Keynote address by Minister Paul Mashatile on the ocassion of the official opening of the 2012 National Book Week, at Babs Madlakane Community Hall, Uitenhage

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03 Sep 2012

Programme Director
MEC for Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture, Ms Xoliswa Tom
Executive Mayor of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, Councillor ZanoxoloWayile
National Book Week Ambassador, Mr. Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse
Chairperson of the South African Book Development Council, Ms Jane Maloney
CEO of the South African Book Development Council, Ms Elitha van der Sandt
The National Librarian, Mr. John Tsebe
Writers present here today
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and gentlemen:

We open the National Book Week this year on a sad note.

A few days ago, we woke up to the shocking news of the passing away of one of the stalwarts of our liberation struggle who was also a man of letters; Dr Neville Alexander.

This gallant writer, academic, educationist, freedom fighter and cultural activist was born in Cradock, not far from here.

He established himself as a student activist and a freedom fighter before he was incarcerated on Robben Island, where he spent a decade of his life as a political prisoner.

He continued with his activism throughout the 1980’s, and after the attainment of democracy in 1994 he continued to make a contribution to the reconstruction and development of our country.

He was one of the major proponents of multilingualism. He served on a number of Language Planning and Policy structures and contributed to some of our policy processes, including in the discussions on the use of Official Languages Bill, that we tabled in Parliament recently.

Ladies and gentlemen, I request that we rise and observe a moment of silence to pay our respects to this great son of the soil.
Programme Director, I am delighted to say that this past week was not altogether a week of doom and gloom.

Just as we heard the news of the passing away of one legend, another one was receiving a well-deserved honour in the form of the Golden Wreath Award.

This coveted Award is given to poets of international repute whose body of work enjoys global appeal.

This writer is one of only two individuals from the African continent to receive this Award. He joins world famous poets like Pablo Neruda, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.

Ladies and Gentleman, I am proud to say that this freedom fighter, former commander of uMkhonto WesiZwe, and former chairperson of the Arts and Culture Portfolio Committee is here with us today as we celebrate the opening of National Book Week.

Dr Mongane Wally Serote, we are honoured to have you with us today.

We understand that you have just returned from Macedonia where you received the award.

I am glad that you took time to join us here as we open the National Book Week.

Congratulations on your recent achievement. You remain a shining example to all of us. We trust that the younger generation of writers will emulate your spirit of resilience.

Also among us today is another legend in the literary fraternity and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in the South African Literary Awards; Dr. Sindiwe Magona.

Some of you may have seen the stage adaptation of her book, Mother to Mother, at the National Arts Festival this year.

Dr. Magona is one of the literary icons who continue to write in both English and IsiXhosa, her mother tongue.

One of her books, Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, is considered to be one of the top hundred books of all time on the African continent.  Sis’ Sindiwe, siyakwamkela!

Programme Director, it is fitting that National Book Week is held at the beginning of Heritage month, as literature is an integral part of our heritage.

Writers have a duty to tell our stories and ensure that our history is not left in the hands of those who will distort it.

As Chinua Achebe, the giant of African letters eloquently puts it, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter…”

The challenge is, therefore, on the new generation of writers to use their pen to tell the South African story and continue with the spirit of activism towards the empowerment of their communities.

It is also significant that the main programme for this year’s National Book Week is held in the Eastern Cape, a province rich in Literary Heritage.

It was here that the very first publishing house, the Lovedale Press, was established in 1824.

The establishment of this publishing house led to the first translation of the Bible into an African Language in South Africa.

The complete version of the Xhosa Bible was published in 1859, and thus standardizing the written language and unleashing a flurry of publications in isiXhosa.

Newspapers like Imvo Zabantsundu, founded by John Tengo Jabavu as the first black-owned newspaper in 1884, created platforms for writers to tell the stories of their people.
 
The dawn of the twentieth century saw the emergence of a new crop of writers.

The likes of S.E.K. Mqhayi, Thomas Mofolo, Sol T. Plaatje, and other early intellectuals, became the voice of the oppressed in South Africa.

We know, for instance, that part of the reason Plaatje was elected as the first Secretary General of the South African National Native Congress, today known as the African National Congress, is the fact that he was a writer.

Plaatje used his writing to empower himself, document his people’s history and uplift his community.

Programme Director, it is of great significance that the main programme of this year’s National Book Week will be held at the Red Location Museum, itself a heritage site commemorating an area that was a favorite meeting place of the heroes and heroines of our liberation struggle in this part of our country.

Going forward this site will no doubt form part of the Liberation Heritage Route in the Eastern Cape.

As we have said before we will use the Liberation Heritage Route not only to tell the story of individuals and sites that are of significance to our struggle for national liberation, but also to stimulate local economic development.
 
When we talk about the role of writers in documenting the history of a people, one writer who symbolizes this is S.E.K. Mqhayi.

It was through Mqhayi’s writings, and in particular the poem, Ukuzika KukaMendi, that today we are able to commemorate the sinking of the Mendi in 1917.

