Theme: Literature in the Time of COVID 19

An Extended Festival to create readers and writers and critically engage our common humanity!


Welcome to the 12th Jozi Book Fair (JBF) Festival hosted by Khanya College. This year the Festival takes place in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic has caused death and destruction, it provides opportunities to telescope our understanding of the world in which we live which is also invigorating. This makes it even more imperative to promote self-education, self-organisation and movement building to transform society, and to adjust the festival to comply with COVID-19 regulations and realities.

A warm welcome to our JBF Patrons – James Matthews, Zakes Mda, Lindsey Collen, Luli Callinicos, Mongane Serote and Pali Lehohla. We look forward to an exciting year of work with many new challenges.

We encourage all our readers, writers, artists, activists, bookclubs, NGOs, social movements and communities to host events at this year’s Festival. Let us share the life experiences, joys, struggles, solidarity and wisdom that emanates from living with COVID-19.

Aims of JBF

The unique JBF is based on grassroots participation and the creation of readers and writers in all South Africa’s languages throughout the year, in all art forms. The JBF is a platform for movements, communities, activists and the public to debate, clarify and build tolerance on all the issues and challenges that confront struggles for transformation.

While the pandemic has direct implications for how the Festival is organised for constituencies and the broader public, it provides opportunities to deepen and expand the JBF’s outreach to working people, and strengthen movement building.

South Africa and COVID-19

Besides death and infections in its wake, the pandemic affects every aspect of human life and has lifted the veil on teeming social and economic inequalities for the majority in South African (and internationally). The virus demonstrates the unsustainability of the current mode of social reproduction of society in its totality.

The pandemic also reveals the absence of a thriving democracy in South Africa and the lack of contestation around government’s approach to combating COVID-19. This is reflected in absent or weak critique in general, and more specifically on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The only consensus critique has been around corruption in government and the ANC ruling party. While this has a real basis in reality, it also conceals and diverts attention from the enrichment and accumulation during this period concentrated in the hands of white monopoly capitalism.

For many, daily routines that are taken for granted have given way to an unravelling ‘new normal’ and has accentuated the need to be human and the longing to return to the way things used to be.

Historically pandemics are turning points in society and in the lives of human beings all over the world, and there is a vast literature that reflects these human experiences. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic raises old ancestral questions and fears about life and death that go to the heart of the very existence of human life on the planet and living sustainably with nature. Critical questions arise about how society is structured, the provision and sustainability of food production, education and increasing social and economic inequality.

Theme 2020

To therefore begin to capture the pandemic’s impact on humanity and the planet, and especially in the South African context, the theme for JBF 2020 is Literature in the Time of COVID-19. The JBF understands literature as an expansive concept in an African context, that includes ‘the written word’ and integrates all art forms. Similarly, literature reflects the integration and totality of all aspects of human life which COVID-19 reveals so aptly and so blatantly.

Concept of JBF 2020

The JBF continues to be a platform for activists, communities and the public to engage in literature, skills development and the appreciation of all art forms, and encourages debate and deepens critical awareness to read the word and the world.

The JBF works with a wide range of constituencies – children, school youth, out of school youth, women and the public – but Covid-19 compliance regulations will drastically reduce activities. Instead, the JBF will deepen and expand its outreach to target audiences and the public freed from physical and geographic limitations; and will draw on a wider range of participating authors, artists and publishers than it would normally do. This year’s Festival will be expanded from five days to 12 weeks, from 4 September to 29 November and include a range of activities. A weekend of intensive activities, from 27-29 November, will bring the 2020 Festival to a close.


The format of the Festival this year is shaped largely by considerations of safety and combating COVID-19. Most (90%) JBF activities will take place online, on Zoom and Facebook. This relatively ‘new’ development, is an indication of the potential for organising the JBF footprint and provides many possibilities for the working class to self-organise and self-educate. This is also an impetus to create online book clubs through Facebook, Whatsapp and Zoom platforms. However, where opportunities for safe, strictly COVID-regulated physical events, these will be limited and take place with JBF partners.


Although the JBF’s programme will be reduced, a wide range of activities will cater to a broad-based audience. The JBF’s tradition that 50% of activities are hosted by civil society and the public will continue to give the public the opportunity to shape the nature of the JBF from below.

Some key activities that will be hosted by the JBF includes:

  • Launch of JBF – 4 September

The launch of the JBF will celebrate the victory of Gauteng Community Healthcare Workers, who after a long struggle, achieved permanent employment status. The CHWs form a substantial base of reader-activists of the JBF’s key movement building constituencies.

  • Host Events and Exhibit

The JBF encourages the public to host events on a wide range of art forms; and for publishers and self-publishers to exhibit and sell their books online. The JBF will make available its electronic software and maintenance support to enable small and self-publishers, artists, authors and members of the public to host events.

  • Partnership with Gothenburg Book Fair – 24-27 September

The JBF’s partnership with Gothenburg Book Fair (GBF) stretches back to 2013. As part of the GBF’s country focus on South Africa for 2020-2022, the partnership with the civil society ‘Global Square’ will focus on a Schools Programme (Thursday and Friday), and Conversations with CHWs (Saturday).

The JBF will provide free access via livestream to the GBF’s Global Square activities (Saturday) that will be broadcast in English.

  • Rolling Online Activities

A wide range of activities – conversations with authors, book launches, film, workshops, poetry, theatre, visual arts and exhibitions – hosted by the JBF and the public.

  • Publisher Exhibitors and Book Sales

A wide range of publisher exhibitors will be available online. This will also include Bathekgi, the Khanya online book shop and the provision of book sales.

  • JBF Festival27-29 November

This is the final weekend that will bring to a close JBF 2020 and provide for activities

hosted together by JBF and the public.