It’s been a decade since National Book Week was officially launched by the SA Book Development Council in collaboration with the department of arts and culture. This year National Book Week runs from September 2 to 8 and will coincide with International Literacy Day on September 8. The SA Book Fair is also taking place from September 6 to 8. National Book Week will be celebrated in all nine provinces, with various reading-aligned events such as exhibitions, readings and storytelling sessions.
Speaking to City Press, chief executive of the council Elitha van der Sandt said it becomes a societal problem when people are not interested in reading, given that the country is unable to advance as a whole.
“There are many ways to access a book ... such as through our public library system. But even with that, we find that 51% of South Africans are not interested in joining a public library. So while there are arguments that books might be too expensive, it is a perception of values. Given our apartheid past, we still carry historical baggage where books were never really offered. So this is an awareness campaign to highlight the importance of books and of reading.
“Ten years [after the launch of National Book Week], reading is starting to be something that people are definitely thinking about more. It was even mentioned during the president’s state of the nation address this year,” she said.
During his address in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that it was a priority to improve the reading comprehension in the early years of school.
“The [basic education] department’s early grade reading studies have demonstrated the impact that a dedicated package of reading resources, expert reading coaches and lesson plans can have on reading outcomes,” he said.
Ramaphosa’s attention towards enhancing the literacy levels of early grade school children was no doubt brought on by the shocking statistics that continue to highlight the conversation around reading in South Africa – according to a 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, 78% of Grade 4 pupils cannot read for meaning.
“This is an awareness campaign, not a reading project. For South Africa to have an awareness week is a big achievement. We can see the conversations that are taking place in the media, there is heightened awareness around reading.”
Since the campaign launched, the council has measured an increase in the number of people who have taken up reading in South Africa.
“From our 2016 survey, there are 1.1 million more readers in the country. We know that National Book Week definitely had a role to play in this. We also see that we have a potential of 3.8 million more readers, which might mean that they are currently light readers and could get into more reading at a later stage.”
With the rise of digitisation, Van der Sandt says there has been a shift back to print, with only 22% of South African’s buying e-books: “It’s just another format of reading, the content is still the same when it comes to digital or e-books. There is a digital market, but it is not the biggest market to access books or content.”
The council’s goal for the next decade is to continue to promote and create awareness around reading.
“We need to make indigenous languages more available and make the book a part of everyday life in South Africa. We import about 67% of children’s literature in the country, so we need to look at making more local content available and explore the different markets such as graphic novels and comic books, which are also increasing in popularity.”
To find our more about National Book Week, visit sabookcouncil.co.za