The Funda Mzantsi reading, debating, spelling and book review competition has become renowned for the quality of its programme and the number of participants it attracts annually. The five day championship is somewhat like running a marathon: exhausting at times but ultimately fulfilling for competitors and spectators alike.
This year, at the 9th Funda Mzantsi Championship, once again held in George, Western Cape from 01 to 05 October 2018, 240 offenders tested their wits against 700 other reading, debating and spelling enthusiasts from book clubs across the country.
In true South African spirit, when the going got tough, the crowd would erupt in song and dance to either spur a team mate on to greater heights or uplift a deflated feeling when someone had forgotten a well-rehearsed argument or fact.
This year’s English debate topic about whether Government does enough to promote the indigenous languages of South Africa found strong resonance among young and old in passionate arguments and counter-opinions, which were testimony of people’s love for their respective mother tongue and their yearning to have them recognised, not only as spoken and written languages, but languages of commerce and science too.
Another highlight was the appearance on stage of Niq Mhlongo, author of Dog Eat Dog, the novel that was critiqued in the English category. Mhlongo’s observation that the face of illiteracy among South Africans was changing fast was insightful, and his point that combating illiteracy was not the responsibility of Government alone, but that of every person growing up and living in a township found agreement among most.
Organising an event of this size is a mammoth task. Coordinating all the elements and managing all the logistics require a number of teams to work seamlessly with each other. Once again the organisers have done this event proud, and for DCS it is important to note that there were no security incidents.
Funda Mzantsi provides a great platform to learn public speaking and every offender who went onto stage with a quivering heart and with trembling hands, yet mustered the resolve to present their piece, needs to be saluted. And so needs every book club coordinator in DCS an acknowledgement for the hours they have put in to groom the offender participants. When asked, many an offender thanked their book club coordinator for having been inspirational and for motivating them to read, analyse, and craft debate arguments.
The competition, spearheaded by the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), has grown from four book clubs that participated in its inaugural year to 94 clubs participating in 2018. DCS is a key strategic partner in the project and over 2 000 offenders engage annually in the elimination rounds, which start at correctional centre through to regional level. Only the cream of the crop make it through to the national competition.