The Yoza Project, originally known as m4Lit (mobile phones for literacy), set out to explore the viability of using mobile phones to support reading and writing by youth in South Africa (SA). If mobile phones proved to be a legitimate alternative and complement to printed literature then their potential for increasing youth literacy practices of reading and writing in SA, and indeed the developing world, would be significant. Most developing countries are book-poor and mobile phone-rich, after all.
In the pilot phase of the project a mobile novel (m-novel) was written and published in September 2009 on a mobisite and on MXit. The story, called Kontax, was published in English and in isiXhosa. Readers were invited to interact with it as it unfolded – teens could discuss the evolving plot, vote in polls, leave comments, and finally submit a written piece as part of a competition for story sequel ideas. In this way the project aimed to contribute to the understanding of youth mobile literacies. A few months later, a second Kontax m-novel was published.
The uptake was tremendous. In just seven months the two stories were read over 34,000 times on mobile phones. To put this in context, a book is considered a best seller in South Africa if 3,000 copies are sold. Over 4,000 entries were received in the writing competitions and over 4,000 comments were left by readers on individual chapters. Many of the readers asked for more stories and indifferent genres.
Based on the success of the pilot phase, a bigger m-novel offering called Yoza (www.yoza.mobi and on MXit) was launched on 22 August 2010. Yoza is a funky youth-zone with engaging stories that include more Kontax episodes as well as stories from other genres, e.g. soccer, issues and teen romance. Yoza also has a Classics section for public domain content being studied by learners in South Africa, e.g. Romeo and Juliet. All stories from http://www.kontax.mobi have been moved to Yoza.
Yoza is available on MXit in South Africa and Kenya. See the reports page for the latest project statistics and previous reports.
Pilot phase: Key stakeholders
Dr Ana Deumert, Associate Professor in the Linguistics Section, Department of English, University of Cape Town
Dr Marion Walton, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town
Research co-ordinator and isiXhosa translator: