For the last four years PEN South Africa has partnered with the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA), the organisation which initiated and drove the first four years of the Nal’ibali national reading-for-enjoyment campaign. Together, we have worked on three projects aimed at furthering translation rights for children in South Africa: the translation of four children’s stories into five South African languages, the translation of George’s Secret Key to the Universe into isiZulu and isiXhosa and the current project – a series of dialogues on children’s literature and literacy. PRAESA continues to support Nal’ibali as content quality assurance partner.

PEN South Africa is fully supportive of the Girona Manifesto, PEN’s ten central principles of linguistic rights (available on our website in all of South Africa’s official languages) and it is with this Manifesto in mind that we have partnered with PRAESA. PRAESA has a 20 year history of conducting research and development projects relating to multilingual education and materials development. Last year PRAESA received the prestigious international children’s literacy accolade, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA), for its work in promoting children’s literacy in all official languages across South Africa since 1992.

One of the long term goals of PEN South Africa is the deepening of a democratic culture that fosters freedom of expression for all people living in South African. Another is the fostering of South African and other literatures in a range of languages – both original and in translation. In order for both of these to be meaningful and practical children need to be enabled and encouraged to read – and to delight in that reading – in their own languages as well as additional languages. In order to be a fully active and participatory citizen of a democracy one needs to be able to read and write with fluency confidence, pleasure and conviction. Learning to read in one’s own language – seeing one’s own language honoured in print – provides an essential foundation.

Ours is a country of great linguistic diversity and, because of our colonial and apartheid legacy, there has been insufficient investment in African language literacy and literature. Our constitution guarantees full mother tongue based bilingual education. However, because of the dearth of reading material of quality for young South African children who are not English speakers, this is not always possible. One of the areas most difficult to fund is in the area of quality translation and development of reading materials that delight, educate and draw children into a lifelong habit of reading and learning. The projects we have been working on aim at mitigating this deficit.