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Booksellers should be allowed to trade and deliver ‘brain-food’

Authors and other prominent South Africans send an open letter to the President urging that ‘the mind of our country’ be allowed to ‘keep growing’.

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A group of several hundred prominent South Africans, among them top authors and academics, has written an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa urging him to consider allowing all books to be sold under the Level 4 lockdown conditions. As things stand, only educational books may be sold.

Those who have signed the letter include Nobel prizewinner JM Coetzee, novelist and poet Zakes Mda, poet and writer Mongane Wally Serote, and performer and satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys.

Industry is already vulnerable and needs a lifeline

In the letter, they warn that South Africa could lose its book industry if it is not allowed to trade freely again as soon as possible. They point out that the industry was already vulnerable before the pandemic and is now even more so and in urgent need of a lifeline.

“We as a country are at great risk of losing not only our booksellers, but our publishers too,” the letter says.

“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.”

Not calling for bookstores to be open

The signatories emphasise that they are not calling for bookstores to be open at a time when social distancing measures remain critical. Rather, they ask that government allow booksellers to trade through other means, such as online or phone orders that can be home-delivered.

“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 open letter points out that restaurants will be able to deliver 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.”