Address by Dr Stella Khumalo on behalf of Director-General Vusumuzi Mkhize at the SACO Workshop on Book Policy Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, Pretoria

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09 Sep 2020

Ms Unathi Lutshaba, Executive Director of SACO

Dr Andre Gouws, Senior Economist at the Observatory and the presenter today

Prof Muxe Nkondo

Prof Andries Oliphant

Mr Frank Meintjies

Ms Lindiwe Madumo from the Department of Basic Education

Mr Mandla Mona from the Centre for the Book

Practitioners and Colleagues

The Department of Sport, Arts and Culture welcomes you to the research workshop on “Towards South African book development policy”.

The South African Cultural Observatory, a project of the Department, organises quarterly workshops where research carried out in previous quarters or periods is disseminated and debated with the view of improving the quality of the research and also the work of the Department.

We welcome both those eminent individuals who are with us physically today as well as the cultural and creative practitioners, researchers, analysts who join us on the Zoom platform.

We certainly hope that the discussions will be robust and be able to take us further towards our goals.

Only yesterday we met to celebrate International Literacy Day at the National Library. We did so together with the PanSALB, the National Heritage Council, the SA Book Development Council and the National Library itself, all of which have a responsibility to play and a contribution to make towards developing literacy in this country.

We also met in the presence of members of book clubs, academics and organisations.

The observations made at that gathering was that literacy is not only about being able to read and write and to count; it is far more than that. It is about the ability to read critically and to think rigorously. It is about being able to make informed decisions armed with this knowledge. It is about the strengthening of democracy in our country.

This is why the discussion today is important as it is not only a discussion about a research report, but about the foundational work that needs to be done, the establishment of enabling conditions in which a culture of reading and writing can flourish and the responsibilities and activities of all those operating in this space so that the policy can be implemented and become a living reality.

The research is just one step in the process.

And it is important that the research work commissioned by the Department through the South African Cultural Observatory at Nelson Mandela University is not just an “academic” exercise but points towards policy-making and also the strengthening of existing policy and practices.

We also acknowledge that there is much work that has been done in previous administrations in working towards book policy. These are all important milestones and what has been done, together with the most recent research, will form the basis of moving forward.

This is why we have invited key stakeholders who have provided tangible direction in previous work.

While the act of reading in itself appears to be a solitary activity, the instilling of a culture of reading and writing symbolised by the book, is a communal activity and requires a community of readers, teachers, writers, publishers, manufacturers – and also e-books specialists, editors, marketing specialists etc.

UNESCO  has described the book as an emancipator, that provides knowledge and stimulates deeper reflection and thinking. The book is seen as a tool of engagement, proving support for dialogue and understanding between peoples. UNESCO also emphasises the importance of books in creating a common literary heritage. 

In conclusion, we are having this discussion on the third day of National Book Week, the theme of which describes the role of books as “a passport to tomorrow.”

I look forward to the discussions today that will help to guide our work today, tomorrow and beyond and indeed allow us to make headway in this “new normal” of COVID-19 and the age of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) where we dare not be left behind and must do all we can to bridge the digital literacy divide.

I wish you well in your deliberations.