An open letter regarding the buying, selling and reading of books as an essential service

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Photo: Canva

Below is an letter from 344 South African published authors, academics, and readers, asking that all books be available for trade at Level 4 of Lockdown. The letter has been submitted to the National Coronavirus Command Council through the correct portal, and letters will be written, individually, to the key ministers on Tuesday 28 April 2020. The letter remains open for signature, at

 The letter was sent out by authors Nadia Davids, Mark Gevisser, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Ronnie Kasrils, Njabulo S Ndebele, Yewande Omotoso, Sisonke Msimang and Zukiswa Wanner.

Among the signatories are the novelists JM Coetzee, Zakes Mda, Mandla Langa, Ivan Vladislavic, Lauren Beukes, Damon Galgut, Margie Orford, Marguerite Poland, Achmat Dangor, Siphiwo Mahala and Angela Makholwa; the non-fiction writers Albie Sachs, Jonny Steinberg, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Elinor Sisulu, and Andrew Feinstein, and Hennie van Vuuren; the poets and storytellers Gcina Mhlope, Lebo Mashile, Lindiwe Mabuza, Antjie Krog and Ingrid de Kok; the artist William Kentridge; the cartoonist Zapiro; the journalists Jacques Pauw, Ferial Haffajee, Anton Harber, Justice Malala, Adriaan Basson, and Pieter-Louis Myburgh; the broadcaster-writers Redi Tlhabi, Eusebius McKaiser, John Maytham, and Bruce Whitfield; the political and economic analysts Moeletsi Mbeki, Tony Leon, Judith February, Greg Mills, and Songezo Zibi; the academics Tshepo Madlingozi, Mcebisi Ndletyana, Jaclyn Cock, Shireen Hassim, Bill Nasson, Nicoli Nattrass and Eddie Webster.

 For more information, please contact Mark Gevisser: [email protected].


27 April 2020

An Open Letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and the South African National Coronavirus Command Council

The buying, selling and reading of books is an essential service

As published South African authors, and readers and writers, we are proud of and grateful for the sober, compassionate, and science-based leadership our government has shown during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are mindful of the difficult choices you have to make, every day, in an attempt to save both our lives and our livelihoods, and we have noted your call for public response to the proposed regulations governing the easing of the lockdown. It is in this spirit that we submit our request: that all books, and not just "educational" ones, be available for trade, at Level 4 of the lockdown.

The book industry was vulnerable even before the pandemic. We as a country are at great risk of losing not only our booksellers, but our publishers too. We are concerned about the jobs that will be lost, as well as the loss of vital cultural and intellectual space. This space will not be easily regained once the COVID-19 crisis is over. 

From May 1, restaurants will be able to deliver cooked food. We understand the value of this, to the economy, the service industry, and consumers alike. We would like to urge that brain-food be delivered, too, as an essential service: not just so that writers can keep writing and publishers can keep publishing and booksellers can keep selling, but so that readers can keep reading, that new ideas can keep sprouting, and that the life of the mind of our country can keep growing.

Reading is one of the few art-forms that can be practiced at a social distance; it is a pastime that both encourages safe behaviour in the present and is an investment in our individual and collective future. University students, in particular, need uninterrupted access to books to prepare them for a meaningful contribution to the knowledge economy.

We are not being simply nostalgic when we say that there is nothing like a physical book: it distills, holds, and transmits knowledge like no other "device". From the young child discovering the world through her first storybook to a grandmother, now alone during the lockdown, with only her books to comfort her, it is the foundation of our literate society. If we are going to ensure that our country continues to develop and strengthen a reading culture, we need to nurture and protect writers, publishers, booksellers and readers.

We have noted the new ways technology is being adopted because of the pandemic, and we understand that, in the future, there might be more trade in e-books and less in physical books. Still, publishers will be necessary to make those e-books, and so we don’t want to lose them. And, of course, the pandemic has put into sharp relief the digital divide. For a long time to come, e-books will not be an option for most South Africans, and for this reason the paper publishing industry must stay alive. 

Of course, there are books in circulation already, and it could be argued that it is not essential for more to be bought and sold right now. We would disagree. To allow the book industry to trade right now is to give it a lifeline. Without that lifeline, we could well lose it. Forever. 

In South Africa, purchasing a book is often a luxury, but many in the book community work to promote national literacy, to ensure that books are widely available for loan and purchase, and to promote the understanding that books are a necessity rather than a privilege. We would like to see emerge, out of this crisis, an opportunity for developing better book delivery at a community level, so that the key work already done to build literacy in South Africa will not be lost.  

We do not ask that bookshops be open physically for business just yet. Rather, we ask for a simple addition to the current Level 4 regulations: that all books be available for purchase online or over the phone and for delivery, and that all booksellers, big and small, be allowed to trade.

All books are educational.


