Books and Publishing

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The Department of Arts and Culture established the Books and Publishing unit in 2004. The unit is a component of the Cultural Development section whose strategic focus is the advancement of the economic potential of creative industries to contribute job creation, reduction of poverty and skills development.

Our strategic objective in the book sector is to promote a culture of reading and writing and develop a sustainable book industry that supports equitable development of all South African languages. Our strategic intervention in the sector is aligned with the objectives of the Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE) strategy, which among other things, aims to create an enabling environment for the mainstreaming of the arts sector as an important contributor to job creation, poverty reduction and skills development.

Working with the book sector stakeholders, we initiate, support and implement strategies to engender wider audiences for South African literature and enhance the development of a dynamic book sector that is globally competitive. A widespread culture of reading would create a more knowledgeable society, contribute to the acquisition of skills and advance the economic contribution of the book sector.


Overview of the Book Sector

The Department of Arts and Culture is committed to the preservation, development and promotion of South African literature in all its forms and genres. Through a variety of strategic interventions the Department creates publishing opportunities for aspiring writers, encourages the culture of reading and recognizes excellence in literature.

We believe that to make a meaningful contribution in the book sector we have to adopt a holistic approach that would involve all key stakeholders across the book value chain. We interact with the book industry through the South African Book Development Council (SABDC), which is the representative body of the sector. The council is comprised of associations representing the book chain including writers, publishers, printers, booksellers, etc. There are about 160 publishers subscribed to the Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA), which is the biggest publishers’ organisation in the country. In 2007, over 16, 000 authors received royalties and the number keeps increasing every year.

The rise of the digital media has ushered in a new wave of electronic publishing. New inventions in technology have introduced popular devices such as kindle, iPads and other tablets that augment the sale of ebooks. The United States of America ebooks account for 23% of book sales revenue in 2012. These indicators illustrate the dynamism of the book sector and the need to have systems in place to track developments to coordinate growth strategies in the book sector. Similarly, an estimated twenty literary festivals and book fairs have emerged in South Africa over the past ten years. It is reported that there are over 70 literacy and reading promotion initiatives nationwide.

The State of South African Literature

South African writers command respect in the literary circles across the globe. South Africa is the only country on the African continent to boast two Nobel Laureates for Literature in the names of JM Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer.

In 1995, Mazisi Kunene, the world renowned poet, was recognized as the very first National Poet laureate. After the passing of Kunene in 2006, Keorapetse Kgositsile, another internationally renowned poet, assumed the status of National Paul Laureate. Most recently, political activist and poet Mongane Wally Serote, won the Golden Wreath Award which is given the prominent poets and activists worldwide. Serote joined world famous poets like Pablo Neruda, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney who have previously been honoured with the award. 

The younger generation of writers continue to put South Africa on the global map. Authors like the Booker Prize nominated, Damon Galgut, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Winner, Mandla Langa, the Noma Award winning poetess, Lebo Mashile, are some of the most celebrated authors the world over. Deon Meyer’s works are translated into over 20 languages across the world and young writers such as Niq Mhlongo, Kopano Matlwa, and Kgebetli Moele have got their books translated into languages such as French, German, Spanish and Italian.

South Africa is host to a number of international festivals that host prominent writers from other parts of the world. Conversely, South African writers headline international events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair, London Book Fair, and the Edinburgh Book Festival among others. These are just some of the activities that put South African writers and our literature on the global map.

Economic Indicators

According to the Industry Survey released by the Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA) in 2006, the South African book sector records a staggering R5 billion net-turnover. About 16, 528 authors earn an estimated R308 million worth of royalties.  The publishing industry employs about 3, 000 individuals on a fulltime basis and 2, 400 freelancers. The printing industry employs about 7, 900 people on a fulltime basis.

It is worth noting that only 1% of the population buys books, and this amounts to an estimated R2 billion in sales. What this means is that if this could grow by another per cent, there will be an instant R2 billion increase per annum. The library sector contributes only 4% in sales to the current net turnover. With about 2000 community libraries and information centres in the country, any increase in local books purchase would boost the contribution of the book sector in the country. 

These interventions would add to the growing culture of reading that, among other things, would develop a more informative and knowledgeable society. The promotion of literacy has got positive spinoffs in various sectors of the society as literacy underpins development.

DAC Interventions

Through a variety of strategic interventions the Department creates publishing opportunities for aspiring writers, encourages the culture of reading and recognizes excellence in literature. These interventions are aimed at promoting a culture of reading that would contribute towards the development of a thriving and globally competitive book sector.  Following are some of the interventions that the Department has made over the years:

National Book Week

National Book Week was established by the Department of Arts and Culture is association with the South African Book Development Council as an annual reading promotion event in 2010. National Book Week is one of the most significant interventions in our efforts to mainstream the book sector as an important contributor to job creation, poverty reduction and skills development. In a space of three years, this campaign has established itself as the premier platform through which the government, the book sector, the media and the civil society establish dynamic partnerships for the promotion of a culture of reading and writing. It is through a collective effort that we can instil the love of reading and create a reading society in South Africa.

