People who know me know that I’m not a fan of di-Pitso. I see them as talk shops coming out with vague, unobtainable objectives that waste piles of money the country just doesn’t have.
This was especially true for di-Pitso around culture. The bringing together of artists and musicians and writers and culturalists to discuss their needs in one forum was an impossible task, set up to fail.
My opinion was flipped on its head when I heard that the Pitso for culture this year was going to be about reading, and not just reading, but how to develop a culture of reading for leisure.
The theme was “Go bala ke Lesedi- Developing a culture of reading in Botswana” It’s specific, attainable, and, in my view, extremely important if we ever intend to have a truly educated and informed country,
the only way really that we will ever have a completely independent and successful nation.
In my joyful state I set off for Tonota and their fabulous library. There were lots of fantastic things discussed at the Pitso,
things I’ll likely touch on in future columns, but I was most impressed with the Minister Shaw Kgathi’s speech and would like to focus on that.
(Note- I’m writing this column between having attended the Pitso in Tonota and having not yet attended the Pitso in Jwaneng. This year there was a north and south edition to cater for everyone)
The Minister talked about how reading is no longer seen as cool. When he was growing up, boys who read books and could quote passages from books,
especially in English, were the boys that got the girls. Reading was the coolest thing. Now kids need to be beaten to read.
Names like “bookworm” are seen as derogatory. This has got to change. We need to glorify bookworms.
The Minister stressed that role models need to be vocal about reading. He said that politicians and MPs should be readers. They cannot be respected if they do not read.
Reading makes you more able to make informed decisions and this is important for people that influence the direction of the country.
The Minister also said that associations such as the Writers Association of Botswana (WABO) and the Readers Association of Botswana (RAB) are not doing their job.
His ministry has built libraries, beautiful modern ones like the one in Tonota, but people are not using them. There are 32 libraries in the country and 68 village reading rooms.
The Minister said there are many challenges that are affecting our society that compete with reading.Social media such as Facebook and Twitter waste people’s time, according to him.
Also SMS language is causing a deterioration of the ability of the youth to write properly, this impedes their ability to write reports and proposals that could have an effect on their future success.
Though, the Minister admitted technology is not all bad. It also gives alternative ways of reading and that is a good thing.
Mr Kgathi wants the community to use their libraries. They are now equipped with computers as well. The Minister believes that libraries should be welcoming places.
He suggested in the future they could have attached tea gardens where people could get a cup of tea and read.
He thinks every primary school in the country should have a day that they spend at the library so that students become familiar with them.
The fact that the youth no longer read is shown in the lowering of performance in our schools despite the fact that facilities and teachers have improved. This is of great concern to the Minister.
The Minister stressed that for you to be an informed citizen, you need to read and make your own opinions about things based on what you have read.
You shouldn’t just listen to others and take their opinion. He fears that we are a country that relies too much on gossip instead of making our own informed decisions.
This would not be the case if we read.
The Minister also lamented the loss of Setswana. He felt that more books should be written and read in proper Setswana. He decried public officials who speak at meetings in English.
The Minister told the gathering that the President had advised them to hold di-pitso to hear what Batswana have to say.
He said that they sit in their offices thinking they know what they should do but they don’t.
They need to hear from their stakeholders. He decided that the pitso this year should be very specific. It would be about the ways in which we can create a culture of reading in our country.
For myself as a lover of books, I really need to commend the Minister for making such a public commitment to reading. I look forward to seeing what comes out of the resolutions from the pitso.