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The executive director of PASA on building children’s literacy and encouraging a reading culture among South Africans

Mpuka Radinku

Carla Lever recently conducted a Q&A with Mpuka Radinku, Executive Director of the Publisher’s Association of South Africa (PASA), for the Nal’ibali Campaign’s third quarterly column which was published in the Sunday World, Daily Dispactch, and the Herald. Lever and Radinku discussed the availability of books in indigenous languages, how to encourage a reading culture among South Africans, and the future of the South African publishing industry:

You started out your career as a high school teacher. Has that given you a personal perspective on the importance of book access in building children’s literacy?

When I was a teacher in Soweto the organisation called READ used to contribute books to schools and organise student competitions to encourage reading. The immediate results we were a marked improvement in the participation, interest and level of intellectual engagement among students, particularly those who hadn’t previously been exposed to books. I am glad that organisations like Nal’ibali are carrying out initiatives to advance similar or more advanced objectives – I’ve seen directly how book access has a crucial role to play in building children’s literacy.

What is an achievable development goal for the publishing industry over the next 5 years?

As publishers, we need to ensure that the stated goal of ensuring that each child has a textbook for all subjects is achieved on an ongoing basis. Our industry will do this in partnership with Government through the Provincial Education Departments. Publishers will also have to grow the number of people who can read their books in electronic formats like tablets or cell-phones in order to create awareness of the flexibility of reading on various platforms. Finally, we absolutely must contribute in the development and publication of books in all South African languages – particularly the marginalised or minority languages.

What initiatives is PASA supporting to ensure the availability of books in indigenous languages?

PASA has a structured internship programme targeted towards otherwise unemployed black graduates wanting to gain experience in the publishing industry. It includes both practical “hands on” experiential learning and a broader theoretical component. It’s one very direct way we’re trying to both broaden access to the industry and develop capacity to publish high quality books in all of our country’s languages. We also provide business training to help develop emerging companies working with indigenous language publishing and are developing two qualifications (Commissioning and Editing) with the help of the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Skills Education and Training Authorities and Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) to help develop formal training in the sector.

What can people do to encourage a culture of reading and storytelling at a local level?

We need to acknowledge that the culture of reading that we would like to inculcate is set against a South African society characterised by huge inequalities, unemployment and poverty. This context will constantly throw up factors that assist or hinder the development of a reading culture, so we will need to be creative and patient with strategies – what works overseas may not work for us. It’s up to our industry to make a connection between developing a reading culture and the tangible socio-economic and personal benefits that participants will gain by their involvement. Local communities must own the programmes – unless they find out what’s in it for them, our programmes will not be well-anchored.

Reading and telling stories with children in their home languages provides them with a strong foundation for language learning and increases their chances of future academic success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, for to access children’s stories in a range of SA languages, visit:


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