University of the Western Cape (South Africa)


Among the many reasons Covid-19 continues to be experienced as a stressful event worldwide and especially in Africa are the number of deaths linked to the disease, the absence of a cure, the extended lockdown, the impact it is having on fragile national and household economies in Africa, the weak nature of African health and social systems, and the corruption attending, or exposed by, governance of the disease. Although evidence from history, counselling, and literature has demonstrated how individuals draw on humor as a resource for radical hope and develop a sense of coherence, little is currently known about what role humor is playing as individuals and communities in Africa in an attempt to make sense of, and cope with, Covid-19. Using a research database of WhatsApp messages shared by collaborators based in over ten countries of Africa, this research will among others seek to: (1) examine and interpret the evidence for Covid-19-related humor in Africa; (2) understand the creative processes through which clinical and social dimensions of the disease become the butt of humor; (3) analyze humor samples in the research database in order to classify them into documented styles, with the associated effects; and (4) infer the implications of the foregoing analyses for rethinking the advice on Covid-19 and/or for enhancing the uptake of current biomedical advice. Besides findings to be disseminated as academic literature, we  also intend to create a website of widely circulating and humorous WhatsApp memes and maintain a blog.

Principal Investigators

Bassey Antia

Professor, Linguistics, University of the Western Cape

Bassey Antia holds a PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Bielefeld, Germany. He teaches at the University of the Western Cape (South Africa) and has previously taught or held visiting lecturing or research positions at universities in Maiduguri, Bielefeld, Montreal, Barcelona, Guildford, Shoshanguve, and Heidelberg. Language policy in higher education, language politics, language and health, multilingualism, and terminology are some areas of his research emphasis. In addition to journal articles and book chapters in these areas, he has authored, edited and coedited volumes published by John Benjamins (Amsterdam/Philadelphia).

Sinfree Makoni

Associate Professor, Pennsylvania State University

Sinfree Makoni holds a PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. He has taught at a number of universities in southern Africa and currently teaches at the Pennsylvania State University. He is Extraordinary Professor at the University of the North West in South Africa. He has published extensively on language policy and planning, language and politics, and language, aging, and health. His recent publications include Applied Linguistics in Africa (International Association for the Integrational Association of Africa, 2020) and Innovations and Challenges to Applied Linguistics from the Global South (London & New York: Routledge Press, 2020, coauthored with Alastair Pennycook).