Elinor Sisulu, a South African author, holds up a book at a recent seminar hosted by local nonprofit South Africa Partners to celebrate the children’s literature of Sisulu’s homeland. Joining her at last week’s seminars was fellow South African scribe and activist Sindiwe Magona, author of 18 children’s books. (Photo courtesy of South Africa Partners)
South African activists and writers Elinor Sisulu and Sindiwe Magona came to Boston last week to participate in a series of seminars to celebrate the children’s literature of their home country. The seminars were part of the 10th anniversary festivities for South Africa Partners, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that supports relations between the U.S. and South Africa through education and health initiatives.
In one of those initiatives, according to Sisulu, for every book donated to South Africa Partners, the organization will purchase an additional book written by a South African author, which will then be distributed to children throughout South Africa. Sisulu said she supports the effort because it aims both to support the South African economy and enable children in her country to read more books written by native authors.
“Many well-meaning people send books to Africa, but most of them are not culturally appropriate for our children,” Sisulu said. “Children should read about their own culture and see themselves.”
Sisulu is the author of “The Day Gogo Went to Vote,” a children’s book about a grandmother who is determined to go to her local polling place in the first election allowing black South Africans to vote. Magona is the author of 18 children’s books, including “The Best Meal Ever!” and “Life is a Hard but Beautiful Thing.”
Magona said that South Africa’s education system is suffering because the government doesn’t provide equal support for students at all age levels or those learning in different languages. She also said she finds it discouraging that today’s youth use the Internet, instead of traditional storytelling from their elders, to gain information about their culture.
“During apartheid, we had our languages and storytelling,” she said. “Now that we are free, South Africa is like America during slavery. Our children are being prevented from an education and their history.”
Education in South Africa garnered international attention last year when the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls opened outside of Johannesburg. The boarding school was established to increase opportunity for South African girls who had shown academic talent and leadership skills, but came from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.(p2)
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