All posts by Susan Mvungi

Literacy, a shared goal

By Thundeza Mafungwa, Rare Books Librarian, Special Collections

In celebration of the National Book Week which coincides with the International Literacy Day, the Rare Books Division of Special Collections is showcasing titles from our Children’s Literature collection – focusing on multiple South African languages, particularly indigenous languages.

South African National Book Week

South African Book Development Council (2020)

National Book Week, which runs from 7 to 13 September 2020, is South Africa’s official reading awareness week, celebrated every year during the first week of September. Initiated eleven years ago, it is run by the South African Book Development Council in collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture. National Book Week promotes reading as a fun activity and of crucial importance is the focus on promoting indigenous languages, local authors as well as library awareness (SABDC).

According to the South African Book Development Council (SABDC),

“This annual campaign is aimed at uncovering the thrill and magic of sharing #OURSTORIES by increasing access to books and changing perceptions around reading.”

International Literacy Day

World Literacy Foundation (2020)

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) observes International Literacy Day on 8 September 2020, in an effort to promote the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies within the international community (UN). UNESCO describes the day as a worldwide annual celebration to promote the importance of literacy as a human right and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.


The World Literacy Foundation advocates that it is a common responsibility to ensure children keep learning during and after the COVID 19 global crisis (2020). COVID-19 pandemic dictated that lockdowns be imposed worldwide to the spread of the virus. This created a disruption in literacy and learning throughout the world as schools and libraries had to be closed for a length of time. Literacy gaps that existed prior to the pandemic were exacerbated.

Peterson’s (2020) description of literacy, perfectly outlines the need to develop literacy for societal change,

“Literacy is the global metric we use to assess the health and competence of communities. High literacy rates have been found to correlate to everything from better access to economic opportunity, to better nutrition, to environmental sustainability.”

The need for adoption of alternative approaches to learning has increased.

South African Children’s Literature Collection

The Children’s Literature collection consists of books published in multiple South African languages. The collection has developed greatly, and was originally developed through annual book donations by the Children’s Book Forum of the Western Cape, a travelling exhibition, as the core of the collection (Sales: 2005). Books are currently selected and acquired from various publishers and suppliers in line with our mandate to collect a wide range of this important and unique collection.

PGCE Foundation students in the Kipling Room with South African Children’s Literature books, 2020

UCT’s own Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) Foundation students are some of the key users of this collection, including children’s literature in the COL. Rare Books annually engages through orientation sessions arranged at the beginning of the year for the group to visit us in Special Collection and explore titles available. In this way, the Library hopes to encourage students and members of the public to embrace the preservation of South African languages through storytelling.

“If you want people to understand you, speak their language” – African proverb | Materials on display in Jagger Reading Room of Special Collections, February 2020

The Children’s Literature Collection gives prominence to folktales, stories promoting awareness on current affairs in a fun way, stories that promote diversity, as well as adventurous stories that expand and stimulate the imagination – in all South African languages.

Prominent and upcoming South African writers feature respectively in the collection. Notably, polyglot Sindiwe Magona’s books are available in multiple languages, including numerous indigenous South African languages. Some of the stories may seem familiar to those steeped in local culture and folklore.

Languages without borders … materials on display in the Jagger Reading Room of Special Collections

This includes the folktale of a woman who refused to abide by the rules of her society, and only followed the rules that suited her. One Sunday, she gathered firewood, which was strictly against the rules, and so she was punished by the forest gods. 

Gcina Mhlophe’s shares the folktale of how the lion got its roar. In essence, this is a fable about the power of community participation to solve problems.

Wendy Maartens’ retelling of the classic adventures of Jackal and Wolf reinvents this fable, published in 1910 by James A. Honey.

Niki Daly’s book is a story of possibilities. An ambitious boy dreams big as he looks after his grandfather’s sheep and goat, a job most young boys grew up doing in the rural villages. The story gives courage that one can dream big and succeed even from humble beginnings.

Maryanne Bester’s book explains the origins of the Nguni cattle, a popular breed of cattle.

Sindiwe Magona’s book promotes racial equity and celebrates the human rainbow, emphasizing that underneath the skin we are all the same.

Mylo Freeman’s book is a celebration of black hair and varied hair styles. Inspiring children to accept diversity.

Manichand, Beharilal’s books inspired by present day issues.

Ayanda says no to bullying
Thembi and Themba ride the Gautrain

Isaacs Graham’s book, an adventure and thrilling family outing.

Thembinkosi Kohli’s book teaches the importance of using water in a responsible manner.

Book pictures displayed are covers of books available at Special Collections Rare books section.

Sources used:

Peterson, A. 2020. Literacy is more than just reading and writing. [26 August 2020]

Sales, D., Barben, T. & Hart, L. 2005. Rarebooks and Special Collection Development Policy (Unpublished).

South African Book Development Council (SABDC). n.d. National Book Week [28 August 2020]

Standley, C. 2019. Literacy is so much more than reading and writing. Available: https: // [26 August 2020]

UNESCO. 2020. International Literacy Day. [28 August 2020]