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“Stories can go on to inspire children long after our own kids have grown up” – a Q&A with the Executive Manager of The Bookery, Cosmas Mabeya

Nal’ibali column published in the Sunday World (8 April 2018), Daily Dispatch (9 April 2018), Herald (12 April 2018)

By Carla Lever

Cosmas Mabeya, the Executive Manager of The Bookery

Cosmas, you’ve got a background in politics and banking. What made you want to work with The Bookery, donating libraries of books to under-resourced schools?

I have a job I love because I met someone in 2010 at the worst of times and he gave me a chance. I have stayed this long because making a small contribution to education takes me back to that moment. Had I not a passable standard of education, that “down moment” would also have been my “out moment.” That’s a chance everybody deserves.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Hope! The task is mammoth and there are many challenges. Yet, the excellence we discover under the most adverse of conditions gives us such wonderful hope. The number of people unified in uplifting citizens in general – and learners in particular – gives me a hope for a better tomorrow for the country and the continent.

You must meet some fantastic people through the Bookery. What projects and people have you been inspired by?

Too many to mention! Teachers doing amazing work with so little. Learners working for a better life through grit. Volunteers and donors giving with passion and generosity. Colleagues in NGOs easily employable elsewhere but toiling away because they believe in a better education for all. There are so many good people doing great things.

What kinds of books do schools most need?

Learners need books that are appropriate and relatable. Second-hand textbooks are often out of date, so we encourage people to donate fiction and non-fiction that’s bright, engaging and preferably published after 2000. It’s the only way to keep students’ reading passion alive!

You say that over 90% of schools in SA don’t have functional libraries, but you’ve already created 55 new ones! What can regular people do to chip away at such a huge problem?

Talk to us! Each one of us can make a contribution, whether it’s through donating books, money or time. Check out our website or call us on 021 461 4189. Alternatively get plugged into one of the many NGOs doing good works in literacy and education. Everyone can do something, wherever they are in this country.

Your first libraries were set up in 2010 at Thembelihle and Lavendar Hill High Schools in Cape Town. Do you have any idea how those facilities are doing now?

All our schools have either been a great success or sources of learning on how we can do better. We’re still fully involved in the libraries of these two schools and continue to journey with them – their highs and lows are our highs and lows. Importantly, they’ve been a template for us to build on.

What kind of feedback to you get from school teachers…and especially the kids? Is it possible to keep up with the demand?

Fantastic feedback. My colleagues visit each library at least once a term. We train our library assistants, who share their experiences at our monthly cluster meetings. It’s also really important to us to meet principals regularly so that they can share directly how we can serve them better. We like to do that over a lunch, just so that they feel appreciated.

If you could have a word with our new Minister of Higher Education, Naledi Pandor, what would you ask her to change?

It’s above my pay grade to ask her to change anything, but I would ask her to simply visit some of our libraries, talk to our librarian assistants and, most importantly, hear from the kids and teachers.

How can people get involved with the great work The Bookery does?

Never doubt that each and every one of us can make a contribution. You can add us as a Woolworths My Schools beneficiary – that’s a great way to donate. We’d also love your pre-loved books in good condition – stories can go on to inspire children long after our own kids have grown up.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:


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