Jewel of a competition

World Book Day on April 23 saw entries open for the 14th short story competition run by Anglo Platinum and Beulah Thumbadoo & Associates (BTA).

Since its inception the competition has received more than 14 000 stories from throughout Southern Africa, with winners ranging in age from 18 to 76. The competition is successful not only for attracting a large number of entries, but also for raising awareness about writing and reading. Its prize money, totalling R65 000—with a R25 000 first prize—is among the highest of any short-story competition.

Entrants are asked to write ‘a gripping and original story” of between 4 500 and 5 000 words.
Content, rather than form, is valued. The organisers realise that many entrants write in their second or third language. Story quality and creativity are key and entrants are not penalised for imperfect grammar and spelling.

This is Anglo Platinum’s ninth year as sponsor. A piece of platinum jewellery from its Djadji range will be awarded in the special prize category.

The dynamo behind the competition is Beulah Thumbadoo. Her inspiration, she says, began 30 years ago.

‘Stacks of pamphlets were flung over my high school wall and many learners tried to get hold of their own copy, thinking, quite rightly, that there was something important about this extraordinary communication. Unfortunately, the school principal confiscated the whole lot in record time. Even though I felt some fear when the teachers asked whether all the copies had been handed in, I kept mine, already hidden in my schoolbag. When I got home I read it with my family; we’d only just moved back home after spending three years in Canada and it seemed to us that we’d landed right back in the thick of things. The pamphlet held the truth about the murder of Steve Biko. It was not the first and certainly would not be the last time I would feel and know the power of the written word.”

Thumbadoo joined the Black Consciousness movement and was a card-carrying member of Azapo during the rest of her student days. In 1989 at the initial working party of the ERA Initiative, a literacy endeavour of the University of the Witwatersrand, she realised just how desperately needed easy reading material for adults was and delegates at this gathering agreed that one way of creating this vital resource was to generate appropriate texts from the community through a short-story competition.

Seventeen years ago Thumbadoo ran the precursor to the BTA/Anglo Platinum competition. She says: ‘There is still much talk about whether the country is publishing enough black writing. That discussion used to be the preserve of the literary arena, but it has now entered the literacy battlefield, as this competition has become more alluring to more proficient writers of all races with R65 000 up for grabs.

‘This takes us to the Million Books Campaign, which was launched as an offshoot of this competition in 2004. There has been significant interest in this campaign and sponsors were easily convinced to get involved and print award-winning stories for free for those who wanted them.Through support BTA was able to distribute 44 000 books free of charge. But the target of one million is still some way off. Much more support from the corporate sector and donor agencies is needed to significantly boost the numbers.”

Nonetheless, there is much to be taken from the success of both the short-story competition and the books campaign.

Thumbadoo believes that is ‘a clear indication that people have a desire both to write and read, but there’s something missing—the will to translate a national treasure [the winning stories] into a national good or commodity”.

She says: ‘People must begin to see the BTA project as two sides of the same coin. This is why the thread that runs through the two projects is ‘Write 2B Read’. This campaign buzz-phrase has been most successfully taken up by media partners because it resonates with the public and the writers. The sponsor seems to have a firm grasp and commitment to drawing the stories in but it seems the door lies wide open for partnerships to join the Million Books Campaign to get those stories right back out there and into the hands that need them most.”

For more information on the competition and the campaign, contact Savo Tufegdzic or Princess Ntshizwe 011 888 3104 or visit

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