An Open Letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa

The buying, selling and reading of books is an essential service

By Daily Maverick 28 April 2020

Photo by Ergita Sela on Unsplash

An open letter from 328 South African published authors, academics, and readers, asking that all books be available for trade at Level 4 of Lockdown. The letter has been submitted to the National Coronavirus Command Council through the correct portal, and letters will be written, individually, to the key ministers on Tuesday, 28 April 2020. 

The letter was sent out by authors Nadia Davids, Mark Gevisser, Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Ronnie Kasrils, Sisonke Msimang, Professor Njabulo S Ndebele, Yewande Omotoso and Zukiswa Wanner.

Among the signatories are the novelists JM Coetzee, Zakes Mda, Mandla Langa, Ivan Vladislavic, Lauren Beukes, Damon Galgut, Margie Orford, Marguerite Poland, Achmat Dangor, Siphiwo Mahala and Angela Makholwa; the non-fiction writers Albie Sachs, Jonny Steinberg, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Elinor Sisulu, Andrew Feinstein, and Hennie van Vuuren; the poets and storytellers Gcina Mhlope, Lebo Mashile, Lindiwe Mabuza, Antjie Krog and Ingrid de Kok; the artist William Kentridge; the cartoonist Zapiro; the journalists Jacques Pauw, Ferial Haffajee, Anton Harber, Justice Malala, Adriaan Basson, and Pieter-Louis Myburgh; the broadcaster-writers Redi Tlhabi, Eusebius McKaiser, John Maytham, and Bruce Whitfield; the political and economic analysts Moeletsi Mbeki, Tony Leon, Judith February, Greg Mills, and Songezo Zibi; the academics Tshepo Madlingozi, Mcebisi Ndletyana, Jaclyn Cock, Shireen Hassim, Bill Nasson, Nicoli Nattrass and Eddie Webster. 

 

An Open Letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and the South African National Coronavirus Command Council.

As published South African authors, and readers and writers, we are proud of and grateful for the sober, compassionate, and science-based leadership our government has shown during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are mindful of the difficult choices you have to make, every day, in an attempt to save our lives and our livelihoods, and we have noted your call for public response to the proposed regulations governing the easing of the lockdown. It is in this spirit that we submit our request: that all books, not just “educational” ones, be available for trade, at Level 4 of the lockdown.

The book industry was vulnerable even before the pandemic. We as a country are at great risk of losing not only our booksellers, but our publishers too. We are concerned about the jobs that will be lost, as well as the loss of vital cultural and intellectual space. This space will not be easily regained once the Covid-19 crisis is over.

From May 1, restaurants will be able to deliver cooked food. We understand the value of this, to the economy, the service industry, and consumers alike. We would like to urge that brain-food be delivered, too, as an essential service: not just so that writers can keep writing and publishers can keep publishing and booksellers can keep selling, but so that readers can keep reading, new ideas can keep sprouting, and that the life of the mind of our country can keep growing.

Reading is one of the few art-forms that can be practiced at a social distance; it is a pastime that both encourages safe behaviour in the present and is an investment in our individual and collective future. University students, in particular, need uninterrupted access to books to prepare them for a meaningful contribution to the knowledge economy.

We are not being simply nostalgic when we say that there is nothing like a physical book: it distills, holds, and transmits knowledge like no other “device”. From the young child discovering the world through her first storybook to a grandmother, now alone during the lockdown, with only her books to comfort her, it is the foundation of our literate society. If we are going to ensure that our country continues to develop and strengthen a reading culture, we need to nurture and protect writers, publishers, booksellers and readers.

We have noted the new ways technology is being adopted because of the pandemic, and we understand that, in the future, there might be more trade in e-books and less in physical books. Still, publishers will be necessary to make those e-books, and so we don’t want to lose them. And, of course, the pandemic has put into sharp relief the digital divide. For a long time to come, e-books will not be an option for most South Africans, and for this reason the paper publishing industry must stay alive.

