Children will invest in their futures if they read

2018-06-11 15:45
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

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Two musicians, a TV presenter, a retail entrepreneur and myself – an anthropologist – are seated around a table discussing the current state of South African youth.

One of the musicians is a multilingual rapper and actress, and is currently producing a documentary on a cultural item of significance. The second musician has created a refreshing blend of hip-hop with a youthful twist on the maskandi genre. The television presenter is regarded by many as a fashion icon and has established a television production house creating opportunities for young people in the industry. The retail entrepreneur has an ethos of collaboration that involves hosting fun and engaging multidisciplinary events to showcase the works of Johannesburg’s young artists. I am a scholar, children’s book author, poet and an absolute lover of storytelling.

What struck me during our conversation is that we all care deeply about our history, our heritage, our future and the present human condition in the world. Whether it is writing captivating lyrics or poetry; conducting research for an academic paper, documentary or script; going over business contracts; or finding ways to articulate ourselves on our social-media platforms, our worlds revolve around reading, storytelling and critical thinking in the pursuit of becoming better versions of ourselves.

We use words and our work to navigate what it means to be young and African, and how to leave our society a better one than we found it.

In the quest to encourage more South African youngsters to read and become involved in promoting a culture of reading, I believe it is important to illuminate the ways that literacy contributes to the life journeys of people across different vocations. It is also important to meet people where they are.

For instance, before our conversation, another person complimented me on the tattoo on my leg – a large stack of books – and asked what had inspired it. “Oh, I just really love reading,” I said. “Books make me happy.”

“Wow, books,” he responded. “I can’t even tell you the last time I read a book. It must have been in high school or something,” he said with a shrug.

I sometimes wonder if our lack of reading has something to do with the way in which our school system failed to make reading enjoyable at a young age. I truly believe that if the school curriculum was better designed to inspire and connect to the collective soul of contemporary South African children, instead of having it (along with the parts of it that are oddly archaic and somewhat irrelevant) forced on them for the purposes of grades and matriculation, young people might develop better relationships with books and reading.

We need to meet people where they are. Most of us have ambitions of becoming larger-than-life versions of ourselves. Therefore, we have to find a way to emphasise that reading is important, not only to people who want to one day be in literacy-related fields the way I am, but to everyone who wants to excel, regardless of their path. The great thing about the internet and social media is that young people especially are constantly engaged in challenging conversations about the state of our society. Regardless of whether some people choose wilful ignorance, the World Wide Web is always there as a source of information, should they desire to seek it out.

Words and language are basic tools of communication for our shared humanity, and it is essential that we get rid of the idea that reading is something we only do in school. Reading can be enjoyable, and written words will unlock a world of possibilities, if allowed.

The people I introduced in the beginning of this article are reflections of the possibilities of life trajectories available to youngsters in South African, regardless of formal schooling. While not necessarily only book-related, reading has helped them to apply their minds and produce knowledge through their individual expressions – contributing to how they have become the notable people they are today.

We are all custodians of the great African story, in all its richness and complexity, and we all have a contribution to make in advancing our continent in a globalised world.

We have to meet young people where they are and invest in their futures by making reading accessible, relevant and essential to their life paths.

Masango is a master’s candidate in social anthropology at Wits University, an author of the children’s book Mpumi’s Magic Beads, a poet, a freelance writer and a feminist activist

This Youth Month, Nal’ibali, the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, is calling on all youngsters in South African – and anyone else interested in promoting literacy in their communities – to become reading role models by signing up to its volunteer network, FUNda Leader. The platform provides specialised literacy training; access to multilingual stories; invitations to events and activities; and on-going support and motivation to help young children where they are dream about and create better futures for themselves through books and stories.

For more information on the Nal’ibali campaign, details of where to access its reading-for-enjoyment supplements or to download them directly from its website, visit or You can also find Nal’ibali on Facebook and Twitter: nalibaliSA


How do you, or could you, contribute to encouraging children to enjoy reading?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword READ and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read more on:    education

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