Minister Pallo Jordan keynote address at the Gala Cultural Evening of the WLIC/IFLA conference
South Africa is extremely honoured to be hosting the World the WLIC/IFLA Conference.
This is only the second time that this gathering of the world’s librarians has been held on the African continent and the first time it is being held in South Africa
It has offered us a great opportunity not only to showcase the new developments in our libraries sector, especially the construction of the northern campus of the National Library, which will be completed in early 2008, but it also dovetails well with government initiatives to spur on the culture of reading.
Ours, regrettably, is not a society of readers. Worse yet there is neither enough literature in indigenous languages nor a single bookstore that specializes in the African languages. Afrikaans and English literature are better served. Even German, French, and Portuguese fare better than indigenous languages on the South African book market.
Recent surveys indicate that 51% of South Africans have no books in their homes. A mere 14% of the population read books, and only 5% of these read to their children. There is obvious room for improvement.
We have therefore launched an Indigenous Literature Publishing Project, aimed at producing a series of publications in different languages by writers from different backgrounds, across South Africa. This, hopefully, will stimulate the growth and development of literature in indigenous languages and generate new readerships. We have also tasked the National Library with republishing of out-of-print African language classics so that they are available to the public and institutions again. We are also the creation of partnerships between state entities and private companies to give a lead to the private sector who have thus far proved very reluctant to publish in African languages.
Gross turnover in the publishing sector is approximately R3 Billion per annum. In 2005, R195 million were paid out to authors in royalties. Literature is a significant contributor to the economy and can grow even bigger if we read more and read more widely.
In 2006 I announced the provision of R1-Billion to recapitalize our community library system. This will be our largest and most ambitious project till 2009. It demands a partnership to plan, to manage, to monitor and to evaluate at all tiers of government, especially provincial and local.
It has been more than amply demonstrated in a host of places that Libraries make a qualitative difference by enabling individuals to develop “wings of the mind” and thus transcend their circumstances. The story of Neal Petersen, an important South African achiever, illustrates this point.
Neal Petersen became the first black South African yachtsman by learning navigation and boat design from books he found in the public library. He went on to take part in the Around Alone (formerly BOC Challenge) Race, becoming the first black man to race solo around the world. Neal Petersen was born disabled. He is now a motivational speaker in California, USA.
Neal Petersen owes a large portion of his achievements to one brave librarian, Ms. Letta Naudee formerly of the Wynberg Public Library – now the Head of the Sea Point Library, Cape Town - who risked everything to provide Mr Petersen with access to the knowledge he craved. In the days when Neal Petersen was learning about sailing, our public libraries were racially segregated and all the books on sailing were in the “Whites only” section of the library. Ms Letta Naudee would sneak books out the back door for him, bravely defying the racist laws of that time. Such little acts of defiance of tyranny can make a world of difference. Neal Petersen’s achievements testify to that. They also underscore how of libraries can change people’s lives.
We have made an additional R200-million available for Libraries this year.
This amount will go to the DAC and to the nine provinces as conditional grants for upgrading of libraries. The nine provinces have submitted their business plans and we are already rolling out the project.
A Library Transformation Charter has been unveiled this year setting the new directions for our country’s community libraries. This Charter was developed through a process of wide consultation among stakeholders.
R39 Million has been set aside for the upgrading of public entities and the SA Library for the Blind.
The Pretoria Campus of the new National Library is on schedule and is expected to be completed in November 2007. The estimated cost is R374-Million and the National Library will move into the new building in early 2008.
The development of a reading culture depends critically on the availability of literature in indigenous languages. Literature emancipated human thought from the constraints of time and space. Having learnt how to record our thoughts, opinions, emotions, beliefs, values and experiences in writing, they became timeless. They could be transferred from one place to another; they could be transported from one time to another; they could be carried from one environment to another; and they could be carried from one people to another.
The invention of writing was one of the most profound cultural revolutions experienced by humankind. The printing press, which made possible the wide dissemination of books, was the advent of the information revolution we are currently experiencing Its consequences are shaping, reshaping and in the future will reshape the world we inhabit in ways that no one can anticipate.
Books are the bridge that spans gulf between the past and the future. They are “…the memory of peoples, communities, institutions and individuals, the scientific and cultural heritage, and the products through time of our imagination, craft and learning. They join us to our ancestors and are our legacy to future generations. They are used by the child, the scholar and the citizen, by the business person, the tourist and the learner. These in turn are creating the heritage of the future.”
Books remains a critical factor in the dissemination of knowledge and information. Reading helps to promote critical thinking, particularly among the youth, who can through books learn to perceive differing and even conflicting dimensions of the same issue. After the publisher, the librarian is the principal agent ensuring that books reach the general public.
Through the written word we can lay claim to the wealth of humanity’s literary heritage, by building libraries we are making it the property of all our people, indeed of people everywhere.