The inaugural Puku Story Festival took place in September 2013 followed by a festival in February 2014, both in partnership with the National Arts Festival, Rhodes University and a host of literacy and education organisations. The festivals successfully created a platform for parents, teachers, librarians and young people to network amongst themselves and with writers, storytellers and language and literacy practitioners.

These festivals were made possible through sponsorship from SASOL, South Africa Partners, REDISA (Recycling and Development Initiative of South Africa), the Mzansi Golden Economy Fund of the Department of Arts and Culture, Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), National Arts Council (NAC), Convergence Partners, AGE Group, Sakhumzi Restaurant and the Grahamstown Business Community.

Since then, Puku has continued to host an annual festival in Grahamstown during February, coinciding with International Mother Language Day.

In 2016, Puku launched the Puku Afri-kids Festival which is designed to appeal to children, teenagers, parents and grandparents, caregivers and educators, writers and cultural activists through a combination of live performance, conversation, exhibition and book launches throughout the day.

Puku is committed to growing a reading nation in South Africa through supporting the development of African Language resources.

To keep our languages alive for the next generation, we must share them and celebrate them!

Puku Story Festival

The Puku Childrenʼs Literature Foundation identified the acute shortage of interesting, engaging and appropriate reading material for children, especially in African languages as one of the major factors contributing to South Africaʼs education crisis. Elinor Sisulu, Chairperson of the Puku Childrenʼs Literature Foundation said at the launch of the first story festival: “Through this festival we want to showcase and celebrate the work of storytellers, writers and artists so that children and their parents, teachers and caregivers will know what is available in their language.”

Speaking on behalf of the National Arts Festival, Ayanda Mjekula welcomed the Puku Story Festival: “We are honoured to be part of this exciting and ground breaking initiative. We have been worried to see the indigenous languages being given stepchild treatment with our children struggling to express themselves in their own languages. We decided that we will no longer be spectators witnessing the neglect of a crucial linguistic challenge, hence our support to Puku. We hope that Pukuʼs ideal, among others, of creating a dynamic and interactive links between producers, teachers and children will be realised.”

Professor Sizwe Mabizela, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University said: “Rhodes University is committed to the notion of multilingualism as part of transformation. In 2008 the University won the PanSALB Multilingualism Award for the efforts being made on campus, more specifically through the work of the African Language Studies Section. These include offering isiXhosa vocation-specific courses for Law, Pharmacy, Education and Journalism as well as overseeing the implementation of multilingual initiatives under the Rhodes Language Committee and NRF SARChI Chair which is headed by Professor Russell Kaschula. It is hoped that these multilingual initiatives can be fed into the broader educational milieu under the auspices of the Puku Festival.”

The 2016 guest of honour was legendary musician, poet, storyteller and teacher Latozi Mpahleni, better known as Madosini. Widely acknowledged as the foremost living player of isitolotolo, uhadi and the umrhube mouth bow, Madosini is truly a national treasure formally recognised by the Department of Arts and Culture as a Living Legend.

Festival director, Ziyanda Gysman could hardly contain her excitement at having Madosini at the Festival. “Alongside other iconic Eastern Cape writers and artists such as Dr Sindiwe Magona and Dr John Kani, Madosini is internationally acclaimed in her field and has performed all over the world, but her work has not received the recognition that it should in the province of her birth, especially among the youth. Just as the Puku Story Festival gave the children of Grahamstown schools exposure to Sindiwe Magona and John Kani, so will we bring Madosini to the same audiences.”

Why a story festival?

The aim of this festival is to provide a joyous and memorable event that will spark childrenʼs interest in storytelling and reading in isiXhosa. The festivals also provide a platform for collaboration and communication between readers, writers and publishers of isiXhosa childrenʼs literature. The festivals empower isiXhosa teachers and librarians with access to resources and writers whilst generating public awareness around isiXhosa childrenʼs literature.

The annual three-day festival programme is designed to cater for all age groups – children in pre-school and primary school, teenagers, parents, care-givers, teachers members of the general public. Buskers, giant puppets, stilt-walkers, marimba and field bands all help storytellers keep their audiences, young and old, entertained.

