Reading key to progress of a nation

Reading is fundamental to a child's development as it underpins everything we do in life.
Reading is fundamental to a child's development as it underpins everything we do in life.
Image: 123RF

It was Malcolm X who was quoted saying the best way to hide something from a black person is by putting it in a book.

The statement was a generalisation of course, but one not too far from the truth given that in 1960s America, access to education for black people was still limited as a result of discriminatory laws and practices. It was the same for blacks in SA in the same period and beyond.

Malcolm X's statement has been used on numerous occasions over the years to bemoan a lack of a reading culture among black people. It is calamitous reality that even an improved access to books, which includes walking to a library in most communities in urban areas, the level of reading by black people remains low.

There's also an argument that it could be worse, with the advent of social media contributing to the drop in culture of reading books among black people.

Fortunately, these trends are being noted with concern and in SA there's a growing movement of young people who have gone beyond decrying people's disinterest in reading and are doing something about it.

These include the organisers of Abantu Book Festival, who are hellbent on making reading "cool", not only in Soweto - the festival venue - but in black communities at large.

Abantu founder and director Thando Mgqolozana has created in the festival a movement that is set to influence our society for many years to come and in ways we cannot even begin to imagine.

That the festival is now in its third year and still running strong without much support from the literary or book-publishing establishment is on its own an important statement and a lesson on self-reliance.

The conclusion of Abantu's third segment at the weekend saw many young people coming out to listen to mostly young and black authors discussing issues facing our country and the world.

It was a refreshing experience that also dispelled the myth that today's youth is less concerned with discussions about its place in society.

The African Renaissance slogan may have died with the end of the Thabo Mbeki administration in 2008, but its spirit continues to live on among the young. Long Live Abantu!

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