Asmal launches reading campaign

By Time of article published Dec 9, 2000

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About three million South African adults are completely illiterate and between five and eight million functionally so, Education Minister Kader Asmal said on Friday.

At the Masifunde Sonke campaign launch in Pretoria, Asmal said a large number of parents in the country were unable to read instructions on medicine bottles or fill in an application form without assistance.

"This campaign is not only about teaching people to read, its just as much about getting people who can read to read and go on reading," he said.

"Throughout the world the best predictor of the learning achievement of children is the education and literacy level of their parents."

Masifunde Sonke campaign aims to get the entire nation involved in an effort to build a sustainable culture of reading that affirms South African languages, history, values and development.

The year-long campaign intends to make reading a joy that will enrich people's lives instead of an obligation.

The minister said leading nations prided themselves on the promotion of reading.

"They see a high level of literacy as a major source of their competitiveness and social maturity."

Asmal said the absence of a widespread culture of reading in SA acted as an effective barrier to the country's development and international competitiveness.

"How often do we hear someone say that it is 'ages' since he or she last read a book... Instead we rely on headlines in newspapers and the soundbite on radio and television. We miss the core of our existence," he said.

Asmal said he was saddened by seeing elderly people at polling stations seeking assistance from someone and therefore, has taken upon himself to fight illiteracy in the country.

"To strengthen our democratic order we need to instil this culture (of learning)."

He urged everyone to be involved.

But the challenge would rest in the distribution of reading material to far flung rural areas, said Asmal.

He said the campaign would use resources from schools, libraries, the government among others to ensure that all South Africans got involved in reading.

"By the end of the campaign it is hoped people will pick up a book and say, 'I can read this all by myself'." - Sapa

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