I wish to congratulate the National Writers Association of South Africa on their historic launch, which I have been briefed about, is as a result of a unification of writers’ structures and a membership drive from 2017 to the present.
The great writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his book, Homecoming, reminds us that:
“A writer responds, with his [and her] total personality, to a social environment which changes all the time. Being a kind of sensitive needle, he [and she] registers, with varying degrees of accuracy and success, the conflicts and tensions in his changing society. Thus the same writer will produce different types of work, sometimes contradictory in mood, sentiment, degree of optimism and even world-view. For the writer himself [and herself] lives in, and is shaped by history.”
The role of a writer in particular and as a collective are very important in building South African culture and identity. Writers have played their part during very difficult times in our history. At great risk to themselves, they have demonstrated courage and conviction and used their words as powerful tools to overcome the yoke of oppression and to fortify our freedom.
Writers are among those who have borne the brunt of banning and repression during apartheid. Some gave their lives for all of us. And others continued to write at home and in exile, telling the stories of our lives and our quest for freedom and beyond.
As we seek to tell the South African story even today, amid the global pandemic that has disrupted daily lives in the world today, that has snatched multitudes of lives and brought about economic hardship, the role of the writer becomes one of witness and also of inspiring us to greater heights and encouraging us to consolidate our efforts towards a better life.
Literature provides a rich platform for us to extend our imagination, individually and collectively as a nation. It is a powerful lens through which we can imagine, understand, locate ourselves and be responsive to society as a whole.
Furthermore the reading of literature is a basic foundation that shapes the educational progress of our children, through the school system, through higher education, in society and in the workplace. It should be a life-long pursuit that inculcates critical thinking and arm us with the tools to interrogate our realities, to analyse, to organize and to transform both ourselves and the world around us.
It is in this context that we would encourage you as important partners in the creation of a national strategy for the development and promotion of South African literary culture.
Our work is geared towards creating an enabling environment in which South African literature and literary content can thrive. But in our efforts to fight illiteracy in all its manifestations and to instil a culture of reading and of writing, we know that this is only possible if we can act together in firm and committed partnerships.
This strategy must provide recommendations for the promotion of creative writing, the development of SA literature, identify platforms to promote a literary culture, outline ways in which authors of literary content and digital literary content creators can be elevated and their audiences developed. The White Paper review has implications for the development of book policy and work is also in progress to streamline and focus the organisational framework which includes the management of entities tasked to support creative work.
This week has been National Library Week under the theme “Libraries Matter.” Together let us ensure that our libraries become vibrant spaces in which authors can present their work and help instil a robust reading culture.
Despite the economic challenges facing our country, government is committed to support the library sector to ensure continued provision of services to citizens. An amount of R1.4 billion is earmarked in 2021/22 financial year to continue to provide and improve public library infrastructure, including Information Communication Technologies (ICT), purchasing of library material in all formats including material for print-disabled readers.
The Department is planning to support the building of 26 new libraries in 2021/22 financial year. The delivery of public library infrastructure provides a solid foundation for socially cohesive communities and life-long learning. The partnership established with provincial Departments enables the delivery of learner support material to schools to enhance teaching and learning.
Tomorrow we commemorate Human Rights Day and the theme for this year’s commemorations is “The Year of Charlotte Maxeke: Promoting Human Rights in The Age of COVID-19.”
As writers gather virtually for this important Congress, we ask that you salute all those who gave their lives in support of our freedom and human rights. Let us dip our banner for those we have lost their lives as a result of their succumbing to COVID-19.
We are further reminded of the legacy of Charlotte Maxeke and her generation who fulfilled their mission of laying the foundations for the struggle for freedom, of striving for non-racialism and non-sexism and for a better, democratic South Africa in a better Africa in a better world.
We are further reminded that the political movement that their generation shaped was also strengthened by the writings and literary contribution of among others, Sol T Plaatje, Herbert Dhlomo, Olive Schreiner, among others. Globally, the thinking of W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and other Pan-Africanists also had an influence on the directions taken at the time.
Today, as much as then, we need a literary movement that can contribute and propel forward the transformation of our society and can illuminate the path. We look forward to NWASA playing this role as among those who will point the way forward for the intellectual culture of our country.
To conclude in the words of Mazisi Kunene who in a poem titled “Insights of poets and sages” (translated by Vusi Mchunu) writes the following:
The profound poet and sage
Will not track nor follow mundane spoors
Her sight is of the mythical third eye
Of the chameleon, rotating to all spheres
Her intuition is startled by invisible presences That are indications of new creations being born
We wish you well in your deliberations as you plan for a new dawn.