Celebrated SA Wikipedia contributor Bobby Shabangu says there is need for more local content

25 January 2021 - 07:00 By cebelihle bhengu
A map illustrating the monthly views of English language Wikipedia usage in countries around the world for April 2020. The number for SA was 72m.
A map illustrating the monthly views of English language Wikipedia usage in countries around the world for April 2020. The number for SA was 72m.
Image: Wikipedia

SA editor and contributor to Wikipedia Bobby Shabangu says there is a need for diverse local content on the free online encyclopedia, and has encouraged young editors to join the platform as contributors.

Shabangu said while millions access Wikipedia monthly for research purposes, the need for editors is too great to ignore.

“We don’t have enough local content. There are a lot of things happening in SA. There are a lot of notable people in the country and there are a lot of notable subjects that need to be covered, especially in the small language Wikipedias.

“One of the things we have had is raising awareness among the public to say they can also edit on Wikipedia. People don’t know. They are only consumers of the content and knowledge on Wikipedia rather than contributing,” he told TimesLIVE on Sunday.

Wikipedia recently marked its 20th anniversary and Shabangu is one of the celebrated 280,000 volunteers who contribute content to the platform monthly. He speaks five languages fluently, including English and Swati.

He joined Wikipedia in 2011 and like many South Africans, was a regular on the website for preliminary research he needed for a Swati radio showr.

Since joining Wikipedia, Shabangu has been involved in many projects including the Wikipedian chapter and Joburgpedia, through which he and other contributors collaborated with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation to archive the history of the city.

He has covered many topics, with the latest the death of the minister in the presidency, Jackson Mthembu.

“I’m not an expert on any subject. I only provide general information I understand from sources in the academic world and from the news.

“For the platform to work and for the content to grow it is us who need to put it out there. Raising awareness is important in this regard,” he said.

Shabangu said among the challenges faced by Wikipedia in SA are getting more black women to edit the content on the platform to ensure diversity, and getting more editors who will contribute information in indigenous languages.

“I notice when doing workshops that young people don’t know how to write in indigenous languages. It’s easy for them to write about every subject in English, but when you ask them to translate or to write ideas in their own mother tongues, it becomes difficult.

“Young people recognise there is a gap and a problem preserving our languages. One of the things we have been doing is working with language departments in universities because there we have people who are passionate about those languages and are studying them.

“We bring together historians and people who are acquainted with the history, and we bring together language specialists to run edit workshops with young people who are studying in those departments,” he said.