Book publishers and authors are appealing to President Cyril Ramaphosa to lift the ban on the sale of books to enable people to buy and read books during the current lockdown.
In an open letter to the president, the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and the Coronavirus Command Council, PEN SA said the buying, selling and reading of books is an essential service.
They requested that all books, and not just “educational” ones, be available for trade, at Level 4 of the lockdown coming into effect on Friday. The group were concerned about losing booksellers and publishers.
“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,” the letter said.
They argued that reading was one of the few art forms that could be practised at a social distance; a pastime that encouraged safe behaviour.
“University students, in particular, need uninterrupted access to books to prepare them for a meaningful contribution to the knowledge economy.
“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.
“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,” the letter reads.
“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.”