THE BIG READ: No value seen in books
Justice Malala made an analysis in his column "Where are the black writers?" on Monday, saying the reason black people are not reading and writing books is the result of Hendrik Verwoerd's apartheid experiment. But after I read his column I felt Malala's argument that the apathy comes from Verwoerd's Bantu education, and that alone, is an inaccurate diagnosis of the problem. Many people, have been bookworms since primary school.
I have what I consider the largest private library in my neighbourhood. I am a product of Bantu education and finished matric a year before the democratic elections in 1994. I am the classic apartheid child.
True, apartheid's focus on the mass production of mediocre school literature was meant to sanitise the truth and create a reading public that wouldbelieve that the reading of books was only an exercise needed for passing matric. Almost all the authors of school literature never wrote adult literature nor sold books in book stores where post-matrics could continue reading. Book stores and public libraries were deliberately packed with dumbed-down romance novels, Westerns and fables such as Don Quixote de la Mancha. But that was then. The average new generation South African is 18 years old; on average the last person to receive a Verwoerdian education did so 18 years ago.
The question that Malala should raise and get a crisp answer to is: Why are the current youth [14 to 35] not reading and writing?
The answer is misplaced priorities. This same demographic group buys thousands of rands worth of smart phones, expensive cars, branded clothes and single malt whisky, and spends more on a night out than my generation did in two months. This is a generation that idolises pop culture icons, and their priorities are twisted because their beloved pop stars [who include President Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema] rarely talk about books or dare to read. Their icons talk about entertainment - there are gigabytes of data downloaded on iTunes and videos on their cellphones. This apathy does not mean that blacks are not writing or that their work gets thrown to the worms without editorial rigour. My findings reveal that writers actually produce at such a rate that the market cannot match their pace.
The real problem is that the current generation does not consider books as valuable as the next big tender. If tenders were published in novels, thousands of books would be bought.
And where are black writers?
I'd suggest Malala checks his nearest book store or reads a literary journal called wordsetc because there are more dishes than consumers. Prolific authors such as Diale Tlholwe, Thiathu Nemutanzhela, Sifiso Mzobe, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Angela Makholwa, Makhosazana Xaba, Futhi Ntshingila, Nthikeng Mohlele, Mokoka Klaas Mashishi, Eric Miyeni, Siphiwo Mahala, Nape 'a Motana, Zukiswa Wanner, Kopano Matlwa, Cynthia Jele, Sandile Dikeni, Mandla Langa and Zakes Mda, to mention a few, continue to write good works that get little appraisal from black intellectuals. Our society is hype-driven and political books such as I Write What I like (Steve Biko), Capitalist Nigger (Chika Onyeani), Rich Dad Poor Dad (Robert Kiyosaki), Eight Days in September (Frank Chikane), Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (Mark Gevisser), Architects of Poverty (Moeletsi Mbeki) and The Battle for the Soul of the ANC (William Mervin Gumede) fill society's thinking; even that of a man who blamed apartheid for his apathy. This, however, does not mean they are bought to be read - they are collector's items for the office or home library.
Authors are by their very nature storytellers so having an American such Patrick Flanery telling the story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission does not evoke jealousy but an appreciation of a plurality in defining the same picture.
- Mashego is a poet, writer and journalist