The National Library of South Africa hosts its third annual living legends celebration

“It is through such fictional work that the SiSwati’s culture, wisdom, customs, traditions, history, identity and so forth are expressed,” said the National Librarian and CEO, Mr Kepi Madumo.

It is often believed that a mother’s breast does not only nourish and feed an infant but when a child suckles on their mother’s breast, they are learning their mother tongue as well.  From infancy, mother tongues have the potential to shape societies as the spoken word exposes us to so much of our cultural norms that make up our heritage. 

Indigenous languages are integral for the preservation of our cultural heritage for future generations as knowledge, wisdom, customs, values, norms, etc. are transmitted from one generation to the next through the spoken word.  Dr Hugh Masekela credited his success to his culture.  In one of his famous quotes he said, “I got to where I am in life not because of something I brought to the world but through something I found – the wealth of African culture.”  Dr Masekela eloquently explained the influence that languages have on communities; for it is through languages that a people’s interests, values, authenticity, wisdom and knowledge are expressed.  

The National Library of South Africa (NLSA) has over the years embarked on numerous campaigns to promote reading and writing in indigenous languages.  One such campaign is the Reprint of South African Classics Project which was launched in 1994.  The project is a collaboration with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (DSAC).  Under the project, books that are considered to be classics in the nine official indigenous languages were chosen for reprint and are donated to the public for free.  There are currently 93 titles in circulation of classics which have been reprinted.  Further, the NLSA ensures that the authors of the classics are noted, appreciated and celebrated for their achievements.

It is against this backdrop that on 24 November 2020, the NLSA under the auspices of the Provincial Department of Culture, Sport, and Recreation in Mpumalanga, hosted a Living Legends Celebration to honour Dr G.A. Malindzisa (posthumously), Dr J.J. Thwala, Mr A.T. Fakude, Mrs E.S Mathunjwa and Prof J.P. Shongwe for their contribution to South African literature. 

During the event held in Mpumalanga, National Librarian and CEO, Mr Kepi Madumo stated that the Legends have left an indelible mark on the NLSA, insomuch that their books are part of the Reprint of South African Classics Project.  Timeless classics such as Hawu Babe by Dr Malindzisa, Prof Shongwe’s Bangani, Lidvume Laphangalala written by Mrs Mathunjwa, Umkhunsu by Dr Thwala and Mr Fakude’s Labhoboka Litfumba are among the titles reprinted to elevate reading and writing in indigenous languages.   Notably is that the books by the five authors were written at the height of apartheid, this demonstrated their will to preserve their language under extreme political pressure. 

“It is through such fictional work that the SiSwati’s culture, wisdom, customs, traditions, history, identity and so forth are expressed.  From this we learn that there is a deep relationship between a people’s culture and language; and that language binds communities together,” remarked Mr Madumo. 

One of the Legends did not miss an opportunity to provide aspiring writers with helpful tips on being a successful author.  Mr AT Fakude said that he attributes his success to differentiating the genres of writing.  “Read, read and read more books written in your mother tongue,” he said. He went on thank the NLSA for playing a significant role in enhancing reading and writing in indigenous languages.

The keynote address was delivered by MEC Lindiwe Ntshalintshali who acknowledged that there have been significant strides made to improve access to information.  She highlighted that reading is self-replenishing as books aid towards self-development and discovery.  In addition, she lamented that it was important to learn other languages and not confine ourselves to one language especially when South Africa has 11 official languages. “We will continue to support government’s strategies to promote reading and the efforts of organisations such as the NLSA that promote indigenous languages,” MEC Ntshalintshali.

Tokens of appreciation in the form of engraved plagues where handed over the celebrated authors. 

National Librarian and CEO, Mr Kepi Madumo


Seated from left: Head of Department: Culture, Sport and Recreation – Mr G Ntombela, MEC L Ntshalintshali, Living Legend – Mrs E Mathunjwa, National Librarian & CEO – Mr K Madumo, Son of Legend Dr Malindzisa: Mr H Hlekaza, Living Legends: Prof J Shongwe, Mr A Fakude and Dr J Thwala


Token of appreciation