent qualitative studies of youth mobile participation in South Africa, highlighting the specific local patterns of adoption and participation, in particular the influence of differential commodification of mobile communication, the tiered functionality of phones and local preferences for Bluetooth over more costly forms of online media sharing. We contextualise these case studies with public data from Facebook and Twitter to show distinctive patterns of participation in social media. We consider case studies of the failed April 12 uprising in Swaziland and the discourses of inter-generational confrontation activated in the clashes in South Africa between the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress and the organisation’s Youth League. These reveal the dynamics of attention ecologies in mainstream media and online media aggregation in relation to the varied affordances of social networks and instant messaging or chat interfaces.

While access has expanded in comparison to other contexts, production, editing and distribution of user-generated content remains limited in this context by the high cost/bit for data. Young people who have easy access to desktop computers, cheaper forms of broadband and media production software remain at a distinct advantage.

Perceptions about Mobilising the Youth for Political Purposes through Mobile Technology: A South African study

Nathalie Hyde-Clarke

Social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook have become platforms for the mobilisation of social and political forces, allowing the previously disenfranchised to voice their concerns and aspirations. In South Africa, there is renewed and increased interest in the opportunities that new media offers citizens to engage with and challenge existing political leadership. This paper explores the potential that mobile technology offers youth to participate in the political process, and to what extent the youth would actually use it for this purpose. Findings are based on a survey conducted in May 2011 with 200 university students registered in second year Communication Studies at the University of Johannesburg, and a subsequent focus group discussion with postgraduates on those findings, and their own perceptions and experiences. While the results may not be generalised to the greater South African population, it does provide an insight into perceptions and uses of this technology for political purposes among young voters. Interviews have also been held with the two major political parties, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), to discuss their mobile phone strategy and the methods they have used to target the youth to encourage more engaged voter behaviour. In this way, the research is an interesting combination of authorial intent and audience reception via a vis the use of political text messages in an emerging democracy.

Facebook and youth political participation in South Africa

Tanja Bosch

Online social networking sites, Facebook in particular, are growing in popularity in South Africa. With the increasing affordability of mobile handsets, users are able to access the mobile internet and connect via mobile social networking applications. The proposed paper explores how Facebook is used by South African youth, with particular reference to their political participation and involvement. Research has shown the declining involvement of young people in political processes, particularly since democratic elections in 1994. This is an international trend, with a general global rise of political apathy and decreased news consumption among youth. However, Facebook and other new media applications widely used by young people have been seen as a potential vehicle to re-engage youth in political debate. The potential usefuless of such applications for creating networked publics and mobilizing political action was highlighted recently during the Arab Spring; and conversely, Facebook and Twitter have been used (e.g. in the United States) to target potential youth voters. The notion of e-democracy has raised the potential of the internet to enhance political action and activism.Through a qualitative content analysis of Facebook pages, together with interviews and focus groups with South African youth, this paper explores the links between Facebook and political participation.

Exploring the Relationship between South African Youth, News Media and Online Political Participation

Musa Ndlovu and Chilombo Mbenga

Political knowledge and participation have steadily declined in recent years, particularly among youth. In popular and academic discussions of youth culture, youth are regularly presented as politically ignorant, cynical, and apathetic. Various public institutions view this abandonment of politics by young people as a threat to the survival of the public sphere and democratic process.  This paper challenges conventional conceptions of political ‘knowledge’ and ‘participation’ by also exploring South African youths’ use of social media for political participation and knowledge. The article then draws from relevant popular and academic literature to identify some of the causes of young people’s declining levels of political participation and to examine youths’ relationship with mainstream politics. The article also examines the relationship between politics and young people’s cultural spaces in the context of global capitalism.


Help us rebuild Ikamva branch in Makhaza

IkamvaYouth office in Makhaza was petrol-bombed, on South Africa’s Freedom Day, 27 April.  Read about the details of the petrol-bombing. The Makhaza branch has lost everything , including cameras, computers and some of the phones that were donated for our Nokia mobile video project.

Bombed Makhaza office of Ikamva Youth
Bombed Makhaza office of Ikamva Youth

Ikamva Youth is a wonderful volunteer-driven youth project that runs on a shoestring. Together with energetic postgrad students like Tino Kreutzer, Nicola Pallitt and Silke Hassreiter I’ve been involved in Ikamva’s media, image and expression program since 2008.

