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Sarah Slabbert

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place – George Bernard Shaw

Sarah is MD of BHI32, a communication design and research consultancy. The company’s expertise lies in the development field and the water sector. Through BHI32’s work in the public sector, Sarah learned how ordinary South Africans make sense of complex information. She founded the Plain Language Institute in 2009 to build on this experience.


As an academic researcher, Sarah has published a book and numerous research articles since 1994. Subjects included Plain Language, transformation discourse, tsotsitaal, language and education, and the urban varieties of the African languages. Sarah holds a PhD in Sociolinguistics. If not in the office, you will find her on her road bike and MTB.


Handwashing communication in South Africa:

A case study in knowing your audience

Sarah Slabbert, BHI32, South Africa

Nadja Green, Plain Language Institute, South Africa

Iske van den Berg, CRC, South Africa

One of the main health messages to stop the spread of COVID-19 is “Wash your hands! For 20 seconds. With running water and soap. Repeatedly. Every time you’ve touched any surface that might be contaminated.”

But how do you follow these instructions if you have to fetch water with a container from a community tap a kilometre from your home? Or your toilet is a pit latrine in the corner of your yard?

In this video, you will hear the voices of ordinary people who had to make sense of the official communication that they received and see the ingenious solutions that some came up with.

You will also hear how organisations rose to occasion to address this challenge in their communication