The Jozi Book Fair addresses the weak culture of reading and writing in all South Africa’s languages that reflect the legacies of apartheid and continuing social inequality in this country. The Jozi Book Fair (JBF) creates readers and writers in all South Africa’s languages, to promote mother tongue and to use all art forms to encourage people of all ages to read the word and the world and to exercise their social agency.


The objective of the JBF is to provide a public platform for key social partners to promote a culture of reading and writing. These social partners are:

  • Readers in the form of the general public and specific constituencies within this broad public;
  • Writers, in particular emerging new writers from specific constituencies;
  • Publishers, in particular self-publishers, and small and emerging publishers and
  • NGOs engaged in publishing, social issues, freedom of expression and advocacy, and whose work also promotes ‘the word’.

The creation of a common meeting space for all partners is crucial to strengthening small publishers, creating a market for writers, and creating an opportunity for readers to signal to authors and publishers the kinds of stories they are interested in.

The JBF’s overall purpose is therefore to create an ongoing cycle where partners can reinforce each other and create a strong reading and writing culture in all South Africa’s languages.

The specific objectives of the Jozi Book Fair project are to:

  • Develop a reading and writing culture among the broader public, and poor and working class communities;
  • Promote indigenous language publishing; and
  • Provide space for self-publishers and progressive publishers to showcase their work;
  • Rebuild a network of progressive publishers in the South and Southern Africa;
  • Profile and promote the emergence of new writers, especially those who are generally marginalized, and non-mainstream writers and publications;
  • Stimulate publishing within social movements and NGOs;
  • Stimulate and encourage publishing by women, and promote a publishing movement that promotes a gender and feminist movement;
  • Provide information about publishing opportunities to stimulate new publishing initiatives;
  • Develop an alternative book trade and translations.


The JBF runs a number of programmes throughout the year to create readers and writers and support affordable publishing and printing. All the constituencies the JBF Projects converge at the annual Festival in September, where, together with the public they showcase their work.

The JBF Projects includes Children’s Programme or Poetry Buddies, based in 8 with the Orphan and Vulnerable Centres (OVCs) in townships which catering for children between the ages of 6 – 12. The Tsohang Batjha (Arise Youth) encourages school youth, Youth Programme (Tsohang Batjha) which caters for youth between the ages 13 – 18 to read and to write. The JBF also runs the Readers Programme and Writers Projects promotes reading and writing with out of school youth, workers and adult programme. The JBF Publishing, JoziPrinting and JoziBookShop encourages small publishers, indigenous language publishers and self-publishers to print their work accessibly and to make books affordable to everyone, especially working people.


This year, Khanya College hosts a rolling Book Fair. The Festival takes place from 28 October to 31 October 2021 and is FREE to all members of the public.

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

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.

The JBF promotes citizenship and tolerance amongst people of all ages and all walks of life. The Festival is also distinctive in that it reflects South Africa’s demography and is one of the few spaces where people from all walks of life engage and enjoy each other’s company. The JBF is a project of Khanya College.


In recognition of the importance of a strong culture of reading and writing to meet the various challenges of post-apartheid South Africa, Khanya College hosted the first edition of the Jozi Book Fair in 2009. The JBF provides a public and visible platform to take up the challenges of creating a reading and writing culture.

Some of the major challenges facing post- apartheid South Africa are social inequality, poverty, unemployment, skills development and the generalised improvement in the quality of life for communities. Generic skills are especially low amongst working people, and this impacts on their daily ability to exercise their social agency and their citizenship. These and other challenges can be linked to a weak culture of reading and writing.


  • Most black households do not have books in their homes; libraries at schools and in; communities are few; book shops in townships are few and books expensive.
  • Few people read during their free time, and many do not recognise reading as important outside of school.

Despite its importance to the country’s development, Johannesburg and Gauteng had no significant and visible book fair that links South Africa’s book trade – especially historically disadvantaged publishers to Africa and the world. The JBF sought to take up this challenge.

Since 2009, the JBF has become a fair with a difference: the fair creates readers and writers from amongst working class constituencies and the public; and supports self- publishers and small and indigenous language publishers to publish books affordably and accessibly.

The JBF platform reflects a growing and deepening educational and cultural movement. This year Khanya College celebrates its 31st anniversary and the JBF builds on this history of direct involvement in organising educational and cultural festivals, publishing educational materials and popular books; providing platforms for debates and discussion and assisting in the development of social justice movements and civil society.

The JBF is a platform for dialogue, debate and tolerance. Through the JBF the College seeks to contribute positively to the challenges facing South Africa and Southern Africa.


In the context of South Africa, building a reading culture in all languages in a formidable task. The JBF strategy is therefore to:

  • Mobilise a diverse movement of readers, writers and artists ‘from below’, one that encourages self-education and solidarity and is intergenerational and gendered.
  • Strategically focus on creating readers and writers amongst children and youth in the next 10 years, as purposeful bearers who, in turn will catalytically deepen the reading and writing culture amongst people of all ages, especially in their homes, schools and communities.
  • Work within the spaces in which the working class is reproduced, both physically and ideologically on a daily basis – in homes, churches, cultural and social organisations, and communities and townships.
  • Provide a public platform for individuals, organised formations and public to encourage debate and discussion and thereby build tolerance and strengthen civil society.

