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Address at the launch of the Readathon campaign 2005, Apartheid Museum, 23 April 2005, Minister Naledi Pandor speeches


Address by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP at the launch of the Readathon campaign 2005, Apartheid Museum

23 April 2005

Professor Manaka, Chair, Trustees for Read Educational Trust,
Mrs Cynthia Hugo, National Director of Read Education Trust,
Mr Tom Boardman CEO of Nedbank,
Ms Nelly Segal-Mosiane, Group Transformation Executive at Edcon,
Mr Richard Gaskell, of Scholastic Publishers
Mr CM Gawe, Programme Director
Learners and guests

Thank you for inviting me to the launch of the Readathon Campaign 2005.

Today is World Book Day, which is celebrated by millions of people worldwide. And so it is appropriate that we launch the 18th readathon campaign on the day devoted to a celebration of books.

The theme for this year’s campaign is to the point: “Reading changes lives”.

All our writers and scholars know this. One in particular, Eskia Mphahlele, has given us a wonderful metaphor for the joy of reading when he refers to the “workshop of the mind”. He writes: “On those nights when I had had my fill of geometrical theorems and algebraic theorems [he was studying for matric] … I would try to relax, seek refuge in the workshop of the mind.”[1] And he could do that because in the 1930s the reading bug had bitten him at school, where he had spent hours reading in the school library, the famous St Peter’s Secondary School in Rosettenville.

The importance of school libraries cannot be underestimated in filling the workshops of our children’s minds.

In the national effort to encourage reading, the corporate sector has a special role to play.

READ contributes enormously to the growth of a culture of reading and learning. I am pleased that it has managed to lobby a large number of businesses to make a contribution towards the development of reading in our schools.

For example, I am told that the reading and writing skills of children in primary schools supported by the “Rally to Read Project” are at least four years ahead of those in other schools. Since its inception more than 100 000 children have benefited from this project.[2]

Ladies and gentlemen, most of our learners, through no fault of their own, come from homes where there are no books, where parents cannot read nor write, or where parents just do not read.

Without focused interventions, such as “Rally to Read” and “Readathon”, our national campaign to promote reading would be the poorer.

It is a priority to make sure that our children can read fluently by the third grade.

Furthermore, we need to improve reading and writing in African indigenous languages.

We aim to deepen our efforts to reach the thousands of children who do not have access to books or libraries.

The department is developing a national policy framework for school libraries.

The policy framework will serve as a guideline for provincial departments of education and for schools in making libraries a workable reality.

Parallel to the development of the policy, the department of education is currently positioning itself as a hub for literacy activities and information. The collaboration with various organizations and institutions is one way of taking an integrated approach to promoting reading in schools and communities.

At the moment, the Department has allocated funds to implement reading programmes that are geared towards children and youth:

To name just a few:
The provision of 100 fiction books to as many primary schools as we can reach in the next three years.
The provision of a set of Africa’s 100 best books of the 20th Century to Grade 9 schools in nodal areas.
The commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter through writing competitions.

Together with the Africa and Asia Association in Japan, we are importing 30 mobile library buses in the next four years to use in areas where there are no community and public libraries.

It is worth adding that the Department of Education has entered into a partnership with Hampton University to promote reading in our foundation phase in all official languages. The project allows learners to write their own stories, which will be collated into readers for the foundation phase. Phase One of the project focuses on the production of teacher guides and learner workbooks.

And recently I sent a team of officials to Hampton University in Virginia USA for a materials development workshop, and to observe the USA reading promotion strategy, as part of our partnership with the USAID text books for global education project.

This reminds me. Reading does not automatically make us wiser or better. It all depends what we read. And we read too much about what happens elsewhere and not enough about what happens here in South Africa and in Africa. We have to write for ourselves if we are going to encourage our children to read about South Africa and Africa. And that means that writers and scholars have to be able to find publishers to publish and bookshops to sell their books.

Innovative ways have to be found to encourage South African academics to write books, especially reflective and intellectual books. Writing books has gone out of fashion for a range of reasons that I do not need to explore here. However, we need books that write South Africa’s story based on our own scripts and not the academic or political scripts set in other places. This is a race against time. The knowledge factories in other countries are already producing books that reflect on South Africa’s ten years of democracy quicker than we have been able to do ourselves. We must reverse this trend - and quickly, too.

Reading is at the heart of education and central to all levels of education.

We are pleased that our working relationship with READ has been formalised; and that the department is working on a memorandum of agreement that will govern the partnership, which aims to build communities through reading.

In conclusion, I wish to thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your continued support of education.

To the organizers of the campaign, I wish you the best of luck for all planned activities. Our partnership in this endeavour means that we are also responsible for the success of this campaign. I call upon all schools to participate in the various activities of the campaign, particularly the writing competitions to develop a pool of young writers who write in our indigenous languages. I thank all the participating sponsors for their magnanimous contributions.

So go out and buy or borrow a book, and read to laugh, to dream, to learn, to enjoy the familiar, to explore the unknown, and to widen your horizons.

Thank you.


[1] “My experience as a writer” (1971) in his new collection, Eskia Continued (Stainbank, 2004).
[2] Financial Mail, 15 April 2005.

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Written By: Administrator Account
Date Posted: 6/30/2008
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