Literacy should be a lesson first administered at home

By Zilungile Zimela

Contrary to popular belief- the black nation IS a reading nation. From the elementary ages of reading Chappies Bubble gum wrappers, we have been reading. The scourge of illiteracy among the marginalised groups is wide spread emanating from a myriad of reasons one of which is the availability or the lack thereof- of parents who read to their children.

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers as a network of 2000-plus young people is currently leading conversations that question the norm with the intention of challenging and changing the narrative that “The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.” The measure of poverty is not in the currency of money alone, it is also in the form of skills deficiency, the lack of access to basic services such as libraries and reading clubs which thereby contribute to illiteracy. “We do not read a lot, because these books are not in our mother tongues and the whole mental conference that goes on in your mind as you translate English to your home language makes reading a drag,” said Activator Action Setaka at the Literacy Hackathon.

The ACTIVATE! Hackathons have been specifically designed to provoke conversations, yield results whilst changing the status quo. Young people across the country are seen sitting in different round tables, restaurants, school halls and informal settings to engage with one another in order to come up with solutions to the problems in our society which- due to their prevalence- have been either reduced to be the norm or have grown grey hair.

The literacy hackathon set the tone for robust discussions that will later be turned to meaningful strides. Young people from different corners of South Africa are gathering up in arms to make local government work, to being critical parts of policy making engagements and driving engines of the desired solution. Sizwe Maphindani is a publisher and author of the provocative read entitled “Message to a Blackman in Africa” which has sold over 13000 copies in the greater of America. He is a 2015 Activator who shows his commitment to change by working hard every day to perfect his craft of writing and being actively involved in the process of editing, for a credible and correct end product. The challenges connected to accessing reading material go beyond their prevalence in the perceived marginalised spaces, it is tied together with the willingness and availability of parents to sit down with their  children and read stories to them in their mother tongue first before assuming a strong articulation in a language that is not their own. A young person with a strong sense of self who understands who they are in the context of their language can be seen to be far more enlightened than an academia with numerous scholar accolades. The Hackathons are specifically designed to ask critical questions on the burning issues with the intention of conjuring up solutions that are actionable in the context of young people.

“I read a lot when I was younger because my mother administered reading to me and that practice spilled over to my adult life,” articulated Activator Khanyisa Mpepho on literacy and her involvement thereof. As the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers network attempts to progressively address this challenge, Activators across the board will be engaging in discussions and campaigns that promote reading as a culture and norm. These discussion will exist in virtual spaces to lobby a wider audience into the discussion. Using social media for social change has been the ongoing activity used by Activators on all corners of the country to ensure reach to a wider audience. The ACTIVATE! Literature Hackathons attempt to address the following questions among other things:

  • As “African” writers, do we think and write from where we are? Or is our thinking and writing informed by Western discourse? – Activator Rammolotsi Sothoane.
  • How are African intellectuals and academics failing in laying the blueprint to future generations on matters connected to literacy access thereto ? – Activator Action Setaka.
  • How can we write from where we are when we have been reading books all our lives at school that tell us about “snowfall during Christmas” when its very hot where we are during Christmas?-Activator Prince Charles.
  • How can the 21st Century African child go back to listening to stories passed on from generation to generation about the African culture from the elderly generation? Social Activist Lezerine Mashaba
  • How do we ensure that there is access to African literature on the commercial book shelves and that there is enough resources to access those books thereby contributing to the alleviation of illiteracy.

Reading is an exercise that has proven to broaden the sphere and the frame of reference of the mind, it opens up a person to a world of imagination and critical reasoning which contributes to how a person’s life is shaped. With that reason borne in mind, the ACTIVATE! Literacy Hackathons will continue to strive for excellence in literacy with every dialogue and opportunity to impact change.

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