A long line-up of storytellers and writers lead storytelling performances and writing workshops. Award-winning writers storytellers that have participated in these events include Sindiwe Magona, Gcina Mhlope, Cebo Solombela, Mhlobho Jadezweni, Grahamstownʼ s own Siphiwo Mahala and internationally-acclaimed actor and film and theatre director John Kani.

The main festival venue has changed from the Monument to the new building of the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in Worcester Street, Grahamstown. A highlight of the Festival is the Exhibition that runs daily, alongside book launches, conversations and reading, and open mic sessions. The Exhibition is curated by the National English Literary Museum, and has a display of isiXhosa children’s books and digital content.

The key objectives for the Puku Story Festival

  • To provide a joyous and memorable event that will spark interest in storytelling and reading in isiXhosa
  • To increase environmental awareness through children’s books and storytelling
  • To provide a platform for collaboration and communication between consumers and producers of isiXhosa children’s literature
  • To enable independent trade and education publishers and NGOs involved in the production of content to exhibit their product, including children’s books on the environment as well as content for the blind and visually impaired
  • To generate public awareness of isiXhosa children’s literature and the link between indigenous storytelling and books
  • To stimulate increased investment in publishing of isiXhosa children’s literature
  • To increase availability of isiXhosa children’s books to materially deprived and marginalised communities

Organising Committee


Dr Sizwe Mabizela: Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University
Mr Ayanda Mjekula: National Arts Festival Chairperson
Dr John Kani: Actor, direct and playwright
Dr Sindiwe Magona: writer, storyteller and motivational speaker
Dr Gcina Mhlophe: storyteller, poet, playwright, author and activist
Mr Siphiwo Mahala: writer, Deputy Director, Department of Arts and Culture
Professor Kole Omotoso: writer, academic, language rights activist and pan-Africanist

Curatorial Committee

Professor Russell Kaschula: NRF SARCHI Chair in the Intellectualisation of African Languages, Multilingualism and Education in the School of Languages, Rhodes University
Dr Mhlobo Jadezweni: Senior Lecturer in the School of Languages, Rhodes University
Ms Xolisa Guzula: Senior Language and Literacy Specialist, Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development

Puku Afri-Kids Festival

Enriching children’s lives through Africa’s heritage and the protection of our environment

The Puku Afri-kids Festival took place on Saturday 26 November at the SGI-South Africa Community Centre in Parkwood, Johannesburg. The Puku Afri-kids Festival is designed to appeal to children, teenagers, parents and grandparents, caregivers and educators, writers and cultural activists through a combination of live performance, conversation, exhibition and book launches throughout the day.

As the festive season approaches, parents, grandparents and family members dip deep into their pockets to buy presents for their loved ones. There is no research that we know of that gives an idea of what South Africans spend on toys, books and games for their children but we have no doubt that the amounts are substantial. Our preliminary observation is that we have a retail sector that does not stock children’s toys and entertainment content that is culturally and linguistically appropriate. Our shops are filled with imported toys that reflect little of Africa’s heritage.

In our work with communities around the country, Puku has identified and networked with numerous organisations and individuals producing excellent Afrocentric, multilingual products and content that entertains, educates and affirms children. Puku is committed to the creation of dynamic, interactive links between those involved in the creation and production of children’s content in all languages and the consumers of such content.

The creators and producers include oral storytellers, writers, illustrators, translators, publishers. The consumers include parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, librarians and most importantly, the children themselves. It is with this end in mind that Puku organised Puku Afri-kids.

The Festival is platform for producers of content for children to showcase their products. The festival is also a fun-filled event designed to entertain children, their parents and caregivers through live storytelling and games. The literary component of the festival features book launches and author conversations. The festival also features workshops for parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers to explore burning questions such as do we raise our children to be creators rather than just consumers? How do the toys and books that we choose influence this process? Where do we find the books and toys that reflect our heritage? How do we cater for all our children, including those with special needs.

The Puku Afri-kids Festival has a strong environmental focus in keeping with its own philosophical outlook and that of its headline sponsor, REDISA (Recycling and Development Initiative of South Africa). REDISA is committed to promoting environmental education for children in all languages and has distributed thousands of books to children around the country in South Africa’s major languages.