Readers Take CAREby Brendon Bosworth / 29.09.2009
Campaigns come and go. Some grab your attention. Make you want to do something more than flaunt your armchair activist tendencies by pledging your undying support for the Namibian seals over facebook. Right now there’s one such campaign brewing in SA. It’s not violent. It doesn’t require any sort of jihad or blood oath. It just makes a lot of sense. Especially in a country battling against high levels of illiteracy. Get the government to drop VAT on books – make them cheaper so that more people can afford them. Pump more money into the libraries and encourage the growth of reading.
These are some of the aims of the Campaign Against Reader Exploitation (CARE), spearheaded by journalist and author Terry Bell. CARE has been active for quite some years now. Back in 2004 they got 100 000 signatures from like-minded bibliophiles and handed them to Trevor Manuel, when he was still the main oke with the balance sheets. But he wasn’t convinced, claiming that ‘only the rich will benefit’. Which doesn’t make too much sense. So what if a Constantia soccer mom is saving a couple bucks on her new Oprah self-helper? If it means some snotneus poor kid gets an alphabet book for Christmas because it costs twenty bucks less, so be it. Same goes for the public libraries who’ve been feeling the effects of budget cuts over the past years, yet still need to fork out that 14% to stock their shelves.
Because we’re all about putting the written word out for free, gratis and mahala, we caught up with Terry Bell to find out what progress has been made and how we can get involved.
Five years after being snubbed by Mr Manuel, what kind of support does CARE have? Have you made any headway?
We keep getting asked: “where do we sign (the petition)?” There seems to be the same level of support — if not more. But a petition — as T. Manuel probably guessed correctly and we now realise — is a passive act. Put your name down, feel good about it and that’s that. It can be ignored because the signatories are unlikely to get het up about such treatment and actually do anything.
That’s why we are trying to get more active involvement going: suggesting that all who support the campaign use their imaginations and call on the government (1 000 smaller petitions from people who did the slog to get the signatures and feel very angry at being snubbed would be great. As would any large-scale, active protest).
In your opinion, what is the state of our libraries? How would they benefit from the abolition of VAT?
There are a few exceptions, but because of cuts in funding and the freezing of posts, most of the existing libraries (which, almost without exception do a brilliant job) are inadequately resourced and struggling. In townships such as Khayalitsha, for example, there are more than 50 schools — and only three, poorly resourced, functional libraries…Like all book buying institutions, libraries would benefit from the abolition of VAT by having 14% more of their limited finances to spend on books.
Do you think the government would consider channelling the revenue received from VAT back into education/libraries? That would seem an obvious choice (perhaps idealistic on my behalf)?
I am always dubious about the channelling of certain taxes to set projects, if only because this is generally so difficult to monitor. And while libraries should be a priority, it will — even by the most optimistic estimate — be a long time before there could be enough well resourced libraries for everyone to access. That should be reason enough to maintain a general campaign to make books cheaper.
If you want to get involved, CARE suggests penning a missive (or stream of missives) to one of these ministers, voicing your support:
Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan: Private Bag X115, Pretoria 001
Higher Education, Blade Nzimande: Private Bag 893, Pretoria 001
Basic Education, Angela Motshekga: Private Bag 603, Pretoria 001
Arts and Culture, Lulu Xingwana: Private Bag X899, Pretoria 001
Alternatively, hit up the presidential hotline – 17737