The power of words and their ability to educate, inspire and uplift is celebrated on 23 April every year as World Book Day.
This year, a handful of successful South Africans took to the stage at the University of Johannesburg’s Con Cowan Theatre to share with a packed audience their views on the importance of reading for pleasure and how books helped make them the people they are today.
The speakers included social entrepreneur and founder of Miss Earth South Africa Catherine Constantinides, author Khaya Dlanga, businesspeople and news anchors.
The event was hosted by Play Your Part ambassador Tebogo Ditshego, founder and head of public relations firm Ditshego Media. One of the company’s projects is the Twitter initiative Read a Book SA which, with its 30 000 followers, is the most followed project of its kind in Africa, encouraging people to read since its first tweet went out in 2012.
“Knowledge is power,” Ditshego said. “Knowledge empowered me to empower other people.
“South Africa is a beautiful country with awesome people and immense potential,” he said. “If you don’t read books and miss out on the knowledge that you can get from books, you’re going to be average. What’s going to make you special is the knowledge that you have.”
WORDS OF WISDOM
Bongiwe Pityi, the general manager of OR Tambo International Airport, told the students that reading helped fuel her ambition. “I was born in the Eastern Cape in a rural area,” she said. “I never thought that I would be heading up one of the most prized assets in this country.
“Reading for leisure contributed to my drive to be a dedicated student at university and ultimately the business leader that I am today. I knew, from the books I had read, that getting my priorities right would be the catalyst to a future peppered with endless opportunity.
“The most fundamental skill that one can learn is reading,” Pityi said. “Reading improves our attention span, confidence, discipline and through reading we gain knowledge.”
She said reading had equipped her with other skills, such as a keen eye for detail that has allowed her to cement her place as a successful black businesswoman in an environment dominated by men.
“The more knowledge we have the better the decisions we can make. The better the decisions we can make the more successful we can all become.”
Reading is fun, but its benefits go far beyond an immersive pastime, she said. Reading allows people to expand their understanding of the world around them and the many different perspectives, challenges and backgrounds of the people in it.
Actor and film producer Thapelo Mokoena told the audience he believed reading could allow people to reach what he called their “full P”, their full potential. Reading helped him discover who he was and the career that could allow him to express himself to the fullest.
As a child Mokoena never really engaged with books, he said, and this had limited his views of the world and what it had to offer. It was during his varsity years that he discovered his love of reading. This love shed light on himself and helped him make the decision to pursue a career in filmmaking and acting.
“I didn’t have the information I needed to decide what I wanted to do,” Mokoena said. “I was always that child who was artistically inclined, but growing up in a town like Ladysmith I had no extramural activities that fed my artistic bone.
“I knew that I belonged to the arts. I knew that I belonged in performance and I was interested in film. But when I made the decision to come and study in Joburg, I really had no idea that one could study towards being a filmmaker, an artist, an actor, an editor, a writer, a director.
“None of that information was shared with us.”
Mokoena’s story illustrated how the knowledge gained from reading could fast-track our journey of self-discovery, and improve critical thinking and decision making, skills that inevitably lead to growth.
“We need to invest a lot of time in words, in books,” he said, “and understand the power of words: how to use words and how to structure words to get the desired effect.”
READING FOR AFRICA
For a continent so full of potential, Africa faces many challenges: poverty, disease and conflict. The event emphasised that education offers a solution to many of these problems. Harnessing the power that literature of all forms has to offer can go a long way to alleviating the troubles Africans face.
Concluding the event, the host Ditshego summed up the sentiment: “If we want to create a leading nation, we have to create a reading nation. Do you feel your heart beating? That is your purpose, you are alive for a reason.”