Building a nation with books

2010-06-11 00:00

IF you have experienced the rapt concentration of a child as you read him or her a bedtime story, you’ll know what a joyous experience it can be. But for many children, reading for pleasure is not something they get to do very often.

It’s a situation that the Tembaletu Trust, at 206 Burger Street, Pietermaritzburg, is hoping to change through its project — the publication of a series of books for primary school children. The books are based on cultural creation myths which have been told for centuries, but which haven’t been put down on paper.

Zanele Buthelezi, a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg’s department of education, and Kay Bhagwandhin, from Tembaletu, have changed that with the publication of The Message and The Lazy Dassie in Zulu and English.

“Through our work in communities, we found there was a lack of a culture of reading and understanding text,” Bhagwandhin said, and that to try to correct this, and after receiving Lottery funding, the trust decided to embark on a reading project.

“The trust was keen to put oral story­telling down on paper, the idea being to give a child a book that he or she could take home and read with his or her family, and through that create a forum for discussion and tolerance between cultures,” she added.

Buthelezi believes the project is key to nation-building. “The idea was to start with creation stories from different cultures,” she said. “I took a look at the stories in Zulu culture. I felt that these stories would encourage a lot of discussion.

“We blacks come from a culture where reading is something that isn’t done for pleasure. For many families, the only book they ever had was the Bible, and children weren’t allowed to touch that. The other reason I wanted to be involved is to combat illiteracy. This project was a contribution towards literacy and thanks to a nongovernmental organisation such as Tembaletu, these books won’t simply sit on a shelf and gather dust, but they are out there in the community.”

Bhagwandhin said: “We visit schools, read the story to the children, and at the end, each child gets a book to take home. We hope that through this project we will create a joy of reading for the sake of it, and not just because they have to for school.”

There are three books in the series — The Message, The Lazy Dassie and The Promise, which is still in production. The books are printed in English and Zulu, and boast stunning illustrations by Morwenna Bosch.

Tembaletu project co-ordinator, Msizi Madlala, has been responsible for translating the books into Zulu and believes they are essential for every family. “I have enjoyed reading each story and, even though it takes some time to do the translation, I am inspired to do more. We are shaping the futures of our children and that is something we really need,” he said.

Tembaletu has just begun distributing the books to Edendale, Imbali, Raisethorpe, Eastwood, Woodlands and uMkhambathini. “The response has been wonderful. Schools have heard about the project and want to be part of the reading programme. The only thing that handicaps us is funding,” Bhagwandhin said.

“We would love to be able to get more books printed, but need help to get more books to children.”

If you would like to help, phone Kay Bhagwandhin at 033 394 7807.

• THE LAZY DASSIE by Zanele Buthelezi.

This Zulu creation story tells how, when God created the Earth and all living thing, he failed to give any of the animals a tail. Realising they looked incomplete, God asks each animal to collect a tail from him, but Dassie is too lazy to get his and asks his friend, Rabbit, to get it for him. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite to plan.


• THE MESSAGE by Kay Bhagwandhin.

This Zulu creation story tells the story of how God sends a message to the people when their peaceful existence is shattered. Unfortunately, his messenger is a chameleon, who proves to be so slow that God’s message isn’t delivered. So he sends another message, this time with a lizard. This story was originally penned by Tembelethu patron Elsa Schreiner and adapted for primary school children by KayBhagwandhin.


• THE PROMISE by Kay Bhagwandhin.

Still in production, this story is based on a San creation myth, which reveals how the world was created and the roles of animals and people.

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