Keynote address by Minister Mthethwa on occasion of the media launch of the 2014 National Book Week, Emoyeni Reaturant, Johannesburg

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29 Aug 2014
Thank you, Programme Director
Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi
Chairperson of the SA Book Development Council, Ms Jane Molony
CEO of the SABDC, Ms Elitha van der Sandt
Head of SABC1, Mr Maijang Mpherwane
Chairperson of the Judging panel of “20in20”, Mr Mandla Langa
Writers, Publishers and other representatives of the book sector
Members of the Media
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
 
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today, to present this exciting and invigorating programme of 2014 National Book Week. As we celebrate twenty years of freedom, we engage on an upper gear to accelerate our efforts of promoting a culture of reading and writing in South Africa.
 
This year’s National Book Week takes place just over a month after the passing of one of the most prolific writers who ever lived - Nadine Gordimer, South Africa’s first Nobel laureate in Literature. When the news of her passing started spreading like wildfire, I was reminded of the famous saying that, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.” Indeed, the sound of this giant’s fall reverberated across the globe. I also take this opportunity to pay homage to Nadine.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen, this year marks the fifth instalment of National Book Week. This campaign was instituted after the Department of Arts and Culture, through the SA Book Development Council (SABDC), commissioned a study to investigate the reading habits of adult South Africans. The study confirmed what we all know, that reading is not our favourite national pastime at the moment. You are probably aware of the findings of the study by now, which include the fact that more than half of our households do not have any leisurely books.
 
We had to respond to this indictment and start engaging on activities that cultivate literacy and a widespread culture of reading. Literacy underpins development in various aspects of life and a heightened culture of reading is a fundamental ingredient in the creation of a prosperous society. Any initiative that seeks to stimulate reading and writing activities contributes towards the creation of a knowledgeable and progressive society.
 
It is against this backdrop that National Book Week was instituted to augment our reading promotion strategies in the annual calendar. National Book Week was established as a dedicated period for the promotion of a culture of reading and writing. The objective is to create a platform where government, the book sector and civil society can establish dynamic partnerships to promote access to books and contribute towards the creation of a reading society.
 
National Book Week marks the beginning of Heritage month in the South African calendar. This is no accident as books are integral in chronicling a people’s history and serve as purveyors of information, which is passed from generation to generation. 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…” As we celebrate twenty years of freedom and democracy this year, we must be the chroniclers of our own stories.
 
The importance of books as sources of knowledge and information makes reading a vital ingredient in the development of a progressive society. The challenge, therefore, is for South African writers to use their pen to tell the South African story and empower their communities. In her lecture on “Writers and Responsibility” delivered in 1984, Nadine Gordimer captures the situation of a black writer in South Africa in the following words: “Ours is a period when few can claim absolute value of a writer without reference to a context of responsibilities,”
 
As the custodians of our nation’s heritage, it is the responsibility of the Department of Arts and Culture to promote the culture of reading and writing and develop a sustainable book publishing industry that encourages equitable development of all South African languages.  Our efforts include a variety of strategic interventions where we create publishing opportunities for aspiring writers, encourage a culture of reading and recognise excellence in the literary arts.
 
The promotion of a culture of reading and writing is paramount in our strategic intervention as reading is central to our development as a nation. This is in line with the Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE) strategy, which among other things, intends to mainstream the book sector as a significant contributor to job creation, poverty reduction and skills development. National Book Week is a vital instrument in our pursuit of the Department’s strategic goals and contributes towards the fulfilment of the broader imperatives enshrined in the Government’s Programme of Action.
 
The theme for this year’s National Book Week, “Going Places”, resonates with the national imperatives of taking South Africa forward. We believe that books have the capability to transport us to places that we have never been. This theme is best articulated in the words of the father of our democratic nation, the late President Nelson Mandela, when he says: “When we read we are able to travel many places, meet many people and understand the world. We can also learn how to deal with problems we are having by learning from the lessons of the past.” This is exactly our objective, to promote reading to broaden our understanding of the world and develop a knowledgeable society.
 
Within five 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. We are proud to introduce the Book Bus, which over seven days will transport National Book Week ambassadors, motivational speakers, authors, storytellers and a toy library to towns from Ganyesa in the North West province to Worcester in the Western Cape. The bus will visit a total of six provinces, with satellite National Book Week events taking place in other provinces that are outside the route of the bus. We want to reach out to all sectors of our society and ensure that National Book Week is celebrated in every corner of the country.
 
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. The nexus between government, the private sector and civil society movements is what can propel reading into becoming a national priority. It might take a generation to have a total eradication of illiteracy and to develop a vibrant reading culture in South Africa but every effort counts. The institution of National Book Week is an essential investment towards the creation of a reading society.  
 
Let us continue to work together to build a reading nation and an empowered nation. I now take this opportunity to declare National Book Week open!
 
Thank you.