Award Ceremony in South Africa for the 2021 UNESCO King Sejong Literary Prize held to honour Puku Children’s Literature Foundation

Following International Literacy Day 2021 celebrations, an award ceremony was organized by the South African National Commission for UNESCO, in collaboration with UNESCO’s Regional Office for Southern Africa, on 17 September in honour of the 2021 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize Laureate Puku Children’s Literature Foundation. The award, which consists of a medal and a diploma were presented by the Minister of Basic Education Ms Angie Motshekga to the Puku Foundation, during an event held at Sol Plaatje House on the Department of Basic Education offices in Pretoria, South Africa.

“We have the winner of the 2021 UNESCO International Literacy Prize in the house. UNESCO has requested me to hand over the Diploma and Medal to the Executive Director of PUKU Children’s Literacy Foundation, Ms Elinor Sisulu, for winning the UNESCO King Sejong International Literacy Prize. Ms Sisulu and her PUKU Children’s Literacy Foundation have made our country proud. On behalf of our people, we thank you again for being an excellent ambassador for literacy. We are so proud,” said Minister Motshekga. The Minister further expressed that, “It is no longer just a Puku prize, it is South Africa’s national award now.”

“This is the most prestigious award that UNESCO has in promoting literacy in the mother-tongue,” added Professor Hubert Gijzen, Director of UNESCO’s Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA), who also affirmed the importance of literacy.

The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, funded by the Government of the Republic of Korea, rewards programmes which focus on mother language-based literacy development. Puku Children’s Literature Foundation was recognised for its programme “Using digital technologies to promote children’s literature in South Africa’s indigenous languages”. The Foundation works to promote reading and book development through improving children’s access to books in all South African languages, particularly aimed at disadvantaged groups. Beyond physical books, Puku has used webinars, radio and social media to promote and preserve indigenous languages with emphasis given to reading in indigenous languages from early childhood. Puku’s webinars, available on YouTube, are the first webinar series in indigenous languages within and between linguistic communities. This engagement with digital platforms has allowed Puku to continue its important literacy work throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic. Puku aims to continue harnessing digital platforms as well as traditional media in order to further the use and understanding of indigenous languages from childhood in South Africa.

Finally, Ms Elinor Sisulu stated that, “we need to harness the talent and abilities to populate our digital platforms with the enduring and memorable content that our children desperately need. Just as Nelson Mandela wanted all children in the world to experience the wonder of books, so we want all children to have access to the digital spaces where they can enlarge their earthly dwelling place with the magic of stories”.