South African Literary Awards

The Department of Arts and Culture has been the principal supporter of the South African Literary Awards (SALA) since their establishment in 2005. The awards were initiated by the wRite associates, which also appoints an independent adjudication committee.  

The South African Literary Awards play a pivotal role in encouraging the culture of reading and writing, recognizing excellence in literature as well as developing audiences for South African literature. Since their establishment in 2005, the awards have recognised over 100 South African writers in 10 different categories. The awards have grown in stature to become one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the South African literary calendar.  In addition to the benefits of the writers, each occasion employs an average 280 individuals and a total of 2 116 temporary jobs have been created since their establishment in 2005.

The celebration of South African literature stimulates interest and appreciation of our cultural products. We are confident that broader appreciation of South African literature will subsequently engender wider audiences, and thus augment the growth of the book industry. Audience development is paramount to the growth of the sector and we need to constantly device innovative ways of increasing markets for South African literature.

Baobab Literary Journal

The Department of Arts and Culture established the Baobab Literary Journal in 2008 with the purpose of providing regular publishing platform for writers. The journal presents an opportunity for budding writers to exercise their writing muscle alongside seasoned writers.

The founding editor of the Journal, Prof Andries Oliphant, is a distinguished scholar and policy expert. The editor solicits manuscripts from a wide range of writers and so far has given publishing opportunities to over 100 writers. The journal is aligned to the objectives of the Department in its strategy even though it remains autonomous in its editorial policy.

Promoting Indigenous Languages

The Department of Arts and Culture mandated the National Library of South Africa to manage the Reprint of Classics project. The project is aimed at reproducing classics in the nine indigenous languages.

The classics are made available in the public domain through public libraries. The project is conducted in phases and 67 titles in all the nine previously marginalized languages have been reproduced and distributed to public libraries across the nation. The reprinted texts include some rare but classical works by writers such as O.K. Matsepe, D.M. Jongilanga, D.P.S. Monyaise, Sibusiso Nyembezi, L.D. Raditladi, etc. We are currently in the process of producing the third phase of the project.

In an attempt to uncover new talents and produce new material in indigenous languages, the DAC in collaboration with the SABDC initiated the Indigenous Languages Publishing Programme (ILPP). The ILPP is aimed at publishing books, mainly by emerging writers, in all the nine indigenous languages.

 Support for Literary Festivals and Book Fair

Over the past nine years the Department of Arts and Culture has been supporting a number of literary festivals and book fairs. To date, South Africa records over 20 events of this nature and new book fairs and festivals emerge almost every year.

Some of the most well-known events supported by the Department include the Cape Town International Book Fair, which hosts about 50 000 people in attendance; Time of the Writer and Poetry Africa festivals, hosted in by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban annually and includes participants from different countries across the world. 

There is a plethora of smaller but strategic events such as WordFest, which is the literary component of the Grahamstown Arts Festival. WordFest is one of the few festivals whose focus is the development of indigenous languages. A similar initiative has been established in Mangaung, and in run alongside Macufe festival.

Relevant Stakeholders

The book sector is diverse and naturally fragmented. It is important to take into account the various players along the book value chain when planning intervention strategies in the sector. Following are some of the major role players in the South African book sector:

Academic & Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa (ANFASA)

South African Writers’ Association (SAWA)

Language and Media Practitioners (LAMP)

Paper Manufactures’ Association South Africa (PAMSA)

Printing Industries Federation of South Africa (PIFSA)

Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA)

African Publishers’ Association (APA)

South African Booksellers’ Association (SABA)

National Library of South Africa (NLSA)

Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA)

South African Library for the Blind (BLINDLIB)

These are stakeholders that have established formal structures that are subscribed to the South African Book Development Council as the representative body of the sector. There are many other role players, like illustrators, designers, and editors, who play an important role in book production but are either not members of the SABDC or do not have formal structures. The existence of the SABDC makes it possible for the Department to interact with the key stakeholders in the book sector.


The South African book sector is the most thriving in Africa and has got a potential to be a force to be reckoned with internationally. For the full potential of the industry to be realised, it is imperative that the book sector is declared as one of the national priorities.

There is a need for an integrated national strategy, supported by a National Book Policy as a legislative framework, in order to fully exploit the potential of the book industry. In this regard, the Minister of Arts and Culture 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.

At the core of any strategy to develop the book sector is a sustained reading promotion strategy that encourages equitable development of all South African languages. A widespread culture of reading and writing will assist us as a nation to meet the demands of developing a knowledgeable society and advance the contribution of the book sector in the country’s economy.