Barbara Masekela wants to inspire a reading culture

Date:06 May 2022 - By: Thembi Siaga

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With World Book and Copyright Day celebrated across the globe on 23 April, South African poet, educator, mother and activist Miss Barbara Masekela (81) launched her first book, titled Poli Poli.

Masekela is the sister of the late African jazz icon, Hugh Masekela. She was born in the Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, but as an infant she was sent to live with her grandmother in Witbank in Mpumalanga. She said that her late brother was the one who had challenged her to write a book. “My brother wrote a book. I am a university professor, but I couldn’t write a book.” So, she finally did write her own book.

Poli Poli is a memoir detailing her life’s journey and some of her personal experiences. The book was published in September last year, but only launched last Saturday at Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge near Elim. More than a hundred people attended the event.

The eight-chapter book aims to assist in creating a reading culture championed by values, respect, and courage. “If it was not for reading, I wouldn’t be here. By reading, I can enter another world completely, sharing other people’s experiences and cultures,” she said. “We often forget that there are people here in the rural areas who can’t read; young people who need to be taught. It would be very nice for me to speak to the young people, even if I don’t sell a book. The way the country is, we trust in our young people for life in the future,” she said.

The event organiser, Tsakisi Tlakula from Elim, said she saw the need for people from Elim and the surrounding areas to meet on an intellectual basis. “In her book, Miss Masekela speaks about what happened in her life and she mentions her grandmother a lot. I think it’s all about the richness of history that can bring people together, and I saw the need for us to share life experiences and the history of South Africa,” she said.

Vonani Bila from Shirley village, who is a well-known SA author, poet and the founder and editor of the poetry journal Timbila, gave the crucial benefits of reading. “The most essential benefit of reading is that it expands your vocabulary. It also reduces the danger of losing your mind. Young people need a balance between the high technology of today, and reading offers that balance,” he said.



The South African poet, educator, mother and activist Miss Barbara Masekela (81) addresses the culture of reading during her book launch at Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge near Elim. Photo: Thembi Siaga.


By: Thembi Siaga

Thembi Siaga worked as an intern during 2021. He assisted with video photography and editing. He also produced numerous small documentaries, focusing on the Vhembe region and its people.