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The low levels of literacy were identified by the government of South Africa as one of the major factors that hindered development in various sectors of society. A study commissioned by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) in 2007 on the reading habits of adult South Africans, confirmed the grim reality that South Africa was not a nation of readers, with more than half of the households not having any leisure books. While there was significant growth in the book sector in South Africa, publishing in indigenous African languages, however, was virtually limited to school markets. Subsequently, there is a significant lack of growth in the publishing of books in indigenous African languages. A number of factors were cited as causes for the lack of audiences for books in indigenous African languages, but what was apparent, was that many South Africans had particular books in their indigenous languages that had lasting impact in them.

It was against this backdrop that in 2008, the Department of Arts and Culture entrusted the National Library of South Africa with the task to identify and reprint books regarded as literary classics in the nine South African Indigenous Languages. Members of the public, academics, authors and librarians were invited to nominate books that they consider classics in their respective Indigenous Languages. A panel of literary and publishing experts finalised the list.

The project, known has the Reprint of South African Classics in Indigenous Languages, has the following objectives:

  • Promote literature as a custodian of South African heritage.
  • Instil love and respect for South African writers writing in indigenous languages and their works.
  • Expose learners, the youth and aspirant writers to the richness of South African literary heritage.
  • Advance the profile of South African literature.
  • Develop passion for the culture of reading and writing among citizens.
  • Promote reading of literature written in African languages even outside the school curriculum.
  • Celebrate and recognize South African classical writers.
  • Enhance social cohesion and nation building through literature.

In the first phase of the project 27 titles were reprinted, followed by 19 titles in the second phase and 22 titles in the third phase; a total of 68 titles in the nine Indigenous Languages. The books were distributed to public and school libraries, arts centres and information centres in all nine provinces. They are exhibited at literary events as part of the national campaign to promote a culture of reading. They have been exhibited at the Cape Town International Book Fair, National Book Week, Northern Cape Writers Festival, Centenary Celebration in Mangaung as well as the Second South African Writers Symposium held in Cape Town. These books are also exhibited at every Budget Vote speech presented by the Minister of Arts and Culture in Parliament.

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for a catalogue of all titles reprinted in the first to the third phase of the project. We trust that this catalogue will be a useful instrument for institutions to select books in languages mostly used in their regions and make them available for public consumption. The books are available free of charge to needy institutions like schools and libraries, depending on available stock. Contact Lucas Matlala at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for donations.

Click here to view: “Reprint of South African Classics Project - The First and Second Phases Monitoring and Evaluation Report”.