As part of realising this strategy, in the next decade the JBF has a special focus on work among schools (children & youth), out-of-school youth and youth organisations. The focus includes developing writers among the youth, publishing youth writing, setting up newsletters and magazines to feature youth writing, creating platforms for youth performance and arts, fostering and supporting youth cultural networks and developing social consciousness and leadership among youth.

The strategy is predicated on the understanding that the majority of South Africa’s population is young, and that a strategy of building and defending spaces for debate must build a culture of debate among the youth. As part of this perspective, the JBF therefore seeks to create a strong culture of reading, writing and debate among youth.

  • A focus on youth as the core of the strategy in the next decade is also important for the sustainability of the JBF and its work of defending and advancing spaces for the regeneration of egalitarian philosophies.


Concept of the JBF: A Space for Debate, Alternatives and Movement Building

Battle of Seattle in 1999 signalled the resurgence of social movements that challenged Khanya College as a movement building institution

The Jozi Book Fair (JBF), now in its 12th year, is a project of Khanya College, and over the last few years has become one of the flagship projects in the College’s overall strategy and perspective of building social movements. Khanya College emerged out of the anti-apartheid struggles in the 1980s, and its core mandate was to develop a radical and alternative approach to education. Its slogan, “Education for Liberation”, captured the idea of the transformative role of education for and by the oppressed. The underlying philosophy of Khanya’s ideas about education drew from a range of radical and progressive education movements and the broader movements for social change. These approaches included the work of Paolo Freire, the “education with production movement” emerging out of the liberation movements in Southern Africa, and radical experiences coming out of countries in Latin America more broadly.

Since the 1990s Khanya College has positioned itself as a movement building institution. In this context, it defined as one its key objectives the creation of spaces and platforms for the development of the theory and perspectives of movement building, and for equipping activists with the tools to understand the societies in which they live and act. The JBF as a space needs to be seen against the background of the overall positioning of Khanya College as a movement building institution.

The Context of the Launch of the JBF

The launch of the JBF in 2009 took place against the background of the decline of the social movements that had emerged in South Africa, and indeed globally, at the end of the 1990s. At the global level, the political and economic orthodoxy that had been dominant since the end of the 1970s. This battle led to the launch of the World Social Forum in 2001.

As we moved toward the end of the decade of the 2000s, many of these movements had gone into crisis and decline. In South Africa key components of these movement had collapsed by around 2009, including the APF, the Social Movements Indaba, and the Landless People’s Movement. At the Southern Africa level, the last Social Forum was held in 2009. Among NGOs, SANGOCO had also gone into decline and was soon to be shut down.

The JBF as a response

Against this background of the crisis in the social movements, the Jozi Book Fair was launched as a response to, firstly, the decline in spaces for debate and engagement among social movements, and secondly, as a response to closing spaces for democratic debate in the broader South African context. We believe that the struggle for democracy and egalitarian philosophies and practices can only be won in the broader public domain.

An open public space

While Khanya’s commitment to create spaces for debate was pursued through a number of programmes, the specific contribution of the JBF was that it was positioned in a way that brought the struggle for progressive ideas into the broader public domain, and went beyond the focus on activists in the social movements to include the broader public. The JBF is therefore an open public space that brings together activists, writers, readers, artists, publishers (with a focus on small publishers), academics, public intellectuals, NGOs, trade unions, women’s movements, youth movements and social movements.

Cultural interventions & critical social debate

The JBF space recognises that the development of egalitarian alternatives has to take account of the critical role of cultural interventions in this process. Khanya went back to the experience of the early 1970s, where emerging cultural movements of the time – including poets, writers, dramatists etc. – played a catalytic role in the re-emergence of the mass movement of the 1970s and 80s. The JBF is therefore a space for non-fiction, fiction (novels), poetry, theatre, art, music, film and other art forms. All these art forms are seen as vehicles for critical social debate. A central argument of the JBF is that debate and alternatives have to be underwritten by a strong culture of reading and writing. Thus, borrowing from Paolo Freire, the JBF speaks of “reading the word and the world”.

A democratic space

The JBF space is grounded on the understanding that it not only has democratic and transformative objectives, but that it must also be organised in a democratic and transformative manner. Seventy percent of the more than 120 events of the JBF are self-organised by the public – individuals, organisations, movements, institutions and so on. This also means the JBF is an open space and is not politically prescriptive, except that the organisers, Khanya College and collaborators, ensure that the participants in the space respect certain basic egalitarian principles like anti-racism, gender equity and anti-misogyny, anti-xenophobia, non-violent forms of engagement and respect for other’s views, and other principles that form part of the progressive movements for change.

This democratisation of the way the JBF is organised has been taken a step further. The JBF has facilitated the creation of ‘thematic networks’ within the JBF. These networks of NGOs and movements now organise key programme lines in the JBF including deciding on topics, inviting speakers, organising audiences from organisations and the public, and promoting the events. Currently there are networks on Education, Labour, Environment & Food, and engagement continues around a Women’s platform and extractives & mining.

