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July 30, 2008
Web2.0 is a
term thrown around a lot these days and it means many things to
many people. There are, however, some common characteristics in
its varied usage. Basically, web2.0 refers to the shift in focus
from distribution of information through networks (the old 'bookmark
your favourites- approach) to participation in the creation
of information and networks.
web2.0 technology are blogs, podcasts, social networking platforms,
and RSS feeds. With web2.0 technology, you can run software applications
over the internet, host your photo albums online or collaborate
with colleagues on shared documents.
Web2.0 has changed
the way we work and play - and not just for people with access to
the internet. My mother, a not very web-adept social worker, has
had to acquire a new skills set to continue her work with teenagers
effectively. Whether the benefits outweigh the costs is not the
point. Like globalisation, web2.0 is a fact of life. On the one
hand, certain environments require you to skill up if you want to
be effective, as my mother has discovered. On the other, web2.0
opens new opportunities for doing development and activist work.
History Online (SAHO), an NGO with offices in Pretoria and Cape
Town, has been successfully levering these opportunities for several
years. Founded in 2001 at the height of 'web1.0-, when
the internet was all about making information available far and
wide, SAHO set about building the largest online resource for South
African history. Today, we host about 500 000 pages of content,
the largest online repository of South African biographies, numerous
features of past and present South African activists, trade unionists,
politicians, artists, writers, photographers, as well as thematic
content about women-s history, labour history, liberation
history, places of interest, cultural histories - the list
has changed and people have changed how they use technology, we
have had to change too. This has not always been a game of catch-up
and we have tried to seize on the opportunities of new technology
to further our advocacy work. SAHO was founded on the premise that
South African history is both a heritage resource and a resource
for current advocacy.
and ultimately overcome the longest continuous crime against humanity
of the 20th century, as civil society we have an enormous wealth
of knowledge and depth of experience in activism, organsation and
mass mobilisation. The formation of the United Democratic Front
in 1983 had a lot to do with the rediscovery during the early 1980s
of the suppressed histories of the 1950s - the unity movement and
the congress movement that produced the Freedom Charter and laid
the basis for the political alliances that characterised and sustained
the freedom struggle for another three decades.
struggle are not well known among younger generations who have come
of age since 1994. This is surely due in some part to the suspension
of compulsory history teaching in schools - a lamentable fact
that SAHO has been lobbying the Education Department to correct
for some time. In the second decade of freedom, our history remains
a vital resource for strengthening our constitution and deepening
In recent times
there has been growing concern about the state of our democracy.
Several activists, former activists, civil society commentators,
and public intellectuals have voiced concerns about attacks on the
constitution and weakening of its core values. As we head towards
national elections next year, people are expressing their concerns
not only about poor service delivery, but also about poor governance,
judicial independence, separation of powers and similar constitutional
issues. Increasingly we hear concerns that the gains of our liberation
are threatened. So we have decided to stimulate these conversations.
This is where web2.0 becomes such an important resource because
with web2.0, we are producers as well as consumers of information,
which means larger audiences and greater participation - and
that after all is the basis of effective activism and mobilisation.
is where South African history and web2.0 converge to create what
we think will be a powerful resource for advocacy work. History
Matters is a new project of SA History Online and is conceived as
a forum for promoting dialogue and sharing perspectives and ideas.
History Matters emerged out of recognition that many people are
thinking deeply about the challenges and limitations of democracy
and civil society at present, but that these conversations are not
necessarily linked to each other. We want to connect them.
The forum is
divided into several categories and subcategories: Activism, Democracy,
Development, crisis in Zimbabwe, and SAHO-related topics, such as
the 90th birthday celebrations of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu.
As I write, we have about 50 posts across all the categories. The
site is conceived as a forum for advocacy and promoting dialogue
and so our busiest categories are Activism, Democracy, and Development.
In these forums, we share perspectives and ideas and publicise upcoming
events, public meetings, discussions, new reports and similar networking
resources. Soon we will begin commissioning public policy analysts
and development workers to list what they consider to be the top
10 issues in various development sectors, for example housing, land
reform, education, health and so on. These talking points will then
be published with sector resources, comprising links to other websites
as well as reports, policy statements and similar resources available
for download from the History Matters site. We have already done
this with regard to the Zimbabwe crisis and xenophobia.
The aim is not
just to be a talk shop. We explicitly do not want to be just another
blog. Our intention is to promote interest and consensus around
key issues and approaches to dealing with them. This is crucial
for creating a critical mass so that political leadership becomes
more responsive to public demands. It is also crucial if we want
the ideas and perspectives stimulated on History
Matters to begin making a difference offline. Ultimately, we
see History Matters as a kind of online indaba where we can do some
of the preliminary work ahead of a national indaba in the spirit
of the Congress of the People, the All-In Conference, the formation
of the UDF, and similar historical mass mobilisations that galvanised
progressive politics in South Africa.
is still new and much hard work lies ahead. But the confluence of
historical knowledge and new challenges in forums such as History
Matters demonstrates the possibilities and opportunities that can
be created in the enabling environments of web2.0 technologies.
Ultimately, web2.0 is a powerful resource available for increased
civil society activism and new models of citizenship.
Alberts is an administrator at History Matters and a researcher
at South African History Online.
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