Of course, there are books in circulation already, and it could be argued that it is not essential for more to be bought and sold right now. We would disagree. To allow the book industry to trade right now is to give it a lifeline. Without that lifeline, we could well lose it. Forever.

In South Africa, purchasing a book is often a luxury, but many in the book community work to promote national literacy, to ensure that books are widely available for loan and purchase, and to promote the understanding that books are a necessity rather than a privilege. We would like to see emerge, out of this crisis, an opportunity for developing better book delivery at a community level, so that the key work already done to build literacy in South Africa will not be lost.

We do not ask that bookshops be open physically for business just yet. Rather, we ask for a simple addition to the current Level 4 regulations: that all books be available for purchase online or over the phone and for delivery, and that all booksellers, big and small, be allowed to trade.

All books are educational.

Signed:

  1. Barbara Adair
  2. Lize Albertyn-du Toit
  3. Kate Alexander 
  4. Lucy Alexander
  5. Jonathan Ancer
  6. Gavin Andersson
  7. Peter Anderson
  8. Sally Andrew
  9. Brett Archibald
  10. Neil Armitage
  11.  Zaheera Jina Asvat
  12.  Adriaan Basson
  13.   Charlotte Bauer
  14.  Lesley Berry 
  15.  Mark Berry 
  16.  Lauren Beukes
  17.  Cynthia Bevan
  18. Zelda Bezuidenhout
  19.  Hlumelo Biko
  20. Albert Blake
  21. Carole Bloch
  22. Marn Bodenstein 
  23. Jill Bradbury
  24. Kerneels Breytenbach
  25. Nechama Brodie 
  26. Daniel Browde
  27. Edyth Bulbring
  28. Mary Burton 
  29. Ndukenhle Buthelezi
  30. Penny Busetto
  31.      Mike Cadman
  32. Edwin Cameron
  33. Jonathan Cane
  34. Andy Capostagno
  35. Trevor Carnaby 
  36. John Cartwright 
  37. Alma-Nalisha Cele
  38. Mukesh Chander
  39. Ivor Chipkin 
  40. Yvette Christianse
  41. Sean Christie
  42. Jakkie Cilliers
  43. Francois Cleophas
  44. Stephen Clingman
  45. Jacklyn Cock
  46. JM Coetzee 
  47. David Cooper
  48. Michael Cope 
  49. Sharon Cort 
  50. Ben Cousins
  51. Jeremy Cronin 
  52. Karin Cronje
  53.      Jenny Crwys-Williams 
  54. Lindelwa Dalamba
  55. Jude Daly
  56. Achmat Dangor
  57. Fezile Dantile
  58. Carol Ann Davids
  59. Nadia Davids
  60. Rebecca Davis
  61. Henrietta Dax
  62. Jean-Pierre de Kock
  63. Ingrid de Kok
  64. Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
  65. Dirk de Vos
  66. Fred de Vries
  67. Shaun de Waal 
  68. Jessica Denyschen
  69. Isobel Dixon
  70. S Dlamini
  71. Khaya Dlanga
  72. Ebbe Dommisse 
  73.      Dorothy Driver
  74.      Andrew Duminy 
  75. Hani du Toit
  76. Nomathemba Dzinotyiwei
  77. Chike Frankie Edozien
  78. Hagen Engler 
  79.      George Ellis 
  80. Zimitri Erasmus
  81. Natasha Erlank
  82. Martha Evans
  83. Judith February
  84. Andrew Feinstein 
  85. Melinda Ferguson
  86. Brian Fredericks
  87. Sibongile Fisher
  88. Fiona Forde