The JBF & working class organising

In order to strengthen the link between the debates and organising, the JBF makes a special effort to ensure that movements that are organising in townships are given a space in the fair, and that they host events and participate in debates. The imperative of working class participation in the book fair space is driven by the understanding that egalitarian alternatives must be driven by the oppressed themselves. This underwrites an important feature of the JBF.

This feature is that the creation of spaces for debate, and the culture of reading, writing and discussions that underwrites these spaces, cannot be created as a once-off event, even if it’s an annual event. The JBF therefore has activities throughout the year, and in key instances it runs major projects that produce writing from within the working class and the social movements, and from within the broader public. These programmes include, among others, seminars, book launches, writing workshops, readings skills workshops, training for library monitors, and workshops for small publishers.

Setting up infrastructures that expand spaces for debate

The JBF works with other Khanya projects to overcome the stranglehold of the established and global publishing houses and media on the emergence of new voices – both fiction and non-fiction. Khanya has set up publishing and printing facilities, and has begun to set up distribution and sales infrastructure for books and other publications in order to ensure that the exchange of ideas within the working class, and in the broader society, is deepened.

The Strategy

The strategic orientation is to root the JBF within “primary organisations of the working class”. This means that the JBF must be rooted in schools, in youth organisations, in cultural organisations of the working class, in trade unions, women’s organisations and in social movements.

As part of realising this strategy, in the next decade the JBF has a special focus on work among schools (children & youth), out-of-school youth and youth organisations. The focus includes developing writers among the youth, publishing youth writing, setting up newsletters and magazines to feature youth writing, creating platforms for youth performance and arts, fostering and supporting youth cultural networks and developing social consciousness and leadership among youth. The strategy is predicated on the understanding that the majority of South Africa’s population is young, and that a strategy of building and defending spaces for debate must build a culture of debate among the youth. As part of this perspective, the JBF therefore seeks to create a strong culture of reading, writing and debate among youth.

A focus on youth as the core of the strategy in the next decade is also important for the sustainability of the JBF and its work of defending and advancing spaces for the regeneration of egalitarian philosophies.

The Theme: Love in the time of Covid-19

Every year the JBF organises its ideas around a specific theme. The theme may identify a particular constituency, such as youth or women, or it may identify a topic that is important for driving public debates among a range of constituencies. The theme allows the book fair to focus its mobilisation around particular constituencies and issues. 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 2021 is Love in the Time of COVID-19. The JBF understands literature as an expansive concept in an African context which 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.

The Programme

The programme of the JBF includes Projects implemented throughout the year to create and support readers and writers, and an Annual Festival that brings together readers, writers, movements, communities and the public every year, to debate the key issues facing South African society. This annual festival is preceded by a year-long programme of training, seminars, book launches, workshops, conferences and publishing that converge at the Annual Festival.

An independent space for debate and alternatives

The JBF’s contribution to a democratic and egalitarian society is that it creates an independent space for debate that is rooted in the working class and social movements. In a context when the dominance of conservative orthodoxies has closed down debates on democratic and egalitarian alternatives, the JBF is a key space for supporting democratic self-organising.


Democracy is deepened at the level of the local state through the active engagement and participation of citizens. In this context, culture provides an important inter-generational bridge to cement the city’s relationships with its people, and their relationship to each other.

It is therefore not coincidental that most book fairs are city based, for example Gothenburg (Sweden), Leipzig and Frankfurt (Germany), Bologna (Italy), Helsinki (Finland), Jaipur and New Delhi (India), London and Edinburgh (Britain). Kolkata Book Fair (India) takes place over 10 days, opens at 12noon and continues till 8.00pm daily. This encourages family-households to attend on weekend. People pop in after school and after work. Crowds are mulling participation. In these contexts, cultural institutions like the Book Development Trust in India promote all books fairs in the country. This ensures that readers, reading, all languages and cultures are promoted nationally, no single book fair or language or social class is promoted at the expense of others.

The problem with traditional book fairs and literary festivals in the context of this country’s inequality is that they are elitist ‘cocktail circuits’ and reproduce the status quo. Besides prohibitively expensive entrance fees and session fees, they are gate-keepers, deciding on what and who should attend, they tend to exclude the participation of the majority and their indigenous languages. Similarly, just hosting a literary festival in a black township may still promote elitism and does not necessarily deepen a reading culture.

Given the nature and historical legacy of social inequality in South Africa, reinforced through poor education, few libraries, publishing monopolies and prohibitively expensive books, a grassroots or ‘decolonized’ book fair like the Jozi Book Fair should be encouraged in every town and city.

This will significantly contribute to ending the weak culture of reading and its associated social ills, contribute to mobilising broad layers of the public, community members, children, youth, adults, local organisations, stokvels, churches and people of all social classes to participate. This will also facilitate and encourage the emergence of cultural initiatives in all languages from below and will contribute to cultural revival.

Creating readers means supporting the children and youth on a daily basis. After the past 20 years, it is time to orient to the masses.