11 February 2015
Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa,
Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele,
Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Buti Manamela,
Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Rejoice Thizwilondi Mabudafhasi,
Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a rare privilege and a great delight to be invited to speak on an issue that is close to my heart – the value and joy of reading.
For an individual, reading opens up new worlds, reveals new ideas and suggests new opportunities.
For a nation, reading is a gateway to a different, better future.
A winning nation actively promotes reading.
South Africa boasts internationally acclaimed authors.
Just this week, we bid a sad farewell to André Brink, one of our most distinguished and treasured authors.
Over many decades, he told the many stories of our people in a way that captivated, challenged, disturbed and delighted.
He portrayed our despair and our delight, our defeats and our triumphs, our deepest fears and our enduring courage.
It is perhaps appropriate on an occasion like this to recall the words of the central character in Andre Brink’s novel, The Rights of Desire, where he says:
“My library was – all libraries are – a place of ultimate refuge, a wild and sacred space where meanings are manageable precisely because they aren’t binding; and where illusion is comfortingly real. To read, to think, to trace words back to their origins real or presumed; to invent; to dare to imagine.”
And yet, though we have many fine libraries, and though we have been blessed with many great writers, we are a nation that does not read.
We are told that only 14% of the South Africans are active book readers. A mere 5% of parents read to their children.
We must change that.
There should be no substitute for books in the lives of young people.
Our youth must be addicted to reading; not drugs, alcohol or izikhothane culture.
We recognise the ground-breaking initiatives led by the Department of Arts and Culture to develop an appetite for books especially among our youth.
We must thank our social partners in government, business, civil society and the education sphere who are working to encourage reading.
Our engagement today must be seen as another effort in support of these initiatives.
Our engagement should lead to something tangible; something that will give greater impetus to our efforts.
We would like to see a consultative process that could lead to the
establishment of a national youth book club.
We would like to see a dialogue among social partners on what objectives it could pursue and what form it could take.
We would like to see a discussion on how we can use information technology and social media to grow readership in urban and rural settings.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Reading books is not just an enjoyable past time. It is an integral part of our struggle to be a free and prosperous nation.
Sixty years ago, representatives from across the country gathered on a dusty piece of veld in Kliptown to adopt the Freedom Charter. In that document, they declared for all our country and the world to know that:
“The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!”
“All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands;”
“The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;”
The National Development Plan envisages a society where each community has:
· a school,
· teachers who love teaching and learning,
· a local library filled with a wealth of knowledge, and
· a librarian.
Books are essential for freedom.
They allow a person to break free from the chains of ignorance and intolerance.
They allow a society to free its people to develop, prosper and advance.
Literature is a powerful tool for social dialogue, cohesion and nation building.
It is a means to better understand the human condition.
Our capacity to create and to write shows that we can be greater than our pain and suffering.
Books turn wounds into wisdom. They turn despair into hope.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It was exactly on this day 25 years ago that our founding President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, walked out of prison.
On that day, as he emerged from Victor Verster with his fist raised in salute, we knew for sure that we would be free.
We knew that it would not be easy. We knew that it would require great strength and courage and determination. We knew that it may take many years. But we knew that we would be free.
When I look at all of you young people today, I know that freedom – real freedom – is within our reach.
Our country is alive with untold possibilities.
Through books we can discover them.
Our children have good peer role models who are reading, creating, and innovating.
We are grateful to all the authors in our midst, the staff of the Department of Arts and Culture, the City of Cape Town and the Presidency.
Thank you also to those sponsors who have come forward to support this initiative through the donation of IT equipment and services.
I would like to conclude by quoting from the preamble to the National Development Plan, where it describes the South Africa we see in 2030.
We love reading.
All our citizens read, write, converse, and value ideas and thought.
We are fascinated by scientific invention and its use in the enhancement of our lives.
We live the joy of speaking many of our languages.
We know our history and that of other peoples.
We have clear values.
Your presence here today confirms that, yes, we do indeed love reading.
Enkosi. Baie dankie. Thank you very much.