In a democracy, people have the right to use the languages they know – not only for speaking and listening, but also for reading and writing. Support for multilingualism is enshrined in the South African Constitution. However, for most people in the country, this is not yet the case. And this is one of the most significant reasons that huge numbers of children, who speak one or more African languages at home, find learning to read and write so difficult. It is also the reason that so many adults have grown up without experiencing the joys of reading as children.
The power and potential of one’s mother tongue comes easily to English speakers and many Afrikaans speakers in South Africa, as does the fact that they can fill bookshelves at home and at school with storybooks for their youngsters to enjoy and learn from. African-language speakers across South Africa do not have this privilege. Nal’ibali promotes and supports reading for enjoyment in African languages as well as in English because everyone has the right to read and write in the language of their choice and we need to grow all of our languages equally. The more we create the kinds of storybooks South African children love – and in languages they understand – the greater chance we have that all our children will be literate.