Original Research

Tracing the usage of the term ‘culture of reading’ in South Africa: A review of national government discourse (2000–2019)

Claire Biesman-Simons
Reading & Writing | Vol 12, No 1 | a314 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v12i1.314 | © 2021 Claire Biesman-Simons | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 May 2021 | Published: 29 September 2021

About the author(s)

Claire Biesman-Simons, Department of Foundation Studies, School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: South Africa’s long-standing reading crisis is well recognised. At various stages since 2000, national government has presented the inculcation of a culture of reading as a solution to this crisis.

Objectives: This article critically interrogated the term ‘culture of reading’ as used in national government discourse with reference to basic education. By tracing the patterns of use of the term since 2000, it aimed to show the shifts and continuities in the government’s understanding of the term ‘culture of reading’ and how this has shaped the reading landscape.

Method: Drawn from a corpus of 331 texts, a sample of 58 texts produced by national government was analysed. Employing discourse and thematic analysis, key themes were extrapolated and their relation to reading within South Africa was explored.

Results: The government’s call for a culture of reading occurs predominantly in response to poor literacy results and at launches of campaigns and strategies focused on addressing these results. This occurs repeatedly without clear delineation of the term or justification for recycling failed initiatives. Instead, the term acts as a rhetorical tool to obfuscate the unsuccessful implementation of reading programmes.

Conclusion: The government’s failure to clarify what constitutes a culture of reading prohibits a clear picture of its understanding of the term. The frequency with which ‘culture of reading’ is promoted indicates a failure to consider alternative approaches to addressing the reading crisis.

Contribution: This article highlights the need for government to re-evaluate its response to the reading crisis, taking cognisance of the South African context.


reading; culture of reading; reading practices; reading for pleasure; reading campaigns; Department of Basic Education; materials; literacy myth


Total abstract views: 3153
Total article views: 2756


Crossref Citations

1. English Literature in the Grade R Classroom: Exploring the Implementation of Children’s Literature Curricula in Selected Early Childhood Development Centres
Dzidzai Masunga, Dean van der Merwe
Scrutiny2  vol: 27  issue: 2-3  first page: 33  year: 2022  
doi: 10.1080/18125441.2023.2283888