  89. Moira Forjaz
  90. Roddy Fox
  91. Damon Galgut 
  92. Dawn Garisch
  93.  Philippa Garson
  94. Mark Gevisser
  95. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
  96. Jeremy Gordin 
  97. Tracy Going
  98. Pregs Govender
  99. Pumla Dineo Gqola
  100. Rachelle Greeff
  101. Pippa Green
  102. Jane Griffiths
  103. Albert Grundlingh
  104. Sharon Grussendorf
  105. Adam Habib
  106. Ferial Haffajee
  107. Rosemund Handler 
  108. Ray Hartley 
  109. Shafinaaz Hassim
  110. Joanne Hichens
  111. Nicky Falkof
  112. Anton Harber
  113. Shireen Hassim
  114. Stefanie Hefer
  115. James Hendry
  116. Michiel Heyns
  117. Mark Heywood 
  118. Craig Higginson
  119. Alan Hirsch
  120. David Holt-Biddle
  121. Mehita Iqani
  122. Ron Irwin
  123. Zubeida Jaffer
  124. Ashraf Jamal
  125. Ena Jansen
  126. Nozizwe Cynthia Jele
  127. Ashraf Kagee
  128. Philippa Kabali-Kagwa
  129. Aryan Kaganof
  130. Ronnie Kasrils 
  131. Cathy Kelly
  132. Billy Keniston
  133. Andrew Kenny 
  134. William Kentridge 
  135. Rashida Khan
  136. Busisiwe Precious Khumalo
  137. Siya Khumalo
  138. Sarah-Jayne King
  139. Bongani Kona 
  140. Kelly-Eve Koopman
  141. Lindie Koorts
  142. Rustum Kozain
  143. Sue Kramer
  144. Helena Kriel
  145. Antjie Krog
  146. Cynthia Kros 
  147. Christa Kuljian
  148. Terry Kurgan
  149. Ismail Lagardien
  150. Mandla Langa
  151. Bronwyn Law Viljoen
  152. Pertunia Lehoka 
  153. Tony Leon 
  154. Nombulelo Leqheku
  155. Sekajane Leqheku
  156. Lorraine le Roux
  157. Michelle le Roux
  158. Lorna Levy 
  159. Bridget Lotz
  160. Barbara Ludman
  161. Lindiwe Mabuza 
  162. Wendy Maartens
  163. Deon Maas 
  164. Joanne Macgregor
  165. Hugh Macmillan
  166. Tshepo Madlingozi 
  167. Bongani Madondo
  168. Kathu Maestro
  169. Nelly Page Magwaza
  170. Siphiwo Mahala
  171. Sello Mahapeletsa
  172. Macdonald Mailula 
  173. Joshua Maluleke
  174. Desiree-Anne Martin
  175. Julia Martin
  176. Malose Erick Makgotho
  177. Angela Makholwa
  178. Justice Malala
  179. Gerhard Mare
  180. Lebo Mashile
  181. Sizwile Masukuma-Sibindi
  182. Zethu Matebeni
  183. Nixon Mateulah
  184. Makanaka Mavengere
  185. John Maytham 
  186. Moeletsi Mbeki
  187. Liz McGregor
  188. Eusebius McKaiser
  189. Fiona Melrose
  190. Rajend Mesthrie
  191. Thando Mgqolozana
  192. Gcina Mhlophe
  193. Ronald Miller
  194. Greg Mills
  195. Makodi Moepya
  196. Helen Moffett
  197. Thabiso Mofokeng
  198. Tlaleng Mofokeng
  199. Fikile Moiloa
  200. Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane
  201. Simphiwe Molaba
  202. Natalia Molebatsi
  203. Saul Kgomotso Molobi
  204. Rudolf Isaac Monyela
  205. Jean Moore
  206. Michael Morris 
  207. Floss Morrison 
  208. Palesa Morudu
  209. Thabo Mosole 
  210. Glenn Moss 
  211. Sisonke Msimang
  212. Lungile Mtetwa
  213. Gregory Mthembu-Salter
  214. Isiphile Mthumezi
  215. Nick Mulgrew
  216. Pieter-Louis Myburgh
  217. Eric Naki
  218. Bill Nasson
  219. Nicoli Nattrass
  220. Charl-Pierre Naude
  221. Njabulo S Ndebele
  222. Nothando Ndebele
  223. Senzeni Ndebele
  224. Malika Ndlovu
  225. Maureen Ndlovu
  226. Mcebisi Ndletyana
  227. Sean Newman 
  228. Susan Newton-King
  229. Chwayatiya Ngamlana
  230. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi
  231. Monde Nkasawe
  232. Candice Noakes-Dobson
  233. Patrick Noonan
  234. Mphuthumi Ntabeni
  235. Brian Vela Ntombela 
  236. Sue Nyathi
  237. Ike Obedike
  238. Paul O’Sullivan
  239. Andre Odendaal 
  240. Bernard Odendaal
  241. Pieter Odendaal
  242. Crispian Olver
  243. Margie Orford
  244. Yewande Omotoso
  245. Harry Owen
  246. Elize Parker
  247. Jacques Pauw
  248. Harriet Perlman
  249. Jackie Phamotse 
  250. Howard Phillips
  251. Jolyn Phillips
  252. Phumlani Pikoli
  253. Don Pinnock 
  254. Marguerite Poland
  255. Motlalekgotso Ponya
  256. Pamela Power
  257. Karen Press
  258. Lizette Rabe
  259. Marlise Rabe 
  260. Kgotso Ramaipato
  261. Iman Rappetti
  262. Jo-Anne Richards 
  263. Tim Richman
  264. Kevin Ritchie 
  265. Heather Robertson
  266. Steven Robbins 
  267. Kuli Roberts
  268. Kate Rogan
  269. Consuelo Roland
  270. Megan Ross
  271. Brian Rostron
  272. Albie Sachs
  273. Andre Sales
  274. Chris Saunders
  275. Karin Schimke
  276. Patricia Schonstein 
  277. Lauren Segal
  278. Malebo Sephodi
  279. Mogau Seshoene
  280. Jeremy Seekings
  281. Pumza Shabangu
  282. Terry Shakinovsky
  283. Milton Shain
  284. John Sharp
  285. Sandra Shell
  286. Ntombi Sibande-Letlojane 
  287. Kate Sidley
  288. Stephen Sidley
  289. Wandile Sihlobo
  290. Sizwile Masukuma-Sibindi
  291. Gus Silber
  292. Elinor Sisulu
  293. Ari Sitas
  294. Angelina Sithebe
  295. Sebolelo Lorraine Sithole
  296. Gillian Slovo
  297. Outlwile Tsipane
  298. Annette Snyckers
  299. Fiona Snyckers
  300. Kelwyn Sole
  301. Andrew Spiegel
  302. Jonny Steinberg
  303. Helene Strauss 
  304. Raymond Suttner 
  305. Richard Sutton 
  306. Sandra Swart
  307. Lindiwe Sweleka
  308. Karina Szczurek
  309. Jane Taylor
  310. Jen Thorpe
  311. Redi Tlhabi
  312. Hazel Tobo
  313. Carla Tsampiras
  314. Melusi Tshabalala
  315. Nthabiseng Portia Tshabalala
  316. Zola Zonwabele Tshayana 
  317. Karina Turok
  318. Hedley Twidle
  319. Chris van der Merwe
  320. Kees van der Waal
  321. Elizabeth van Heyningen
  322. Peter van Kets
  323. Mark Varder
  324. Sahm Venter
  325. Hein Viljoen 
  326. Ivan Vladislavic
  327. Michael Vlismas
  328. Christiaan Vlotman
  329. Megan Voysey
  330. Peter Vundla
  331. Marita van der Vyver
  332. Hennie van Vuuren
  333. Zukiswa Wanner
  334. Edward Webster
  335. Mandy Weiner
  336. Flow Wellington
  337. Virginia Welsh
  338. Tony Weaver
  339. Cas Wepener
  340. Terry Westby-Nunn
  341. Bruce Whitfield 
  342. Sarah Wild
  343. Brian Willan
  344. Zoe Wicomb
  345. Herman Wittenberg
  346. Nigel Worden
  347. Diana Wylie
  348. Rahla Xenopoulos 
  349. Jolene Young 
  350. Tanya Zack
  351. Zapiro
  352. Songezo Zibi
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