SA Book Fair 2019 celebrates the International Year of Indigenous Languages

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The development of indigenous languages publishing is a key focus of the South African Book Fair this year, featuring a variety of events dedicated to this crucial part of the homegrown book industry.

Among the highlights of this focus is the Indigenous Languages Text Editing Indaba which takes place on Friday September 6th. The only one of its kind in South Africa, this session will feature 30 delegates whose editing work centres on original works published in indigenous languages. Details of this high-level indaba will be released in the coming weeks, but booking will be essential for this closed event.

The upcoming Indigenous Text Editing Indaba is hosted by the South African Book Development Council (SABDC) whose Indigenous Languages Publishing Programme (ILPP) is a sectorial priority that aims to support the ongoing production of South African authored books in the local languages.

 The importance of this SABDC programme is underscored by the results of the recent Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA) Annual Book Publishing Industry Survey (2016-17 and 2017-18)which notes that “there is very little publishing in the African languages for the general reader, although notable improvements can be seen in children’s fiction and non-fiction”. 

 The findings of a most recent PASA survey further reveal that English dominates Adult Fiction (59.4%) and Adult Non-Fiction (80,80%) trade sales with Afrikaans the next most sold language (with 40.3% and 18.1% respectively). IsiZulu leads indigenous languages sales but still trails English and Afrikaans with a dismal 0.017% (Adult Fiction) and 0,04% (Adult Non-Fiction). As indicated by PASA’s annual survey, the picture improves slightly in the children’s book sector with Children’s Fiction Book sales made up of English (10,30%), Afrikaans (86,70%), IsiZulu (0,42%), IsiXhosa (0,64%), Sepedi (0,30%), Sesotho (0,70%), Setswana (0,47%), Xitsonga (0,01%) and SiSwati (0.46%). In the area of Scholarly Book, IsiZulu book sales are a robust 53,30% of sales for the January 2019 period.

Against this background, the South African Book Fair has substantial indigenous languages offerings for learners and teachers during the dedicated school day (Friday September 6th) as well as for visitors over the two-days of the public Fair (Saturday September 7thand Sunday September 8th). 

 Highlights from the schools programme include Reading in Indigenous Languages, a workshop aimed at teachers and other educators that focuses on the importance of reading in home languages; Shadow Chasers, a reading and superhero drawing session for Grade 5 – 7s, led by award-winning author Sifiso Mzobe, who translated the fantasy adventureShadow Chasersseries into isiZulu; and Halala Winner!,an interactive reading for Grades 1-4 by multilingual champion Xolisa Guzula from a comic story about a boy who is bullied at school, but ends up a hero.

During the two-day public event, a highlight for parents and children will be a visit by The Gruffalo, the beloved Julia Donaldson character. Now translated into indigenous languages, the multilingual reading of The Gruffalotakes place in the NBW Magic Tent between 10h00 and 11h00 on both Saturday and Sunday.

Indigenous languages are also in sharp focus during the Saturday session Multilingualism in South Africa which sees language activists and educational pioneers Gcina Mhlope, Xolisa Guzula and Zanele Ndlovu explore multilingualism as answer to Mzansi’s literacy deficit. This year’s offering includes the opportunity to do a crash course in Zulu with social media star Melusi Tshabala. Melusi’s Everyday Zulu takes place on Sunday at 10h00 and is expected to be a sell-out.

 These are just some of the indigenous languages offerings at the South African Book Fair – each one helping bring #OURSTORIES to life and inspiring a reading revolution for all South Africans. For the full offering  go to


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