CityLife Arts

Trevor Noah, Refiloe Moahloli and Niki Daly win it for young readers at literary ceremony

This literary triumph for the authors is a boost for youth literature amidst reading apathy in South Africa

By Edward Tsumele

CITYLIFE/ARTS recently ran a feature pointing to the uncomfortable reality that South Africa is not a reading nation as authors struggle to get readers to buy books that they prolifically pen every year. For example, the country does not have a single literary agent, whereas countries such as the US and the UK, for example, it is almost taken for granted that literary agents are part and parcel of the publishing chain.

To be published, an author has to approach a publisher through an agent, and it is rare, very rare, for an author to go directly to a publisher due the big size of the publishing industry in those countries. In contrast, in South Africa, a country whose population is almost 60 million, an author contacting a publisher directly to have their manuscript considered for publishing, is the norm. This speaks volumes about the size of the country’s publishing industry.

The threshold for a best selling book in South Africa is lamentably low, with a best seller for fiction pegged at 3000 copies and a best seller for non-fiction benchmarked  at 5000 copies.

Ironically, South African  authors in recent years, especially new literary voices have occupied centre stage as they produce critically acclaimed books, yearning for a readership that at best is not in sufficient numbers, and at worst, simply does not exist to rank the country as a reading nation.

However developments at the recent South African Literary Awards(SALA) should give the country hope that the future when it comes to the consumption of literature by young readers might be bright after all. This is because literature aimed at young readers received a boost at the Awards ceremony , which was held virtually over the weekend on November 7, due to public safety concerns due to the World pandemic, Covid-19.

Three authors of books aimed at the youth and children  won big at the awards ceremony. Television personality and comedian Trevor Noah, who is currently based in the US where he hosts the popular TV show The Daily Show won in the category of Youth Literature for his autobiography Born a Crime and Other Stories, and author Refiloe Moahloli won the  South African Literary Translators Award for the bookYheke Yanga (isiXhosa), and both authors are published by panMacmillan South Africa. The third author who also walked away with a literary award for a book aimed at young readers is Nicki Daly for her book It’s Jamela which won the Children’s Literature Award category in English.

“Pan Macmillan is delighted to announce that the younger readers’ edition of  Born a Crime  by Trevor Noah has been awarded the Youth Literature Award for 2020 at the South African Literary Awards (SALA) on 7 November.

 Adapted for younger readers from Born a Crime: And Other Stories – the South African and New York Times bestseller – Trevor shares what his life was like growing up. The stories he tells in this book will make you laugh, cry and fill you with wonder and inspiration as you learn how this mischievous young boy used his quick wits and humour to get through his day-to-day life. Against all odds and with his mother’s unfailing love and belief in him, Trevor overcame many obstacles to create a promising future for himself.

Trevor has donated his prize money to the Trevor Noah Foundation, which supports underserved youth with the educational foundations and opportunities they need to become resilient future leaders of South Africa,” Pan MacMillan said following Noah’s literary triumph.

The South African Literary Awards (SALA) celebrated 15 years of growth and success on International African Writer’s Day, 7 November 2020, with a virtual ceremony honouring local writers and stories.

SALA was founded in 2005 by the wRite associates, and the Department of Arts and Culture, as a platform to celebrate South Africa’s rich literary landscape and its authors and language practitioners.

Terry Morris of Pan Macmillan commented, “What a privilege to spread the joy we experience when publishing our children’s books, with the judges, the booksellers and the readers throughout the country. Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime for younger readers is a remarkable book that radiates resilience and humour and is destined to become a classic work.”

Yheke Yanga is the story of a young boy who plays the traditional South African game 3 Tins. This game prepares Yanga to eventually become an international cricket player, where he helps the national team to win the world cup. Yheke Yanga is a story about celebrating your heritage, doing your best and believing in yourself.

Upon receiving the award Moahloli said, “I am super proud of this work and immensely grateful for all the amazing people who put so much love into it. It was more of a rewrite than a translation so as to capture the essence and nuances of each language. To translate extends beyond words.”

Morris commented:  “Yes Yanga/Yheke Yanga has taught so many children, teachers and parents about the importance of games, play and also encouraging children to aspire to reach the stars (or the cricket oval). Thank you Refiloe Moahloli and Mogau Kekana for bringing Yanga into the living rooms and classrooms of South African children and to the SALA awards for your celebration of Yheke Yanga.”

.For the rest of the winners of a South African Awards statuette go to

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