The picture above made me cry because during the last few years I have realized that Ikamva’s impact goes beyond helping individual learners achieve success, but is also felt more broadly as a result of their democratic approach to leadership and developing civic awareness in their area. My own graduate students have benefitted immensely from the opportunity to volunteer and conduct their research in a context which addresses the challenge of urban poverty and continued educational inequality in South Africa. This is a place where young people can help each other and connect with others who can help them to realize their goals, and discover what they might become.

The clear-up has started.  Andrew Barrett, Ikamva’s Gauteng regional co-ordinator, puts it best:

It is, afterall, the ordinary people from all sections of South Africa that are the heartbeat of this country and we join together in a collective resilience and assurance that actions like these, that seek to destroy, will always be self-defeating.

Do you have an old computer, laptop, smartphone or camera gathering dust somewhere? Please let me know and I’ll collect it and deliver it to the Makhaza branch next week. I promise that the Ikamvanites will make it feel loved again!

Here’s how you can help. Follow this link to find out how to donate, volunteer or just post a message of support on Ikamva’s website.

Sponsorship for 12 African media artists (sub-Saharan) to attend ISEA2010 Ruhr

ISEA2010I attended ISEA2008 in Singapore, and it was a fascinating and mind-exanding experience of digital art and scholarship.  It saddened me that, as far as I could tell, I was the only delegate from the whole of Africa. Thanks to the efforts of Andreas Broeckmann and generous sponsorship from the Goethe-Institut, the picture at ISEA2010 RUHR should look very different – twelve media artists from sub-Saharan Africa will have the opportunity to attend ISEA2010 this August.

“The Goethe-Institut South Africa and ISEA2010 are partnering to offer twelve people working within media arts in sub-Saharan Africa a chance to participate in the programme. The partnership will cover costs related to travel and accommodation, visas, health insurance, and a per diem during the chosen candidates’ stay in Germany.”

Here is more detail about ISEA2010 and how to apply for the Goethe-Institut award:

“ISEA2010 RUHR is an international festival for art, creativity and media technology, which will this year take place within the broader framework of the European Capital of Culture, RUHR.2010. The programme will include conferences, exhibitions, audio-visual and dance performances, public art projects, artists’ presentations and workshops, and is set for 20 to 29 August 2010. http://www.isea2010ruhr.org

ISEA was started in 1988, and ISEA2010 RUHR is the 16th incarnation of the International Symposium on Electronic Art. The symposium, which focuses on the role of art in the digital age, will bring together a large international community of artists, curators, theorists and scientists for ten days of discussions, festivities, networking and exchange of ideas.

The Goethe-Institut South Africa and ISEA2010 are partnering to offer twelve people working within media arts in sub-Saharan Africa a chance to participate in the programme. The partnership will cover costs related to travel and accommodation, visas, health insurance, and a per diem during the chosen candidates’ stay in Germany.

The Goethe-Institut is Germany’s globally active cultural institute that encourages international cultural cooperation, promotes knowledge of the German language abroad, and reflects a contemporary understanding of Germany. The Goethe-Institut aims to facilitate a deeper understanding between cultures, through a dialogue rooted in partnership, not political affiliation. There are presently over 147 institutes worldwide in 83 countries, with 10 located in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Goethe-Institut South Africa in Johannesburg coordinates all Sub-Saharan institutes, as well as the 15 Goethe Centres within the region. Our focus is on sustainable development in culture, as well as promoting networks across Sub-Saharan Africa, with our cultural projects the highlights of our programme.

The Goethe-Institut and ISEA2010 are looking for individuals who are well-placed and interested in networking within the African media arts community, as well as drawing connections beyond its borders. Further selection criteria for possible participants are as follows:

– Well-versed in current international media art developments
– Interest and documented work on the way new media and technologies are changing our culture today
– Active in the organisation of networks, institutions and community projects with other artists and cultural practitioners
– Excellent command of English, additional German useful

Please send a short focused CV and a letter of motivation, in total no longer than three pages, to Cara Snyman at pro@johannesburg.goethe.org. Be sure to include all contact details. The deadline for submissions is 15 April 2010.”

