Q&A with Jerome Klaaste, executive director, Aggrey Klaaste Trust

07 April 2020 - 11:19 By Carla Lever
Jerome Klaaste, executive director of the Aggrey Klaaste Trust, believes reading and education are essential to empower people.
Jerome Klaaste, executive director of the Aggrey Klaaste Trust, believes reading and education are essential to empower people.
Image: Supplied

Nal'ibali column No 10 Term 2 2020

Your father lived by the principle of nation-building, a value the trust now operates by. What does the term mean to you, both personally and professionally?

My father’s moral vision of nation-building sought to help rebuild the structures in all forms of our society and reknit the fabric of life that has been so successfully shattered by apartheid. The Aggrey Klaaste Trust (AKT) defines nation-building as carrying on his mission to empower ordinary South Africans to improve their lot. Personally, I see nation-building as a way of life. It simply means caring for others as dictated by the age-old African ethic of Ubuntu.

Which of your father's other values and interests guide the work at AKT?

My father was a voracious reader. He cherished books and deeply understood the value of quality education. He always carried a few books with him everywhere he went. He believed our people needed to educate themselves and gather all kinds of information to become powerful. Information gathered carefully today creates the thinkers and the leaders of tomorrow. The AKT reading programme was established with this in mind. We want to cultivate the culture of reading in our communities, not only to foster literacy, but to empower young South Africans with critical thinking strategies to find solutions to current, pressing issues facing their communities.

What can regular people do in daily life to encourage these same values?

In our everyday lives, we must take into our own hands the responsibility of educating ourselves and our children. Education cannot be the sole responsibility of our teachers and children; it must be a collective effort. The gathering of information to control your environment is a lifelong process. We implore ordinary South Africans to join us on our journey to nation-building by reading to their children to foster a healthy culture of reading in our communities. All those who would like to volunteer can contact us for more information about how they can contribute in their communities and help us rebuild South Africa, one community at a time.

AKT has various projects dedicated to spreading a love and respect for the written word. Please tell us about them.

AKT learning initiatives have a holistic approach to the development of our future leaders and critical thinkers, spanning from early childhood development right through to tertiary education. Our reading and human rights advocacy projects in various early childhood development (ECD) centres around Soweto frequently use Nal’ibali reading material. This enables us to further preserve and promote African languages and culture by reading to children in a variety of African languages as well. This is supplemented by teaching children African idioms, values and principles that promote Ubuntu (humanity). At George Khosa Secondary School in Dobsonville, Soweto, our literature programme for budding writers and journalists studies and analyses my father’s columns and articles to further develop their critical thinking and writing skills.

I’m particularly interested in your work in schools. What feedback have you had from learners and educators?

We’ve had very positive feedback from teachers, especially from the principals and owners of the ECD centres in our programme. The children adore story-time with AKT. We’ve also encouraged parents to read to their children at home and they, too, have expressed their support and appreciation for the programme. The educators, learners and even the school governing body at George Khosa Secondary are delighted to have our literature programme at the school, and we are pleased that some have expressed their heartfelt gratitude on our social media platforms.

The trust also focuses on promoting accurate and in-depth journalism best practice. Why is this so vital to uphold, even under a democratic constitution?

Aggrey was first and foremost a writer and a journalist. He used his platform as Sowetan editor to launch and advocate for his nation-building philosophy. It’s of the utmost importance that we promote accurate and in-depth journalism best practices, as he did, because journalists play a very important role in our society, not only as curators and conveyors of messages to the nation, but also as those who act as the watchdogs of society. Journalists also have a responsibility to document history, and it is critical to ensure they tell the truth and report facts in their efforts to record our history accurately. We are ecstatic about our upcoming project with Witwatersrand University (Wits) aimed at addressing the serious issues of credibility the media has been grappling with by looking at my father’s legacy of ethical and spirited journalism.

How can people get involved with your projects, or apply for your educational fellowships?

The AKT 2021 Educational Fellowships application processes and requirements will be announced on all our social media platforms and advertised with our media partners in September 2020. I would urge all those who would like to get involved with our projects to contact me directly through the following channels: cellphone 074 066 3886, e-mail jerome@aggreyklaastetrust.com or info@aggreyklaastetrust.com. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access kids' stories in a range of SA languages, visit www.nalibali.org.