Why Don’t South Africans Like To Read?

I don't have a definitive answer for that but I have a theory. Indulge me if you will. They say you if you want to hide something from a black person, hide it in a book. Perception is definitely reality if you take that and look at Mzansi. This can not continue to be the case with our people. Something has to change. 

While reading, like any hobby, is not for everyone I find it interesting that a lot of us black folks do not really read much. The evidence of that lies in the appalling numbers we have in this country of book sales.

One of the goals on my bucket-list is to eventually write a book when I get to a point where I feel I have achieved all that I have set-out to do with my life and career. Though writing that book will not be motivated by book sales but rather the story, I want to share, I cannot help but wonder if such a venture is worthwhile if the people I want to share my story with will most likely never read that book. 

Why is it that reading a book has become something we only have to do in classrooms? 

I remember when I was still in school back in North West. I had dreams of getting out of that village and create a better life for myself. I knew I wanted to be a tv host but I knew if I am ever going to make it I would have to learn how to speak English. 

I don’t really have to say it because anyone who has gone through South African government school system would know that we are taught in our home language and expected to write exams that are compiled in English. That can be attributed to the sad reality of many young black kids passing matric but not being able to write an essay when they get to tertiary.

Well, I used reading books that were not part of the syllabus, magazines and watching lots of tv as a way to learn to be fluent in English.

10 years later, I have followed through with my dreams. I am now in the entertainment industry and actually have a voice that thousands of people trust with information about this industry. Not too shabby for a village boy. 

I actually prefer reading biographies and political analysis book.  I love reading a book that would inspire me or make me think beyond what I am being told by the establishment. That’s where my knack for commentary comes from now. Hey, I have made a career out of it and that would not have been possible without the help of books.

I was appalled a year or so ago when I learned that for a book to be a bestseller in this country it would actually just sell less than 5000 units. In a country with about  50 million people, that number is disconcerting.  If South Africans are not reading, what the heck are they doing with their spare time from work and other life’s responsibilities. 

I am no intellectual by any stretch of the imagination but I know our mind, like any of our other organs, functions better if it gets some exercise. This is why education is important for a development of society.

It dawned on me that perhaps the absurdity in the way our people deal with grievances might be a direct result of the fact that they have lost the ability to use their mind broadly thus they are unable to make rational decisions. 

It makes no sense to me that a person would burn a clinic to get a school instead of just using their power to vote. Why is our electorate, which majority happens to be black and poor, continue to use violence to rationalize their displeasure with authority and the government? The answer may just lie in the fact that we are a society that is indoctrinated to believe that you only have to learn what is practical to your everyday life or to serve your masters. 

Even in our endeavours to encourage young people to get an education, we sometimes straddle the line of ending up misleading them into perpetuating the notion that people should only absorb information that is pertinent to their immediate needs.

You can't just use your mind to get a degree, get a job and follow whatever you are told by your leaders from there. That's not how you build a future. 

We ought to be encouraging our people to adopt a culture of self-empowerment by expanding your mind with reading. It’s a fact that the more you read about different point of views on a subject, the likely you are to make a rational decision pertaining to that subject or situation. 

Black consciousness ought not to be just about economic freedom but freedom of the mind as well. If we are to build a better nation, we have to nurture a culture of being informed. 

Unfortunately these days all you see are young people who are so misled by a sense of entitlement and held back by a tendency to always want to be spoonfed information. The notion of being independent of mind and being pro-active in seeking information about ways that can help them to better their lives has all but eroded. 

And boy do our politician take advantage of that! Our leaders are not visionaries anymore but just populist who prey on this very weakness in our society. They know majority of our people will not think for themselves so they say the right things at the right time and never deliver yet the masses still sheepishly vote and follow them. 

My Stash... and yes it's 90% local books 

How do we then turn this tide?

We need to read more and encourage others to do the same. Obviously given our history our problems can not be solved by just telling people to read more. However, that would be a good start. The love for reading may inevitably invigorate the yearning for education in our society. 

