Elinor Sisulu Receives SA Literary Award

Elinor Sisulu, founder and Executive Director of Puku was pleased to receive the South African Literary Awards Chairperson’s Achievement Certificate and Trophy for outstanding work in the Children’s Literature space over many years as an author, advocate for indigenous languages and as an activist for inclusion in children’s access to books.

SA Literary Award
SA Literary Award

The prestigious ceremony was held in Potchefstroom after an insightful day of world-class presentations and authentic discourse regarding decoloniality and epistemologies of the Pan-African Literature spaces past and present on the 32nd Annual International Day of the African Writer as declared by the African Union. The Conference was hosted by Write Associates, endorsed by the National Department of Sports Arts and Culture at the North-West University. Key-note speaker at the Conference was the distinguished  Mr Ibrahim Aya from Mali. The 11th International African Writer’s Day media release can be found here.

Elinor was delighted to have been recognised amongst such towering literary giants including Professor Pitika Ntuli, Dr Siphiwo Mahala, Sabata Mpho-Mokae and selected others doing the great work of progressing the discoverability of our African literature, languages and indigenous knowledge systems to their rightful place in the world.


Puku Visits HRH Mohammed Bin Rashid Library

Puku Onix Project teammate, Melvin Kaabwe, had the honor of visiting the Mohammed Muhammad bin Rashid library in Dubai On the eve of the Sharjah International book national book fair and was inspired to find this gentle fountain of knowledge rising out like a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of Dubai.
The library is an architectural and technological marvel for visitors and booklovers built to ignite the imagination.

View of MbR Library from Train platform
View of MbR Library in Dubai from train platform looks like an upturned book

Rising out of the desert as a fountain of knowledge, the building is designed to resemble an open book towards the sky whilst simultaneously in keeping with the themes of voyaging by ship which are a prominent feature of most magnificent buildings Dubai. Perched on the banks of the Dubai creek, the Library is a confluence of ancient knowledge, modern technology and the power of books to take one on a journey anywhere in the mind. There are various accessibility options using multimedia displays and augmented reality (AR) particularly for children to be encouraged on their journey to develop a love of reading organically.

Free ticketing at the door is done by an online booking service tablet.
As one steps into the library concourse, there is an AR experience that puts one into an epic space adventure story together with resident astronauts on an interplanetary mission just as a start!

AR Interactive display
Interactive AR display at MbR Library

One user-friendly approach for the MbR library is using augmented reality at various patron touch-points in showcasing what the library has to offer. Patrons can use interactive information kiosks that are set out as 3D renders of the library one can manipulate with their fingers to scroll, flip, stretch, pinch and zoom to navigate the library.


No books are kept on the shelves to be taken out! Patrons do not need to pull out Books. Most books on the shelves are just for showing exemplars of whichever genre is catalogued.
Library patrons can instead request any title out of the more than 4 million books (including e-books and audio books) available by simply typing out the book name or other search criteria in a search bar on one of the information kiosks or

requesting it from the librarian. A complex system of conveyor belts and space showing shelving shelving then we’ll get the book and bring it to you.

Interactive display
Interactive display at MbR Library General section

So the issuing of books as well as the returns is completely self-service.
All of these library services are possible because of the standardized usage of book data particularly metadata which Puku is prioritizing for the easier discovery of books in our local Southern African languages.
Copying excerpts of books directly to USB storage device as document or image format is available with an automated page-turning camera scanner device. The device is programmed to ask the user to acknowledge the copyright implications for any book copied and to accept the consequences of copyright infringement before proceeding.
For children there is a dedicated section This section has popular titles for children but is the only place in the library which has a level of joyful energy and excitement you can feel and hear aloud unlike most “shhhh” libraries. The children’s section is lively laid out with pods for individual reading as well as a common indoor obstacle course area with slides, climbing nets, bridging etc for play. Children are encouraged to read with ‘Pepper’ a robot friend.

Pepper the Robot
Pepper the robot reader inside the kid’s library section at MbR Library

Pepper can read to the children as well as give them suggestions, call for a an authority figure and verbalize other types of information. On the upper floors, older children (young adults) such as school going teens and young adults have access access to private study carrels where they can do their assignments from school as well as other research or contribute in study groups at groupwork tables.
Individual desks and long tables with glare-free eco friendly smart-lighting are installed throughout the library and pause areas.
Other designated sections of the library include a dedicated periodicals section for newspapers, journals, magazines and such. Then as one would expect based on the Emirates great history of nautical prowess, there is a specific maps/atlas and lastly a media section.
In each section, a digital screen showcases the most popular book available for patrons based on borrowing statistics. It displays the book cover content, synopsis and availability in an eye-catching way that is reminiscent of an attractive retail window display.
There are conference rooms conference rooms available on the upper floors as well. Towards the rear of an exhibition space which is currently showing showing modern art.
While simultaneously on the way to the view outside of the Dubai Creek, there is a beautiful exhibition of Arabic calligraphy on framed portraits of the words as poems or scripture extracts.

Immersive e-Reader
An immersive e-reader device at MbR Library

In another path to the creek is an immersive interactive e-book desk counter that animates a selection of titles accessed via an RFID / NFC tile that displays the content on a rap around screen with 3D capable sound. A user controls page-turning and magnification of the illustrations with a simple dial.
As one walks into the rear garden there is a multicolored installation of pillars adorned by sayings of his Royal Highness. These plinth like structures are shards of knowledge spouting the Ruler’s wisdom in languages from around the globe.

HRH MbR Sayings in isiXhosa
A plinth in the Library gardens displays HRH MbR sayings in isiXhosa

Puku was impressed to see South African languages including Tsonga, Setswana and isiXhosa well represented in translation from the Arabic script.
Puku has been a champion for indigenous languages via isiXhosa festivals and other activities in Southern Africa, it was a distinct experience to see visualized in such a creative manner. This impressive library gives us a glimpse of what is possible to promote children’s books responsibly and with a view to ensure the posterity of our languages into the future given the right techniques and standards for book information now.

Comrades runner Mpho Ngoepe is racing for literacy, and he’s speaking our language

By Fred Khumalo for the City Press; June 2023

Each of the approximately 20 000 runners participating in this year’s Comrades Marathon has a dream: to simply be seen on TV at the starting point or finish line, to improve on their previous record, or to beat the record of the previous winner.

For Mpho Ngoepe, who has completed nine Comrades in the past, the dream this time is not only to finish his 10th within his record, but also to raise awareness and money for a cause close to his heart: the promotion of indigenous languages.

Ngoepe, the director of the School of Arts at Unisa, will be running under the banner #RacingForOurLanguages.

Poor literacy gives campaign further urgency

In an interview with City Press early this week, a day after he arrived in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, to acclimatise to the coastal weather, he said:

“We’ve always been deliberate in our campaign to promote our languages, but that campaign’s been given urgency by those shocking results from PIRLS.”

He was referring to the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which showed that South Africa has one of the poorest performances, with 81% of fourth-graders unable to read for meaning in any language.

In trying to turn the situation around, Ngoepe is working closely with the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, the Indigenous Languages Initiative for Advancement and Unisa on projects that address three intersecting societal challenges: the literacy/reading crisis, the marginalisation of indigenous languages and the digital divide.

In promoting indigenous languages, Ngoepe leads by example, having published two books in his mother tongue, Sepedi.

The first one was Ntshwe, a collection of short stories published in 1995 by Via Afrika, which won third prize in a literary competition run by the Limpopo department of arts and culture.

Focusing on topics such as drug abuse, child abuse, witchcraft and other related issues, the book was prescribed for Grade 8 pupils in Limpopo.

His second book, Morole o Mosesane – also a short story collection – came out in 2007. He also wrote an English biography of veteran runner Ludwig Mamabolo and is in the process of having it published in Sepedi.

It might come as a shock to those outside the publishing industry that only 3% of books published in this country are written in indigenous languages – despite the fact that black Africans who speak them comprise the majority of the population.

Walking for education inspired his running

As for his marathon career, Ngoepe started running when he was a child attending Seshane Primary School in the Bogom area, Limpopo.

