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Gowisha: The African Database of GIFs

A 22-year-old South African, Mpumelelo Lelo Macheke has created the continent’s first database of GIFs of “Africans being Africans for Africans”.

In the age of social media and the Internet, we can express ourselves online in more than just words – emojis, memes and GIFs are all part of the lexicon we use to communicate digitally. But our selection of African content on the Internet remains limited, hard to access or stereotypical. This is the gap that Gowisha.com aims to fill by being the continent’s first database of GIFs of Africans, being Africans, for Africans and the world. 

Officially launched in October 2018 in Grahamstown, South Africa, “Gowisha” is Xhosa slang for “going through the most”. The creator of Gowisha.com, 22-year-old Mpumelelo Lelo Macheke, who also has a YouTube Channel under the moniker “Suburban Zulu, says that the name captures a mood and the agenda of young African lives. “Gowisha, in terms of the way I have fashioned its philosophy, is a word that describes an existential mood, an eternal feeling, a journey, a way of life. Gowisha is an era. It is an important era, when Africa (a continent where 60% of the population is below the age of 25) has a chance to recalibrate its position in the world, especially in an ever-growing digital age. There is so much opportunity for the continent to be better, for itself and the world,” he says.

The inspiration for Gowisha came to Macheke during a study break that was meant to be a quick 30-minute session creating promotional GIFs from content off his YouTube channel but turned into a three-hour foray into forgotten, iconic moments in both South African and continental pop culture – “a Brenda Fassie music video here, a Khanyi Mbau 3rd Degree interview with Debora Patta there.” He captured these moments as GIFs, which he shared as a DropBox link on his social media pages. “That link was disabled within 9 hours because it reached its download quota. So then I put the GIFs onto GIPHY, which is an easier platform to access compared to Dropbox. But I still was not satisfied. The issue was deeper than having a platform to access. The real and meaningful issue was that there was not a platform that belonged to ‘us’ as Africans. We needed a platform that would protect us from drowning out our content. (Content can also be read as ‘narratives’ or/and ‘voices’),” he says.

The Single Story and African Narratives

Back in 2009, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TedTalk that discussed the danger of the single story; about how complex lives, especially African lives, tended to be condensed into a singular narrative, which leads to stereotypes. These stereotypes, she warned, were dangerous because “they make one story become the only story.” In order to dismantle the concept of the “African single story”, especially on the Internet, it is vital for Africans to document and publish the plurality of African lives for the world to see and learn from.

A database such as Gowisha aims to do this by increasing the amount of African content and representations on the Internet. “Our content is drowned out by content for the West, making African content/voices/narratives/contributions to the world disposable. Gowisha, as it stands, in its primary and current form, does the work of centralising local content for access and use by anyone in the world,” Macheke says.

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He further states that the “African single story” has been perpetuated by how far removed many Africans feel from one another, which he believes causes many to not know their African neighbours in a meaningful way.In the future, it would be a joy for Gowisha to develop a model for intercontinental connectivity, whether it be a communications model, a database/cataloguing model, or a multi-content host model,” he says.

Macheke’s YouTube channel is a platform he uses to provide a critical analysis of his personal experiences as a queer, black, middle-class person living in South Africa. There is a continuous thread in his work with the creation of this database that he says is deeply personal but for everyone. “The database is about making us visible to ourselves and to the world. I approached both of these ventures in the way I did because the intent is uniquely mine, even though the content is for everyone,” he shares.

In the future, Macheke hopes to diversify content on the website and swears that it will not be only a GIF database forever. With the right investment, he hopes to add an editorial unit and an audio-visual unit to the website. “There are so many wells of opportunity in terms of where Gowisha could go. It is just important to me that Gowisha stays true to being innovative, creative and being able to recreate, archive and connect our narratives,” Macheke says.

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