Against the backdrop of it being less absurd than is it tragic that a local book need only sell a couple of thousands copies to be a bestseller in this country , SAFM’s “Literature on Sundays”  host  Karabo Kgolego said,
'The notion of a best seller is a funny one, because the way the word “Best –seller” works is that if you print 50 copies of your book and sell all of them, your book is a best-seller.” 
This should not be although I understand why this is the case. With smartphones, the internet, television, etc book have become less appealing to young people as a source of any information or “entertainment”.

I noticed that as soon as I bought my iPad and started buying these Apps, I have lost interest in buying books.

Now a story that broke few weeks ago of Yahoo buying a 17 year old’s software that sources stories on the net and then compacts them to a paragraph or so, you can bet our kids will be reading less and less. 

BUT, why are books still relevant?

This was my attempt at putting the issue in perspective so to better answer that question FOR MYSELF. You may have a different theory, in the end though the point is that we can not allow books to die out. We can not have more people buying dvds than books. In the meantime, I have to start reading again. 

Any recommendations?  

1 comment:

Noku said...

Great post Phil. I was also shocked to learn what bestseller means, especially in SA! I won't give any recommendations per se but I will talk about a few books I have read lately. Unfortunately since I have started exercising again I have lost momentum on my reading but I will try to rectify that soon. I have also been reading mostly SA titles and here are my thoughts:

I am currently reading a book by Muzi Khuzwayo called Black Man's Medicine. I did not know about the author when I bought the book but the summary at the back sold it to me. Well... Bad bad move as I am struggling to finish the book!

There's a Bantu In My bathroom by Eusebius McKaiser: The book is a collection of essays which I mostly enjoyed, in it Eusebius talks about a lot of uncomfortable truths and opens up quite a bit about his personal life. I felt race was visited and revisited quite a bit from all sorts of different angles in the different essays. I think Eusebius is still finding his style of writing though but since its his first book I guess that is understandable.

From Debts to Riches by Phume Ndumo: This was a really good buy on my side. I did not necessarily enjoy the style that Phume Ndumo employs for the book but since the book is targeted at people who know very little about managing finances to the more savvy ones I guess she had to be as inclusive as possible. Most of what she shares was not new to me, however the new information I picked up from the book made it so well worth it! I will pick up this book and read it again soon.

The Hustlers Bible by Gayton McKenzie: When there was hype about the book I also rushed out to get it fuelled by the hype. The first thing I noticed was how ridiculous the cover of the book is but if there's is one thing the ZAR guys know it's marketing so I will leave that alone. I could not help feeling like the ZAR people were in a hurry to release a book. On the credits the book boasts an editor and two proof readers but that did not prevent typos e.g. Sipho "Hostix" Mabuse written as Sipho "Hostix" Mabuza. Twice! Also the chapters do not really flow nicely there is something haphazard about the whole book and it drags on and on quite a bit. However, I do not regret reading the book. It is funny as well.

My Father My Monster by McIntosh Polela: Whoa! What a book. I could not put down this book even though it made me cry like a baby. It is also so well written. I kept thinking to myself that you can't see someone twang on TV and think you know anything about them. You see, I had such preconceived ideas of who McIntosh is and boy was I wrong! This is a great story about beating the odds.

Next on my list is the mom, dad and son combo of the Bikos LOL. I have "I write what I like", "Conversations with My Sons and Daughters" and "The Great South African Debate".

I also have "Architects of Poverty" and "The Dream Deferred". See I love families! Tltltltltltl.

I am quite sure I will be buying Rev. Chikane's latest book as well as "Agents of Change" by Moeletsi Mbeki and I still need to read Ndumiso Ngcobo's "Some of My Friends are White".

In general, in terms of books I think these are exciting times especially for black South Africa. I think we are at a point where we are tired of having our stories told by others and we are taking out our pens and writing our own stories. Seeing what bestseller means, it is not for money either. I think this is really a step in the right direction even the efforts by the likes of Ms. Mbau and Kelly Khumalo even though I doubt I would read their books. I loved Bonnie Henna's book though.

Phil sorry for such a long a$$ response. One last thing... there was talk of a book and a movie about Rebecca Malope's life. Do you know what ever happened to that? Do you know any insiders that could shed some light. I would definitely read Dr Ribs' book.

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