by Karabo Kgoleng
01 November 2018

On the eve of Mme Albertina Sisulu’s 100th birthday, the Gauteng Department of Education’s Johannesburg District together with the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, held the first of four summits on school libraries. It was an event that highlighted the chronic dearth of libraries in schools. Government officials, teachers, learners, parents and members of the public who are invested in the future of South Africa were present. A collective of people who can influence the future gathering with the intent to make a declaration that benefits the children is certainly something that Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela would have approved of. The summit’s theme was “Transforming Libraries into Reading Hubs”.

The School Library and Reading Summit took place on 20 October 2018 at Nkone-Maruping Primary School in Braamfischerville. The school grounds are impressive, with buildings of red face brick, and children’s artwork decorated the walls of the hall inside which the event was held. The impressive duo of poet, writer and cultural worker, Natalia Molebatsi and storyteller, puppeteer and facilitator, Bongani Godide directed the programme. Molebatsi brought grace to the stage. She pieced together each item in the programme in her signature poetic style. She reminded each participant on stage and in the audience of the importance of their respective roles in the summit in a very encouraging and inspiring manner. Godide earned himself the name “Banana” during the course of the event and his playfulness balanced also with reminders about the significance of the summit in a manner that was complementary with Natalia’s. These facilitators did a sterling job in managing time, while keeping the audience’s attention on the items on the programme.

The impressive duo of poet, Natalia Molebatsi, and storyteller, Bongani Godide.

A choir made up of learners opened the summit with the national anthem followed by the African Union anthem, after which Deputy Director General: Curriculum Management at the Gauteng Department of Education, Advocate Alison Bengtson took to the stage. She expressed her passion for libraries and regaled the audience with trivia about the biggest library in the world, the US Congress library with 167 million books, and the oldest library in on Earth in Morroco. Adv Bengtson explained how this series of summits follow the “Drop All and Read” and the “1000 School Libraries Campaign” with the aim of addressing the critical shortage of libraries in schools. Speaking especially to learners and parents, she noted how all leaders across the spectrum are prolific readers, also making the point that reading fiction is important. She asked how we could have discussions regarding how to use school libraries as reading hubs and indicated that even schools with fully functioning libraries don’t use them optimally. Adv Bengtson wrapped up her address by saying that reading is the key to everything that is good, including how, by incorporating coding and technological advances, this will help to discipline learners for the intellectual demands of the future. Hers was a direct, engaging talk, speaking to all the issues without using bureaucratic jargon.

The DDG’s talk was followed by the Executive Director of Puku, Ms Elinor Sisulu’s keynote address in which she announced the recent publication of the abridged memoir of Albertina Sisulu that she co-authored with Dr Sindiwe Magona. She pointed out how it is vital that we repeat the stories of historical figures so that they are not forgotten, ensuring that they are passed down to future generations. Ms Sisulu also expressed her appreciation for the summit taking place on the eve of her late mother-in-law’s centenary and also informed the audience that the following week would bring the occasion of Gcina Mhlophe’s 60th birthday. This internationally acclaimed children’s storyteller has been plying her craft for 35 years. Ms Sisulu then asked the audience to sing happy birthday to these two remarkable South African women whose life’s work exemplifies dedication to the development of children. The audience enthusiastically obliged. She concluded by expressing her hope that by the fourth summit, 2000 schools in Gauteng would have functioning libraries.

Thereafter, author and medical doctor, Dr Gomolemo Mokae entertained the audience with a dedication to women followed by a story about a man who believed he was the mightiest on earth. His interlocutor disagreed, providing Tarzan as an example of one mightier, as well as the lion. Dr Mokae then told the audience that the lion may be the mightiest, but as long as human beings can write stories, they will emerge on top.

It was then the learners’ turn; after all, the summit was about addressing their needs in order to equip them for the future. There was a touching short drama titled Dialogue on Bullying, in which a bully, her victim and another learner had an exchange in which they established that it is important to try to see the good in others and that there are consequences for one’s actions. This was followed by a literacy quiz, in which learners from six schools were tested on their knowledge of two books on Nelson Mandela and one on Albertina Sisulu. The quizmaster, Nicolene Thomas from Nali’bali, advised that teachers could use this quiz as a template to employ similar quizzes in their classrooms.

Young authors in conversation with Zanele Ndlovu at the Gauteng Department of Education Reading Summit, 20 October 2018.

After that, the audience was treated to a presentation of the good practices of various schools that are maximizing the use of their libraries, then two learners who are published authors, nine-year-old Michelle Nkamankeng and ten-year-old Buhle Mthethwa provided inspiration with the stories about their success. Their respective journeys as young authors highlighted the importance of parental support in nurturing children’s talents.

Later on in the programme, Reading Ambassador Dr Sindiwe Magona, gave a motivational speech, telling the audience that life is a free gift, whose price it is to mind one’s life and be conscious in one’s choices. She spoke about how her life was ‘in the toilet’ at the age of 23 and that it was through reading that she was able to turn it around and make the achievements that have brought her incredible acclaim. She gave a very short breathing exercise and said that by breathing, one is taking in oxygen and that reading is the oxygen that makes life meaningful. She instructed adults to give books as gifts and left the audience with an acronym, ABAB – Always Bring A Book.

“By breathing, one is taking in oxygen and reading is the oxygen that makes life meaningful…”
Sindiwe Magona

Photo courtesy of the Gauteng Department of Education

Poetry received the spotlight when learners performed poems in various South African languages. In these poems, they paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela for their contributions to the country.

In a charming recitation in Sesotho, one learner described a painting that had been placed on the stage.It was the image of a woman carrying a water pot on her head, a bowl for grain in her arms and a baby on her back. She used the image to exhort women to work hard and stand up for themselves.

“Basadi, ikemeleng!” she cried.

The expression of these young people was fluent and infused with a kind of pride that could be felt and appreciated by everyone in the room.

Terence Ball, publisher at SA Heritage Publishers then made an announcement in which he notified everyone present of that organisation’s mandate to produce dictionaries and materials to advance the status of African languages. Early Learning Phase dictionaries are now available in all official languages. He also read an excerpt from a book detailing an aspect of Zulu history. This presentation brought the programme to the main aim of the summit: to make and commit to a declaration to address the shortage of libraries in schools. During the event, participants were given forms to complete regarding the challenges that schools need to overcome in order to have fully functional libraries that serve as reading hubs in order to advance the intellectual development of South African children and establish a culture of reading for enjoyment. Puku collated the information that the respondents provided and incorporated it into the declaration. Natalia Molebatsi requested the audience to stand as she read out the declaration. The act of standing, she said, was a signature and show of commitment to and acceptance of the declaration.

Photos courtesy of the Gauteng Department of Education

The School Library and Reading Summit ended with a vote of thanks delivered by Chief Education Specialist, Mr Dumisani Tshabalala. A finger lunch and an opportunity for the participants to connect with each other followed the event. It was well organised, thoroughly enjoyable with plenty of food for thought and it ended on time. The Gauteng Department of Education and Puku have shown, through this summit, that by collaborating and acting on their commitments, all stakeholders can do what it takes to realise the dream of inculcating a culture of reading among our children, and to build on the legacy of a democratic South Africa’s founding fathers and mothers.

Read more on the Reading Summit:

Puku Partners with Gauteng Department of Education to host Reading Summit

Photos from the Summit