Cara Snyman
Goethe-Institut Johannesburg
119 Jan Smuts Ave – Parkwood 2193 – South Africa
Private Bag X18 – Parkview 2122 – South Africa
Tel:  (+27-11) 442 32 32
Fax: (+27-11) 442 37 38

A rough history of the web industry in South Africa

A A rough history of the web industry in South Africa by Jarred Cinman
This article made me remember: Sitting in a dark office as a grad student late at night, staring at green text on a black screen, amazed at the generosity of the anonymous guides who helped lead the way through the labyrinths of Archie and Veronica. Surviving a move to Bloem with telnet and the UOFS VAX. Distracting myself from bathfulls of bad student essays by following the hilarious flame-wars scorching through alt.politics.feminism.
The strangely consoling sound of a dialup modem connecting during the dusty build-up to a Free State storm. Writing my first HTML pages in Notepad, twisting a UOFS sys admin friend’s arm to let me publish it. Begging for permission to use the web in teaching at UCT. Excited discussions about how the web would change everything in higher education …. The first email I got from my Dad (one sweet sentence written telegraph style ♥) The humiliation when Stacey Stent said my first Photoshop nav bar design looked like a gravestone. (It did.)

Oh, and the shocks and general recriminations when those Telkom phone bills arrived …

Some more academic histories of the industry:
Robert B. Horwitz and Willie Currie Another instance where privatization trumped liberalization: The politics of telecommunications reform in South Africa—A ten-year retrospective Telecommunications Policy Volume 31, Issues 8-9, September-October 2007, Pages 445-462
Charley Lewis. South Africa Global Information Society Watch Available online at http://www.globaliswatch.org/files/pdf/GISW_SouthAfrica.pdf
Charley Lewis. 2005. “Negotiating the Net: The Internet in South Africa (1990–2003)
Information Technologies and International Development Spring 2005, Vol. 2, No. 3, Pages 1-28
Richard Collins 2005. From Monopolies, Virtual Monopolies and Oligopolies to … What?
Media Policy and Convergence in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Available online at http://link.wits.ac.za/journal/j05-collins-convergence.pdf

The meaning of a missed call

The beep could be a callback request, a relational “stroke” to tell a loved one you’re thinking about them, or an instrumental nudge – “it’s time to fetch me”. Just remember that the poorer one “beeps” the richer one and the hopeful suitor never “beeps” the beloved.

This is a great academic paper about the meaning and etiquette of giving someone a “missed call”, also known as “beeping”, “flashing”, “missed calling” or “pranking”. It’s a very familiar practice here in South Africa, and it seems it’s also a global phenomenon, to be found all around the world, wherever airtime is a scarce resource.

The Rules of Beeping: Exchanging Messages Via Intentional “Missed Calls” on Mobile Phones by Jonathan Donner.


Cultural borrowing in World of Warcraft
Everything they say in this article about the fake Jamaican accents of the WoW trolls is true.I spent some time playing a troll and have usually joined troll guilds on a role-playing server. It is interesting that most players with troll characters mimic the Jamaican accents of the non-player characters.
The article mentions the borrowings from Native American culture, but they don’t mention that the pseudo-savannah landscapes of the Barrens were clearly modelled on an African theme. I played when I lived in London, and I spent a lot of time hanging out in the Barrens because I missed South Africa and could get some virtual sunshine out in the savannah while waiting for the fun PvP Alliance raids on Crossroads. The Barrens was like the Kruger Park, with lions, gazelle, zebra, giraffes and ostrichy things all over the place. (Except of course that you were supposed to slaughter the animals. And except of course for the orcs, elves, undead, centaurs and purple raptors charging around all over the place.) The high rate of “gankings” was also appropriate.
A collection of academic readings about race in games This topic is really neglected and begs for some South African research.
Bow Nigger A brilliant piece, often cited as one of the original examples of “New Games Journalism”.
Gamasutra’s report on the Girls ‘n Games conference Note to self: This conference sounds like a good one to bookmark.
And, to continue the theme I started with my post about spam p0rn, here’s an article about sex in vdeogames apparently a rapidly growing area of the industry.

This is not news

Great story by Steffen Fjaervik about the huge readership gained by Norwegian site Bergens Tidendes (known as Bt no) when they reported the winner of Scandinavian Big Brother in a two-sentence article. This coverage is so minimal that it almost amounts to a snub. The third sentence of the report drives their point home by announcing that they will not be returning with any further updates – firmly refusing to provide the usual gushing entertainment piece: “Bt no probably won’t come back with more”.
This was a pointed little reminder about what really is news and what isn’t. It spread virally via email and other media, and gained the story a whopping 25000 readers, the kind of readership usually seen on that site for much bigger news stories. As Fjaervik points out, this flies in the face of the recieved wisdom about needing to update web stories regularly. Clearly, the story piqued the interest of a readership who saw great news value in a news provider snubbing tv entertainment.