I recently attended a Children’s literacy, literature and multilingual storybook production and translation seminar hosted by PRAESA in collaboration with IBBY SA and PEN SA. Throughout the seminar, I was impressed by Xolisa Guzula’s depth of knowledge and insight on children’s learning. Not only had she been a volunteer and co-founder of Vulindlela Reading Club in Langa, Cape Town, and of Nal’ibali reading clubs nationwide, she was seated on a panel, discussing the process she underwent to successfully translate a 305-paged science fiction book from English to isiXhosa.
So simple in her disposition and generous in her acknowledgments of those who have taught her the ropes of the game, Xolisa is strikingly self-aware yet strangely she seems oblivious to her successes. In her defense, she says “when you do the work without thinking about fame you don’t realize the difference you are making. I love the work that I do, it is the reason I wake up early every Saturday morning to be at those reading clubs. I look forward to teaching children literature. It is the reason I translate and write stories so that I can expand the content available to bilingual speakers.”
At a time when South African leaders admit that our education system is on its knees, Xolisa Guzula is hope in action. She is a breath of fresh air and a powerful voice trumpeting the importance of language and literacy. She questions why African languages are confined to the home, whilst English and Afrikaans speaking children learn in their languages from the cradle to university and beyond.
Guzula challenges writers by saying: “If Adults only write for adults, what will the children read? If we do not shape them now, who will lead us next?”
She ends off the conversation by saying “Children do not begin to learn in the classroom. When we fail to intentionally create structures of learning outside of schools, we make it difficult for them to learn in the classroom. Children have a deep yearning for learning, we must harness that by all means possible.”
What an inspiration!