Why it is essential that we become a reading nation

‘Once a person has learnt to read at school, there is no limit to how much he or she can grow in knowledge and the power to use it.

‘I only went to school as far as Standard 5 (Grade 7),’ someone will complain in order to explain why he or she is backward – a flimsy excuse.”

Although they were published 31 years ago, these words, penned by the late professor Es’kia Mphahlele for the 1989 August issue of Tribute magazine, are still relevant and continue echoing with immense positive impact on a generation of current readers.

This is the quality associated with timeless writers.

Their writings inspire and transmogrify everyone who reads them, irrespective of age and colour.

Most of the country’s social ills and upheavals are attributed to ignorance.

We are sitting on a ticking time bomb, aggravated to a large extent by lack of common knowledge in several fields of life.

The power of knowledge and information has far-reaching implications.

People kill and misrepresent others because they lack it. Some are itchy to occupy high positions that they neither deserve nor qualify for.

Little information is more than dangerous because it makes people become foolishly brave and think that they are most capable and suitable, and can do better than their predecessors who stood the test of time.

Powermongers and opportunistic political goons do not mind demanding positions by hook or by crook, or leaving potential candidates in a pool of blood through a bullet.

They ignore the fact that “ambition should be made of sterner stuff”, as stated by William Shakespeare in the play Julius Caesar.

Information does not grow on trees.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Although books and magazines are expensive, this should not be used to justify why people should not read.

It is a fact that rural areas have fewer libraries than townships and other urban areas.

It was once passion and being driven by a dream that created winners, pioneers and history makers.

Writers and journalists such as Mphahlele, Maud Motanyane, Chinua Achebe, Miriam Tlali, Bessie Head, Bernard Wallet Vilakazi and Wangari Maathai all grew up during harsh times, when building a library for a black community would have been equated to erecting a five-star hotel in the far corners of a black township.

Although the lack of libraries and absence of reading material cannot be ignored, these facts should not create fertile ground for raising children and youth who are as dumb as dodos.

It is comforting that they did not bow to the limitations which surrounded them.

Collective initiatives should emerge where people bring and share reading material, be it old or new, or even discarded newspapers and magazines.

A campaign to collect reading material door-to-door could follow, with professionals being asked to donate reading material in addition to daily and weekly newspapers.

This proactive mentality could reignite a reading interest and encourage young people to invite donors to share their reading experiences.

Although the lack of libraries and absence of reading material cannot be ignored, these facts should not create fertile ground for raising children and youth who are as dumb as dodos.

Something drastic needs to be done and a creative approach utilised to encourage people to read daily.

If young people can watch television and scroll their iPads and cellphones for countless hours, what stops them from reading?

In drilling a results-driven culture of reading, parents should introduce drastic changes in the lives of young people.

Parents should observe their children’s interests and hobbies.

If they like sports then they should be introduced and encouraged to read the sports pages of newspapers and magazines.

Through this a conversation will flow easily between parent and child.

A carrot could be dangled in front of the latter, such as encouraging them to write newly acquired words in a daily notebook and for every word gained a reward could be given in the form of extra pocket money or weekend lunch.

In the long run reading would automatically become second nature.

Reading has the potential to help readers speak with greater self-confidence and conviction.

The knowledge gained and skills acquired – vocabulary and phrases, as well as debating and communication skills – could be utilised in assignments and schoolwork.

Words, like colours when painting on a blank canvas, are a vehicle to express one’s feelings and emotions.

Having an idea in one’s head but being constrained by limited vocabulary deprives one of the dexterity to carve a complete image.

Words enable every reader to fully maximise their written or oratory prowess. For instance, the power of a word can touch and change lives, and bandage and heal individuals.

Words can uplift souls and inspire people to greater heights.

Reading presents every person with an opportunity to not only build their vocabulary but also collect a wealth of information.

One creates lifetime professional and personal relationships because reading becomes one’s master key that opens myriad doors for one.

Those who shun reading deprive themselves of the milk which nourishes their souls and brains.

The more people do not read, the more they unwittingly become slaves in a potpourri of ignorance and lifetime prisoners serving long sentences in a jail without walls.

  • Nkosi is a freelance journalist, writer and founder of the Themba Nkosi Dreamers Foundation, a not-for-profit socioeducational foundation that helps needy children and deserving students
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