Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

John Aitchison’s incisive exposition about the shocking state of literacy in SA and the reasons for it (Bars to reading culture include low quality of training, March 6) was very timely coming as it did in the wake of the increase in VAT. This, of course, applies to books and all reading material.

Yet the government professes to be committed to "building a nation of readers". At the same time, there is a general nod in the direction of early childhood education, which copious studies have shown is where literacy and numeracy are best grounded. Yet this is the most deprived area in terms of resources.

Ten years ago, the finance ministry ignored a petition containing more than 100,000 names calling for the abolition of VAT on books and for greater resources to be given to libraries. The same applied to an earlier letter signed by leading authors such as Nadine Gordiner, Achmat Dangor, Rayda Jacobs, Zakes Mda and Elinor Sisulu, who supported the Campaign Against Reader Exploitation (Care).

Then finance minister Trevor Manuel noted to campaigners at the time that to remove VAT from books would "only benefit the rich". He told Parliament "those that are likely to benefit the most are middle and upper-income households and not those really in need".

Now a partially new regime is in place and there may be some hope of a sensible approach to books, literacy, libraries, VAT and education generally because Naledi Pandor has one of the education portfolios. In 2004, as education minister, she called for book prices to be dropped and pledged: "We will try to get as many books as possible into our schools and to develop a culture of reading in SA."

Hope springs eternal.

Terry Bell
Former Care co-ordinator