He recalled, when explaining how he developed the muscles for marathons:

“We used to walk 15km to school and 15km back home every weekday. In my case, part of the walking was actually running.”

In later years he participated in athletic activities at a competitive level at school and, in the years since then, he has never lost his love of running.

To date, he has run 13 Two Oceans marathons in Cape Town, a number of Soweto Marathons and some in Gaborone, Botswana, and Bela Bela in Limpopo.

“My first Comrades was in 2010, inspired by the euphoria that had swept the country when it was announced we’d be hosting the Fifa World Cup that year,” said the 48-year-old academic.

It took him six months of hard training to prepare for this year’s Comrades. Roughly, his training regime includes long runs of 100km a week, speed sessions and weekly workouts in which he runs up and down a hill five times.

This year’s Comrades is a down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, covering a distance of 87.7km. There will be 2 354 international runners from 84 countries, alongside 17 920 South Africans who have qualified to participate.

Ngoepe holds an honours degree, a master’s degree and a PhD in information science from Unisa. He did his undergraduate studies at the former University of the North (now the University of Limpopo).

He urged people to contribute towards the cause of promoting our languages.

Donations will be handled by Puku and can be made by EFT into its current account at Nedbank:1007 111 917, branch code 169745, SWIFT code NEDSZAJJ; address: 51-81 Main Road, Rondebosch Village, 1st floor, Shop 4, Rondebosch, Cape Town 7700.

International donations can also be made to Puku’s fiscal partner, the SA Development Fund, on the SA Development Fund donation page www.payfast.co.za/donate/go/pukuchildrensliteraturefoundation.

Alternatively, donors can reach the #RacingForOurLanguages campaign hotline via voice call or WhatsApp on 079 267 7469 during business hours.

 #RacingForOurLanguages: What’s next?

On Sunday 11 June 2023, Professor Mpho Ngoepe, the Director of UNISA’s  School of Arts, completed his Comrades Marathon in 6 hours 39 minutes and 15 seconds, smashing his personal best by more than 10 minutes. This placed him among the top 200 in a field of 14 896 runners who completed the race and earned him a silver medal, a remarkable achievement for a part-time runner and full-time academic. 

By completing his 10th Comrades, Professor Ngoepe earned his place on the coveted Green Number Roll of Honour reserved for those who have either won the race three times or won five gold medals or successfully completed 10 Comrades Marathons. His Green Number was presented to him by none other than 2012 Comrades winner and multiple gold medalist Ludwick Mamabolo, whose biography he wrote.

Professor Ngoepe devoted his 2023 Comrades Marathon  to a fundraiser to turbo boost efforts to promote children’s books in indigenous languages. He has been a driving force behind the collaboration between the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, the language advocacy organisation, ILIFA (Indigenous Languages Initiative for Advancement), and UNISA. This collaboration addresses three intersecting societal challenges – the literacy/reading crisis, the marginalisation of indigenous languages and the digital divide.

The significance of the collaboration’s efforts was further reinforced at the launch of the National Reading Barometer on 13 June. Among the major factors identified by the NRB to promote reading was ““more interesting, free, relatable material in preferred languages” would help adults read with children more. Other findings showed that whilst English was almost fully represented with 97% of speakers of the language having at least one book at home in that language, indigenous languages trailed far behind: for example, IsiXhosa and IsiZulu led African languages at 68%, Sesotho at 52%, and isiNdebele trailing at 18%. Thank you to all those who donated to the #RacingForOurLanguages Campaign and those who are yet to donate. We are delighted that Ntobeko Shezi, a past auditor of Puku, will provide financial oversight of the funds raised through the #RacingForOurLanguages campaign. 

Donations are welcome until 30th June. Donations can be made to Puku via our  online pay system (click here for Puku’s Payfast) or via bank-to-bank EFT to our current / checking account at Nedbank: 1007 111 917, Branch Code 169745, SWIFT Code NEDSZAJJ, Address 51-81 Main Road, Rondebosch Village, 1st floor, Shop 4, Rondebosch, Cape Town, 7700. 

You may also reach the #RacingForOurLanguages campaign hotline via voice call or WhatsApp: 079 267 7469 during business hours. Your support is greatly appreciated.