I am delighted to stand here before you as we launch yet another instalment of National Book Week. This year’s programme organised under the theme: Buy a Book; Read a Book, is promising to be yet another very exciting and fulfilling experience.
The government of South Africa is committed to the development of a vibrant reading culture in South Africa. This is one of the reasons why education is number one priority in the National Development Plan.
As we enter into the seventh consecutive year of hosting National Book Week, I am confident that this programme is one of the vehicles that will carry our nation to our ideal society in 2030 as envisaged in the NDP.
It is with immense pride that this year we welcome the Department of Correctional Services as one of our partners. Their Reading for Redemption Programme affirms our conviction that reading changes lives. We believe that reading promotion should reach all sectors of our society.
Over the past couple of years we worked with them in the Funda Mzantsi Reading Championship, which is run in association with the Centre for the Book, an outreach unit of the National Library of South Africa.
It is quite significant that this year’s National Book Week programme is launched on the 1st day of September, the beginning of Heritage Month in South Africa. This is no accident as books play a pivotal role in chronicling a people’s history and serve as purveyors of information, which is passed from generation to generation.
The importance of books as sources of knowledge and information makes reading a vital ingredient in the development of a progressive society.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of Sol Plaatje’s seminal book, Native Life in South Africa, which was published in 1916. We are planning an extensive programme to celebrate this icon on 8 September, which coincidentally is also International Literacy Day.
I am looking forward to talking more about this programme in Kimberley next week. In the meantime, I challenge you to read this book so that you can understand what it is all about and what moved Plaatje to write it!
National Book Week is a clarion call to each one of us to buy a book and read as part of our contribution towards the creation of a reading nation. 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.
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.
This programme is one of the most significant interventions in our efforts to mainstream the book sector as an important contributor to job creation, poverty alleviation and skills development.
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 has become one of the priority projects in the MGE strategy because of its continued record of adding a positive contribution to the development of our society.
It is exciting to note that today’s discussions include the business aspect of the book sector. I trust that the discussions that take place as part of this programme will enlighten young people to consider the book sector as a career option.
I would like to see more publishing houses that specialise with the publication of indigenous languages. We must never forget that South Arica has got eleven official languages and we have an obligation to ensure equitable development of all these languages.
In the same vein, I trust that we will work together to find solutions to some of the challenges that confront the book sector. The question of the cost of books, for instance, is one of the prohibiting factors in our efforts to develop a reading society.
Many of our people in the townships and rural areas cannot afford to buy books; have to travel long distances to find bookshops; and have very limited access to libraries. I envision a society where every child in South Africa owns a book by the age of four.
We as the Department of Arts and Culture have always been conscious of the imbalances that exist in the knowledge economy.
It is against this backdrop that education and access to books are some of the priorities of our government today. In the current MTSF, covering the years from 2014 – 2017, the Department of Arts and Culture is investing a further R3 billion for library infrastructure through the Conditional Grants programme. Over the past two years we managed to open several new and refurbished libraries across the country through the assistance of this programme.
We will continue building libraries to ensure that the communities that did not have access to these facilities previously are able to benefit from this programme. We encourage communities to embrace these facilities as their own.
We build them so that they can make use of them and ensure that our children have a brighter future than us. We must always remember that access to education is not a privilege, it is a right that we all have. Our future is hidden in books and we must discover it.
The seventh edition of the National Book Week presents us with an opportunity to further deepen our commitment to the creation of a reading nation. We must work together and develop strategies for establishing alternative modes of publishing, promotion of our diverse languages, establishing new distribution channels for local books and engendering new audiences.
Let us renew our commitment to making reading an integral part of our lifestyle. As part of celebrating National Book Week, I encourage everyone present here to buy a book for someone who cannot afford to buy for themselves. Books should become the natural choice for gifts among friends, families and colleagues.
We can change the world – one book at a time.
I thank you