In 2011, leading up to the annual National Book Week in September, the SA Book Council released dismal statics about South Africa’s reading rates. Stats like “14% of SA’s are committed book readers & only 5% of parents read to their kids.” The stats paint a gloomy picture but more and more there are many writers, publishers, bibliophiles and curious minds out there bent on promoting reading and writing in South Africa.
We sent a few questions over to Tebogo Ditshego, founder of Readabooksa. A twitter campaign that encourages South Africans to read, review and share in their love for literature. We were curious to learn what inspired him and what this campaign is all about.
Poetry Potion: Tell us a bit about yourself and your interest in literature?
Tebogo Ditshego: I am an Honours Graduate in Communication at the University of Johannesburg and a Senior Account Manager at one of South Africa’s top PR agencies “The Communications Firm”. I was influenced by my father, Sam Ditshego, to read good books, to enlighten myself and he made reading cool in our household.
PP: What inspired you to start ‘ReadABookSA’? And why did you choose to do it via twitter?
TD: I started @readabooksa because I have personally reaped the benefits of reading. It has assisted me in my career to be more competitive. I can converse on a higher level because I have enough content to state a case and make solid arguments. I want to share this with the rest of the country, I think a reading nation will be good for our economy. I chose twitter because its cost-effective and it is the “in thing”
PP: Before starting the project, what did you think you knew about literacy in SA? Has that been proven or changed?
TD: The project is not really about literacy, schools teach literacy in the early grades. It’s about spreading a reading culture and making reading cool in South Africa in order to inspire a generation of intellectuals.
PP: Have your initial goals with regards to Twitter and getting people talking/tweeting about books been met. If yes, what are your next objectives / goals with the project?
TD: Yes, our targets have been met. Our next target is to reach 10 000 followers by 1 January 2013.
PP: In your view, do you think the culture of reading, generally, is more prevalent among some cultural groups than others? If so, what would you cite as reasons for this?
TD: Don’t want to comment on this topic.
PP: You are using social media to promote reading, are your readers warming up to the ereaders, ebooks, reading on tablets?
TD: Our readers use mostly hard copy books.
PP: Various publishers provide books in various South African languages. Do you think the availability of books in people’s home languages, outside of school, could increase the numbers of readers? Or overall interest, if so, are you able to cite an example?
TD: I don’t have evidence to base this answer on so I would be speculating.
PP: What have been some of the reason you’ve heard for people not reading?
Most people say that they don’t read because books are too expensive or they have no time. In my view these are just excuses, people spend more money on chewing gum than on books so the excuse that books are expensive seems disingenuous.
PP: There are a few similar projects around the country that try to encourage reading and writing, what do you think these similar projects can do better to inspire readers?
TD: I would prefer to comment on readabooksa.
PP: What is your vision for ‘ReadABookSA’, where do you see the project in five years time?
TD: In five years’ time we would have reached over 50 000 followers and 10 000 book recommendations. We would have built a library in a disadvantaged community and we would have motivated thousands of young people to read 1 book a month.
PP: If you were to leave South Africans with a message regarding reading and literacy – what would that message be?
TD: “Difficult is not always bad & easy is not always good. Being ignorant is easy but it’s a bad habit. Reading 1 book a month is difficult, but its good hobby”
To participate in the this “readvolutionary” campaign and help promote a reading culture follow, @Readabooksa on twitter.