Let's all read together

The campaign to get South Africans reading kicked off last month with, among other materials, a colourful poster featuring school children, a lawyer, a newspaper vendor, a taxi full of passengers - and men and women from a variety of backgrounds.

The poster captures a bus whizzing past with “HIV/Aids Be Wise Condomise” emblazoned on the side.

Everyone in the poster, drawn by award-winning artist Tommy Motswai, is reading or clutching material to read.

Getting South Africa reading is one one the goals announced by Professor Kader Asmal when he took over as Education Minister in June 1999.

The South African Literacy Initiative is responsible for driving the Masifunde Sonke (Let’s All Read Together) campaign. The work of art promotes reading. If South Africa is to realise the vision encapsulated by the words Masifunde Sonke - Let’s all read together - then a joint effort on the part of every South African is necessary.

At last month’s launch, Asmal called on South Africans to participate in the campaign.The situation at present tilts the scale of equality in favour of those who are equipped with literacy skills. With three million adults alone who are completely illiterate, only the elite few who have the necessary skills to perform their work functions competently can actually hold down a job. The others cannot cross the financial divide for they are isolated by the literacy barrier and lack of education.

Not only does this prevent people from participating and contributing to the economy but it also stymies the growth of the economy. Furthermore people are barred from having a voice and rights in a democracy by virtue of the fact that illiterate people are ill-informed. Freedom of choice becomes null-and-void in this case.

In learning about important issues such as HIV/Aids it is imperative that individuals have access to information. This includes what causes the virus, how it is transmitted and how to prevent acquiring it. With illiteracy levels also high and functional literacy -where one’s learning and writing skills are underdeveloped - the situation is exacerbated.

The situation is not all gloom and doom. A little effort goes a long way and the campaign is the first step in the right direction. Masifunde Sonke aims to stimulate reading and writing so that it becomes entrenched in South African culture. The foundation has been laid with the Department of Education’s launch of the South African National Literacy Initiative (SANLI). Campaign organisers have already garnered support from the media, publishers, booksellers and NGOs. Another essential component for success is to get schools, colleges, workplaces, libraries, local authorities and local communities involved.

Even the little people can contribute positively to engendering a reading culture in South Africa. One can start a community reading programme, work with those who cannot read or sponsor trips to the local library - all it requires is initiative and a little effort.

But as Asmal points out, it is initiative and effort well placed. Remember you will be doing more than just reading. You will be writing an exciting new chapter in South Africa’s progress.

Details about the campaign can be found at: //education.pwv.gov.za/masifunde

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, January, 2001.

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