A synthesis of Puku’s 2021 Indigenous Language Webinars Project

Between April and June 2021, Puku held a series of nine webinars, each in South Africa’s indigenous languages. The theme was “The Role of Children’s Literature in Preserving and Promoting our Indigenous Languages”. The webinar series was funded by the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP).  Panelists represented academia, broadcasting / media, the performing arts including actors and poets, business, linguists, storytellers and writers of several genres including children’s literature, educators, independent publishers, and people from the world of politics.
Each webinar was conducted in the language under discussion, a first for many. The video recordings of all webinars, each about two hours in length, can be found on Puku’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaAUGhelbiqrsppZbdL3Lig. T

he written reports of the webinars in each indigenous language are available on Puku’s website in the “Blogs, Features, Opinions & Editorials” section: https://www.puku.co.za/en/category/blogs/ . Highlights in English for each language will be uploaded in September. Whilst each webinar was unique in its own right, with noteworthy panelists and informed and informative discussions, recurring themes were identifiable. A working document is under review by various participants to further cull the webinars and all reports into a brief analytical reflection, listing the major issues arising and highlighting specific key suggestions for the future.

The major themes emerging from the webinars are: 

  • Early childhood is where to start. Across the heritage landscape.
  • It is the responsibility of every adult to tool and inspire children to be skilled and proud speakers of indigenous languages.
  • Every child must be able to access books nearby. Those books must be in languages they understand.
  • 21st century technologies are the only way forward.
  • Our languages need a significant creative presence in the multimedia universe.
  • Today’s young demand diverse genres and more complex topics in their children’s literature. 
  • Professional development offerings need to be made available to current and future writers of children’s literature.
  • Schools and the educational system have a monumental responsibility to preserve and promote our indigenous languages.
  • Children’s literature must become a serious area of intellectual inquiry; a plea to higher education.
  • Repatriation and inter-translation must be pursued with vigour.
  • We need an enabled and enabling publishing terrain.
  • Public celebrations of children’s literature in indigenous languages must be plentiful and magnificent.
  • Existing strategic partnerships in the indigenous language ecosystem must be strengthened.
  • We require differentiated investments made in and tailored attention paid to endangered languages.