Nobel prizewinner JM Coetzee joined other authors in urging government to allow trade in all books during Lockdown Level 4.
  • More than 300 SA authors and academics - including Nobel prizewinner JM Coetzee - have appealed to government to permit trade in all books as part of Lockdown Level 4.
  • Currently, only educational books will be on sale from May 1st.
  • The authors warned that South Africa's publishing industry urgently needs a lifeline to survive.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider's home page.

More than 300 South African authors and academics have appealed to government to allow the delivery of all books during Level 4 of the national lockdown.

From May 1st, only the selling of educational books will be permitted as part of the next stage of lockdown.

In an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Nobel prizewinner JM Coetzee and some of SA’s most prominent authors including Zakes Mda and Mandla Langa praised government for its “sober, compassionate, and science-based leadership” during the crisis.

But they warned that South Africa could lose its book industry if it was not allowed to trade.

The writers said that the industry was already vulnerable before the pandemic, and now urgently needs a lifeline.

READ | Lockdown level 4: What will be allowed

“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.” 

The authors urged government to allow all books to be purchased online or over the phone and for delivery, and that all booksellers be permitted to trade  – although bookshops don’t have to be open physically for business just yet.

“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.”

The authors note that restaurants will be able to deliver cooked food under Level 4. “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, that new ideas can keep sprouting, and that the life of the mind of our country can keep growing.”

They make the point that 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.”

The letter was sent by authors Nadia Davids, Mark Gevisser, Prof. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Ronnie Kasrils, Prof. Njabulo S. Ndebele, Yewande Omotoso and Zukiswa Wanner, and among its signees are Lauren Beukes, Damon Galgut, Achmat Dangor, Siphiwo , Albie Sachs, and Jonny Steinberg. The letter has been submitted to the National Coronavirus Command Council, and letters will be written, individually, to the key ministers on Tuesday 28 April 2020. It remains open for signature at https://pensouthafrica.co.za/an-urgent-appeal-for-the-sale-of-books-during-lockdown-stage-4/.

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