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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

King Tha

King Tha
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Photographed by Victor Dlamini
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Thandiswa Mazwai
Thandiswa Mazwai
Thandiswa Mazwai

Desmond and the Tutus

Desmond and the Tutus
Three recent photographs
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Desmond and the Tutus
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Desmond and the Tutus

Three Portraits from Open Book Cape Town

Tom Eaton
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NoViolet Bulawayo
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Andre Brink, a Portrait

South Africa Finds its Literary Voice

Nadine Gordimer

By all accounts South African literature is enjoying its finest hour. Even as the scandal of dumped and undelivered textbooks in Limpopo was raging, the Polokwane Literary Festival was a welcome respite. That writers could descend on a town whose very name now resonates with the politics of succession and connect with readers was an act of faith in the power of literature. The Bloody Book Week was a great success and it brought to SA fiction A-listers Jeffery Deaver, John Connolly and Mark Giminez. Jefferey Deaver is known for The Bone Collector that was turned into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. He has also written the James Bond thriller, Carte Blanche, part of which is set in Cape Town.

There’s a renewed vibrancy in South African writing and some of the authors are finding devoted audiences both at home and abroad. It is always a great treat to be at a book shop in a foreign country and to stumble across a novel by Lewis Nkosi or Deon Meyer. It’s wonderful to see South African fiction attracting bidding from movie producers for the film rights for their books. The latest to join this list includes Deon Meyer, Margie Orford and Lauren Beukes.

Video: Discussing the Art of Photography with Kagiso Legotlo

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Look to the Youth for Inspiration: Our Students Are Bright-eyed, Positive and Hopeful

Two of the most moving events that I have attended this year have been school events, and the most impressive people have been the young children. Young, bright-eyed, positive, hopeful and so full of enthusiasm, these young school children sound and act as if they have sipped from the well of wisdom and compassion.

First up was the Grade 8 evening at Wendywood High School and last week I was at King David School in Sandton for the induction of the Johannesburg Mini Council. In a country where cynicism is often in oversupply, it is heartening to see such an overwhelming sense of purpose among school children of such a tender age. We hear so often talk of the lost generation and frightening stories of poorly disciplined kids, but these kids are the antidote. They wear their confidence with an infectious chutzpah and it is obvious they see themselves as young giants capable of heroic deeds.

The members of the mini council have a diary full of duties, on top of which they have their Grade 7 responsibilities. Still, they go about these extra duties with a palpable sense of civic pride. This augurs well for the future as these kids will be tomorrow’s leaders. At the induction of the new council, the first speech was delivered by the deputy mini mayor. By the time young Priyanka Nayer was done with her incredible, heartfelt, sincere speech, few in the hall were untouched, many shedding a tear and choking up. In a little more than five minutes, she showed what a tangible sense of purpose can do to ignite a young child’s sense of purpose. More importantly, she demonstrated just how much a mission of doing good can do to develop children into responsible citizens.

Some Joburgers suffer from what those on the social circuit call event fatigue and I can understand this because many of these events have the same jaded guests listening to meandering speeches that sound as if they were approved by a committee. What a breath of fresh air to attend events at which there were no expensive bouquets, no pretentious decor and no overbearing ushers.

When outgoing mini mayor Cassidy Gordon took to the podium, it was clear for all the parents gathered in the room that she had had the kind of experience that has a lasting effect on a young child. Her speech focused not just on the life-changing experiences the council had had, but the difference they had made to less privileged school children, the ill and to the abused. It is telling that these events are happening right at the beginning of the year, when there is still the time for children to learn and implement the values of their schools and their institutions. So often things are left till the last minute and then a kind of heroism of achieving at the last minute is celebrated.

How to End the Myth that Blacks Don’t Read

Some of those who try to promote a culture of reading do more bad than good.

They make reading seem like something mysterious, which is accessible to only a few. Worse still, they make the terrible mistake of asking kids to choose between reading and television.

This past week has been National Book Awareness Week and everywhere you turn there are messages that encourage reading.

Instead of focusing on the negatives, their campaign would probably be more successful if it emphasised the pleasures of reading and showed lots of kids and adults actually reading.

We have become a nation of slick campaigns, many of them put up at great expense.

Sometimes you wonder if, over time, these campaigns don’t obscure the original goals.

In many ways, National Book Awareness Week reminds me of National Car Free Day. Both events are promoted with great fanfare and afterwards it’s business as usual until the next campaign.

Sadly, many of the campaign messages around reading inadvertently subvert their own aims by suggesting that reading is accessible only to a few.

There is a history of looking down at ordinary reading material and a glorification of so-called “classic texts”.

The idea of “high culture” has done much to discourage reading because many of the texts available in libraries are wholly alien to the lives of the children asked, or even forced, to read them.

South Africa has succeeded in creating a vibrant publishing industry and many new books written by South Africans are being launched each month.

The success of the Daily Sun and similar tabloids in South Africa has shown that readers will emerge when the appropriate material is made available.

Similarly, Isolezwe and Ilanga continue to draw in readers who would otherwise remain outside of the reading public in South Africa.

In the same way, book publishers need to ask themselves if they are producing the kinds of books that would interest a new segment of the population.

There is no point in force-feeding people a literary diet they have no taste for.

Reading, like commuting, is a matter of everyday habit and it is really what happens during the ordinary period that affects enthusiasm for reading.

In those households where the habit of reading is nurtured early, books become a part of everyday life.In much the same way that we have road-safety signs, there should be a plethora of messages that promote and celebrate reading.

This is where a great deal of our attention should be paid. The public broadcaster could run announcements that promote reading throughout the year.

Of course, books are powerful and reading them expands the horizons of any child or adult. Children who grow up reading books are more likely to do better than those who don’t.

It is not just pleasure that readers derive from books but also significant knowledge. But reading is not accessible only through old-fashioned books.

Today’s kids are growing up reading and writing on mobile pages and online. Like many things in life, there are many ways of arriving at literacy and “the book”.

The literary purists may dismiss reading on the internet but the success of the Kindle and tablets like the iPad show that technology can make reading even more accessible.

The conversations about books and reading on Facebook and Twitter show that the internet is already replacing the traditional classroom.

People who want to promote reading in South Africa must not fall into the trap of glorifying “old-fashioned” reading but accept that even books themselves were once a mysterious technology when they first appeared.

Wynton Marsalis in Concert

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Dianne Reeves and Reginald Veal

Reginald Veal

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

Rustum Kozain

Rustum Kozain