Minister Mashatile at the South African Literary Awards Prize Giving Ceremony
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Honourable Max Sisulu
Nadine Gordimer our Nobel Prize in Literature Laureate;
MEC for Sport, Recreation Arts and Culture in Gauteng, MEC Lebogang Maile;
The Mayor of Dr. Kaunda District Municipality Councillor Boitumelo Moloi;
Members of Mayoral Committees here present;
Our partners the Sowetan, SABC, the National Arts Council, Nutrend Publishers and the wRite associates;
All those we are honouring this evening;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are gathered here this evening to recognize and celebrate the contribution of South African writers in the development of our literature and indeed in the development of our society.
Tonight we are affirming these writers as significant voices in our national discourse.
We are affirming men and women, black and white, who have displayed extraordinary excellence in telling the South African story.
These writers tell of our aspirations, our triumphs and setbacks, our value systems, our philosophies and our history as a nation.
Their works of art are inscribed and preserved in all the official languages of South Africa, including those that have been historically marginalised.
As the Department of Arts and Culture we are proud to be a partner to this important initiative.
To us this is a worthy partnership that will assist our ongoing efforts to promote and preserve our literary heritage, for present and future generations.
This partnership is also crucial in promoting the culture of reading and writing in our country.
It will also strengthen efforts to develop a sustainable book publishing industry that encourages the equitable development of all official languages.
As the Department of Arts and Culture, we will continue to create publishing opportunities for aspiring writers, encourage the culture of reading and recognize excellence in literature.
This we are doing as part of our overall commitment to ensure that; true South African story is told.
This is a story of a nation that that has overcome adversity, a nation that has risen above its differences, a caring and winning nation.
Indeed this is a story that continues to remind us that; we are united in our diversity.
For many years, South African writers demonstrated a remarkable sense of commitment to the values and aspirations of our society.
They used their writings to confront the oppressive apartheid system.
Through their work, they strengthened our advance towards freedom and democracy.
Many of them lost their lives. Many others were persecuted, banned and exiled.
These activists amplified the voices of resistance and helped to inform the world about the sufferings of our people.
In many ways they were motivated by the sentiment captured in the words of Nadine Gordimer who said in a 1984 lecture on Writers and Responsibility; “To gain his freedom the writer must give up his freedom.”
The role of the writer in society was important then and it is still important today, particularly in deepening the gains of freedom and democracy.
The present generation of writers have to confront challenges of poverty, inequality, unemployment as well as reconstruction and development.
They have to challenge stereotypes, fight the demon of racism and xenophobia and encourage society to embrace the progressive values of Ubuntu which teaches us that I am because you are.
Programme Director, one of the ingredients of building a progressive society is entrenching a culture of reading.
A study we commissioned in 2007, confirmed the grim reality that South Africans are not a reading nation, with half of our households not having any leisure books.
In addition, only 5% of our population read to their children.
If we continue on this path, we are doing a great injustice to our future.
In the words of activist and writer, Professor Mbulelo Mzamane, “….the love of learning, and the intellectual life of a nation depend on developing an early obsession for reading.”
I am therefore encouraged that one of the legacy programmes of South African Literary Awards, the Miriam Tlali Book Club, has a special focus on promoting reading especially among children.
Programme Director, statistics at our disposal indicate that the book industry in South Africa has a significant economic potential.
In order to further unleash this industry’s potential, we are developing a National Book Policy.
Through this policy we will create an enabling environment for the growth and sustainability of the industry, paying particular attention to books published in indigenous languages.
As part of ongoing efforts to promote the culture of reading, this year we successfully launched the National Book Week, which will become an annual event.
We have also embarked on a programme to donate books to a number of under-resourced libraries, community groups and book clubs.
Furthermore we are collaborating with the National Library to reprint some out-of-print classics in indigenous African languages, such as “Mhudi” by Sol Plaatjie.
In conclusion, I wish to congratulate all the award recipients tonight.
As we hounour you, we also challenge you to work with us to build a culture of reading in our society.
We also challenge you to share your experience and skills with aspiring writers.
This we say because, the task of building a culture of reading and writing is the responsibility of the government as much as it is the responsibility of every citizen.