National Book Week marks a decade of dedication to reading awareness

The celebration this year includes 10 indigenous-language reading festivals in remote communities across the country to mark Unesco's International Year of Indigenous Languages being celebrated in 2019

19 July 2019 - 15:24 By National Book Week
National Book Week mascot, Funda Bala, with budding bibliophiles in Mpumalanga in 2018.
National Book Week mascot, Funda Bala, with budding bibliophiles in Mpumalanga in 2018.
Image: Supplied

National Book Week (NBW), SA's reading awareness week dedicated to encouraging reading and promoting books, marks a decade of influence in 2019 on SA's reading culture and the publishing industry.

Celebrated during the first week in September every year, the NBW is driven by the department of arts and culture and the SA Book Development Council (SABDC).

This year, the campaign will run from September 2-8 and will be celebrated in all nine provinces. The celebration also coincides with the International Literacy Day on September 8.

NBW was launched in 2010 in response to a study commissioned by the SABDC into the book reading habits of adult South Africans. The statistics shined a light on SA's poor reading culture. The study revealed that just 14% of South Africans actively read, while an alarming 58% of households did not have a single leisure book at home.

While the quality of life can be said to have generally improved over the last decade, Statistics SA's recent general household survey reveals a pattern: some parents seldom, and most parents never, spend quality time stimulating and nurturing early childhood development. The survey further revealed that a third of parents have never told stories while almost 50% have never read a book with their children.

"The lack of reading interest in our country needs our collective awakening, each one of us must take responsibility to encourage people to read," says Elitha van der Sandt, CEO of SABDC.

"National Book Week provides that platform, a week-long celebration where all South Africans can play their part to promote reading and making books available to those around them. We encourage all corporates, leaders across political lines, parents, teachers, community members, brothers and sisters to celebrate stories, reading and books. It is a human right, and an inexpensive way to transform and move our country forward."

The celebration this year includes 10 indigenous-language reading festivals in far and remote communities across the country to mark Unesco's International Year of Indigenous Languages being celebrated in 2019.

NBW includes an awareness campaign and a programme to be implemented on the ground. Events promote a key message to encourage reading as a fun activity with each province tailoring the programme to meet local demands, with a strong focus on promoting indigenous languages, local authors as well as library awareness and access.

Events include reading-related activities such as exhibitions, reading books and storytelling sessions, word-building games, poetry as well as play areas for kids. The official mascot Funda Bala, which means "read, read" in Nguni and Sotho, also makes an appearance on the day. Several well-known personalities and notable celebrities have been strong advocates of the cause over the years and have supported with their presence.

Creating the groundswell needs a more concerted effort from all corners of society and there is an undeniable truth in the declaration that it takes a village. NBW's resilience, a decade-long effort, comes from the provincial leadership in the library services and a coalition of partners who have been on a mission to tackle the national reading crisis.

"The next decade is a game-changing moment for us, as President Ramaphosa's call to mobilise the entire nation behind a massive reading campaign is timely and takes reading up the priority totem pole where it belongs. The SABDC and our partners have consistently been working on making reading a priority and the president's support should fast-track the work we have been doing," adds van der Sandt.

"The success of NBW is in large, part attributable to the strong collaborative efforts of our various partners and stakeholders in finding new and innovative ways to promote reading to current and new generations."

One of the centrepieces of the NBW is the #buyabook campaign which the SABDC runs with Exclusive Books and Bargain Books. The public is encouraged to #buyabook from the select list of titles which also includes books in indigenous languages which participating retailers and partners make available for R20. The books can be donated at the till and a team ensures they are made available to children across all provinces.

"We want all South Africans to play their part to energise this campaign and more so, our media influencers in society and social media who can mobilise our children, youth and adults to find pleasure from the pages of a book," says van der Sandt.

"By supporting #buyabook, you are helping us find the books that children will enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read for pleasure. It is the simplest way to make sure that we are raising future-fit children."

Eight in 10 grade fours cannot read for meaning in SA. Reading aloud is one of the main approaches to motivate children to read. School leavers with limited basic skills not only risk being excluded from further education, but also from the labour market.

"The recent tsunami of national media attention on the crisis is a clarion call for all of us to Thuma Mina. Reading books for leisure is essential as it informs critical thinking. It is also the foundation for being an informed voter and an involved citizen."


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