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Enter the Fantastic FunDza Fanz competition

FunDza aims to get SA teens and young adults hooked on reading.
FunDza aims to get SA teens and young adults hooked on reading.
Image: Supplied/Fundza

In SA, a publisher is thrilled if it sells 3,000 copies of a book. It is, in our national terms, a best-seller, outdoing most of the other local fiction and non-fiction titles. You would be forgiven for thinking that SA is not a reading nation.

But people are reading. They are reading Facebook diaries, problem pages and other online material. One popular site is fundza.mobi, an online library run by the FunDza Literacy Trust which commissions and publishes local high-interest stories and articles that young South Africans can relate to, offering them an outlet and an escape. Fundza.mobi is zero-rated by all SA networks. Users don’t even have to have data to access it — it’s completely free.

Every day more than 15,000 young people visit fundza.mobi to get their reading fix.

One of FunDza’s recent stories, “The Things we do for Love”, was read by 22,000 people in English, and more than 2,000 in isiZulu. These are impressive numbers for the young writer Amanda Ngema, who is a student from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She writes in isiZulu and her work is translated into English for FunDza by acclaimed author Sifiso Mzobe, and she has already attracted a following.

FunDza aims to get SA teens and young adults hooked on reading. Reading not only improves language and comprehension, but also critical thinking skills and creativity. Research has shown that learners who read regularly improve their maths and language results and are generally more successful in and after school.

Providing guidance, support, education and hope

Our education system is under more strain as a result of the pandemic, with our dropout rate as high now as it was 20 years ago. We need to find ways to help give young people guidance, support, education and hope — and one powerful way for young people to grow and develop in these difficult times is to read. 

For those who are unemployed or not at school, and have time on their hands, reading is a cheap and constructive activity that can help them in their personal development. It can encourage them to become active citizens to help make our society more just and equitable. For those who are studying, improved reading can help them in their academic journeys.

A brand-new story is published every week on FunDza — and readers love them. They recognise the characters and settings, and the storylines are pacy and thought-provoking. “Every story motivates me,” says one reader. “Some of the stories matched my past and present life, and it’s taught me how to deal with my anger, depression and pain,” said another. 

FunDza offers its readers the sense of community, of not being the only one facing a problem — of their lives being seen. As one reader commented, “Fundza.mobi is my best friend, she gets me and understands me.”

FunDza also offers free online courses. These cover a range of topics, but all are based on collections of FunDza’s original stories, articles and educational material designed for young South Africans. Some courses are focused on a particular topic, such as the popular “Get ready for that job”, while others are based on genres of stories, or issues such as teen pregnancy, bullying, and messy love entanglements. “The courses give me access to education without spending any cent,” wrote one reader. 

Recently, during the pandemic, these courses became more than just a way for young people to develop their skills, but also gave them a focus and direction. “I completed my matric last year and obtained a bachelor pass. I didn’t look for a school because of being afraid of being infected by the Covid-19 virus, but enrolling for courses at FunDza while I am at home is a great help.”

Many of the readers are unemployed, and describe how reading on FunDza gives them something to do when they don’t have much motivation to get up in the morning. “I used to spend my days watching TV and stressing about life and my state of unemployment. Now I just log in to fundza.mobi, read books, and complete quizzes,” wrote one. Another wrote: “I’m unemployed and not studying. Reading and learning from fundza.mobi is something I do almost every day so I get to learn things every day.” 

Meet some of FunDza’s top readers

One of FunDza’s keen readers is Zinhle, who grew up in a mountainous village near Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal. Now in grade 9, Zinhle attends high school near Nseleni township. She gets up at 5am to go to school, and it takes her an hour to get there.  Zinhle’s love of story was inspired by her mother, who, after the sun had set, would recount traditional Zulu folktales. 

FunDza has allowed Zinhle to access motivational essays which buoy her dreams of studying further. “A lot of children at school don’t like reading,” says Zinhle. “I want to tell children at school that there’s these phone [apps] where you can read novels.” She has read “hundreds of stories” on FunDza, and she has noticed how it has built up her vocabulary and has improved her grades at school. 

In the Western Cape Josh, age 13, lives near Hanover Park, a tight-knit community that is troubled by gangsterism. The national lockdown during the pandemic allowed him time to discover and delve more deeply into FunDza. “It inspires me to write more and the stories that I read are very enjoyable,” he says. Through reading and writing about what’s happening in SA, Josh hopes to effect social change. He wants young people to stand up for themselves.

Letlhogonolo in Rustenburg is a young man who aims to become an entrepreneur. Hailing from a small village called Mosweu, he is the eldest of five boys, and was raised by a single parent who relied on her social grant to feed her family. 

Growing up, Letlhogonolo’s access to literacy was limited, with no access to libraries and no books at home. Reading, writing and literacy was not part of his life. “It wasn’t part of my life until I got to know about FunDza.” 

He says it has had a big impact on his life: “It really makes me improve my reading and language skills. It also stretches my mind ... and improves my vocabulary and my English. Now I love reading.”

Precious, from rural Limpopo, completed a healthcare course in Joburg and then returned home just before the pandemic. It was a worrying and uncertain time. Scrolling on social media, she found FunDza and it pushed her to a different mental space. “Reading gave me an opportunity to cloud out the anxiety of the pandemic — I had some sort of refuge.”

All over the country, young people are gaining skills, knowledge, insight and even inspiration through reading regularly on FunDza. 

Enter the Fantastic FunDza Fanz competition

In September, FunDza is running a Fantastic FunDza Fanz competition*, awarding airtime prizes to top readers each week, and — at the end of the month — 10 of the daily top readers will win R1,500 in cash and a goody bag of treats.

To become a Fantastic FunDza Fan and participate in this competition, visit www.fundza.mobi on your phone’s browser, create a profile and start reading!

As FunDza’s site has been zero-rated by all SA networks, it won’t cost a cent to participate, and you could gain a huge amount of knowledge, skills and insight too.

Join Josh, Precious, Letlhogonolo and Zinhle on FunDza now!

*Terms and conditions apply. Visit www.fundza.mobi for full details.

This article was paid for by FunDza.