Speaking of Mqhayi, I am proud to say that as part of reclaiming our literary heritage, we are working with the National Library of South Africa to reprint classics in indigenous languages.

This project, which began in 2009, has so far re-produced a total of 68 titles.

As a result of the implementation of this project, I am glad to announce that classical Xhosa texts such as Mqhayi’s Ityala Lama Wele, A.C. Jordan’s Ingqumbo Yeminyanya, and Apha Naphaya by D.M. Jongilanga, would now be available in community libraries.
 
While it is important to bring back books that have left indelible footprints in our collective memory, we recognise the equally important task of creating space for emerging writers and for uncovering new talent.

In this regard, one of the most significant products of our relationship with the South African Book Development Council is the Indigenous Languages Publishing Programme.

Through this programme, we have provided subsidies to small independent publishers to assist them in publishing books in indigenous languages.

While the intention is to promote publishing in indigenous languages, this programme also places emphasis on enterprise development; equipping publishers with skills to run successful publishing enterprises.

As we continue with these initiatives, our challenge is that of audience development, as the reading culture in our country remains minimal.

It is ironic that we have to struggle to promote reading while South Africa boasts some of the finest writers in the world.

While the achievements of seasoned writers like Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer and others are well documented, the younger generation is also making its mark on the global map.

In this regard, I would like to congratulate Sifiso Mzobe, whose debut novel, Young Blood, won a treble; the Herman Charles Bosman, the prestigious Sunday Times Fiction Prize as well as the South African Literary Award.

I am aware that later this week Mzobe will be leaving for Nigeria where he is short-listed for the Wole Soyinka Prize. We wish him the best of success!

The South African Literary Awards is one of the initiatives that are supported by the Department of Arts and Culture.

Since their establishment in 2005, the Awards have recognized over 100 South African writers.

One of the recipients of these awards, Mxolisi Nyezwa from New Brighton in Port Elizabeth, is with us here today.

Many other writers and ambassadors will descend on the Nelson Mandela Bay in the next few days to celebrate National Book Week.
These include the best-selling and internationally acclaimed thriller writer, Deon Meyer, whose books have been translated to more than 25 languages world-wide.

One of the leading female voices, Angela Makholwa, whose novels grapple with the complexities of women’s lives in modern society, will also grace us with her presence.

The bestselling author, McIntosh Polela, will also take a moment to share his story with National Book Week patrons.

It is a matter of pride that so many young writers are winning awards, getting their works translated and their books distributed across the world.

These accomplishments are important for increasing access to international markets for South African literature.

We are pleased to note the emergence of new literary journals, online discussion forums and other electronic media that seek to promote South African literature.

Equally, the proliferation of book fairs and literary festivals, and publications by new authors all bear testimony to a thriving literary landscape and will create a fertile environment for growth in the book sector.

These developments are encouraging because they indicate that book sector has enormous potential for growth and this would have positive spin offs to various aspects of our lives.
 
As we are implementing the Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy, we will pay attention to audience development as a crucial aspect of advancing the economic potential of the book sector.

To this effect, our programme for the rest of the Week involves a lot of activities that promote a culture of reading and writing.

Our intention throughout this Week is to project reading as a fun activity that expands our horizons of knowledge.

As Lady Montagu eloquently puts it, “No entertainment is as cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, in order to realize fully the potential of the book sector as a contributor to job creation, poverty reduction and skills development, we need to have an integrated national strategy on the books and publishing sector.

With this in mind, we have appointed a Ministerial Task Team with the purpose of identifying growth opportunities for the local books and publishing sector.

One of the key recommendations of the Task Team is the establishment of a statutory body for the book sector.

Such an institution would play a central role in developing growth strategies for the sector in order to nurture a globally competitive local book industry.

We are delighted that during this year’s National Book Week, we are already implementing some of the strategies that form part of our national book development plan.

These include a sustained reading promotion strategy as well as the promotion of indigenous languages.

The National Book Week is part of our ongoing efforts to mainstream the book sector as an important contributor to job creation, poverty reduction and skills development.
 
Within three years, the National Book Week, has grown to become the premier platform through which government, business, the book sector, the media and the civil society establish dynamic partnerships for the promotion of a culture of reading and writing.
This is significant because a widespread culture of reading and writing will assist us as a nation to meet the demands of the knowledgeable society and advance the contribution of the book sector in the economy.

We reiterate that it is through a collective effort that we can instil the love of reading and create a reading society in South Africa.
 
One of the lasting legacies of the National Book Week is our programme to donate books to under-resourced community libraries, schools, authors’ associations, book clubs, and other community based establishments throughout the country.
 
In our programme this year we have added the Book Debates aspect, wherein learners were given books to read and will engage in discussions about the books.
 
We are looking forward to the continuation of this kind of engagement, including the establishment of Book Clubs.

We trust that such activities will become part of our daily lives in our communities.

We also trust that the books we are donating will not sit and collect dust on the shelves but they will become community resources.
Let us continue to work together to build a reading nation; because a reading nation is an empowered nation.
 
I now take this opportunity to declare National Book Week open!

Thank you.