  1. Barbara Adair
  2. Lize Albertyn- du Toit
  3. Kate Alexander
  4. Lucy Alexander
  5. Jonathan Ancer
  6. Gavin Andersson
  7. Peter Anderson
  8. Sally Andrew
  9. Brett Archibald
  10. Neil Armitage
  11. Zaheera Jina Asvat
  12. Adriaan Basson
  13. Charlotte Bauer
  14. Lesley Berry
  15. Mark Berry
  16. Lauren Beukes
  17. Cynthia Bevan
  18. Zelda Bezuidenhout
  19. Hlumelo Biko
  20. Albert Blake
  21. Carole Bloch
  22. Marn Bodenstein
  23. Jill Bradbury
  24. Kerneels Breytenbach
  25. Nechama Brodie
  26. Daniel Browde
  27. Edyth Bulbring
  28. Mary Burton
  29. Ndukenhle Buthelezi
  30. Penny Buseeto
  31. Mike Cadman
  32. Jonathan Cane
  33. Andy Capostagno
  34. Trevor Carnaby
  35. John Cartwright
  36. Alma-Nalisha Cele
  37. Mukesh Chander
  38. Ivor Chipkin
  39. Yvette Christianse
  40. Sean Christie
  41. Jakkie Cilliers
  42. Francois Cleophas
  43. Stephen Clingman
  44. Jacklyn Cock
  45. JM Coetzee
  46. David Cooper
  47. Michael Cope
  48. Sharon Cort
  49. Ben Cousins
  50. Karin Cronje
  51. Jenny Crwys-Williams
  52. Lindelwa Dalamba
  53. Jude Daly
  54. Achmat Dangor
  55. Fezile Dantile
  56. Carol Ann Davids
  57. Nadia Davids
  58. Rebecca Davis
  59. Henrietta Dax
  60. Jean-Pierre de Kock
  61. Ingrid de Kok
  62. Philippa Yaa de Villiers
  63. Dirk de Vos
  64. Fred de Vries
  65. Shaun de Waal
  66. Jessica Denyschen
  67. Isobel Dixon
  68. S. Dlamini
  69. Khaya Dlanga
  70. Ebbe Dommise
  71. Dorothy Driver
  72. Andrew Duminy
  73. Hani du Toit
  74. Nomathemba Dzinotyiwei
  75. Chike Frankie Edozien
  76. Hagen Engler
  77. George Ellis
  78. Zimitri Erasmus
  79. Natasha Erlank
  80. Martha Evans
  81. Judith February
  82. Andrew Feinstein
  83. Melinda Ferguson
  84. Brian Fredericks
  85. Sibongile Fisher
  86. Fiona Forde
  87. Moira Forjaz
  88. Roddy Fox
  89. Damon Galgut
  90. Dawn Garisch
  91. Philippa Garson
  92. Mark Gevisser
  93. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
  94. Jeremy Gordin
  95. Tracy Going
  96. Pregs Govender
  97. Pumla Dineo Gqola
  98. Rachelle Greeff
  99. Pippa Green
  100. Jane Griffiths
  101. Albert Grundlingh
  102. Sharon Grussendorf
  103. Ferial Haffajee
  104. Rosemund Handler
  105. Ray Hartley
  106. Shafinaaz Hassim
  107. Joann Hichens
  108. Nicky Falkof
  109. Anton Harber
  110. Shireen Hassim
  111. Stefanie Hefer
  112. James Hendry
  113. Michiel Heyns
  114. Mark Heywood
  115. Craig Higginson
  116. Alan Hirsch
  117. David Holt-Biddle
  118. Mehita Iqani
  119. Ron Irwin
  120. Zubeida Jaffer
  121. Ashraf Jamal
  122. Ena Jansen
  123. Nozizwe Cynthia Jele
  124. Ashraf Kagee
  125. Philippa Kabali-Kagwa
  126. Aryan Kaganof
  127. Ronnie Kasrils
  128. Cathy Kelly
  129. Billy Keniston
  130. Andrew Kenny
  131. William Kentridge
  132. Rashida Khan
  133. Busisiwe Precious Khumalo
  134. Siya Khumalo
  135. Sarah-Jayne King
  136. Bongani Kona
  137. Kelly-Eve Koopman
  138. Lindie Koorts
  139. Rustum Kozain
  140. Sue Kramer
  141. Helena Kriel
  142. Antjie Krog
  143. Cynthia Kros
  144. Christa Kuljian
  145. Terry Kurgan
  146. Ismail Lagardien
  147. Mandla Langa
  148. Bronwyn Law Viljoen
  149. Pertunia Lehoka
  150. Tony Leon
  151. Nimbulelo Leqheku
  152. Sekajane Leqheku
  153. Lorraine Le Roux
  154. Michelle le Roux
  155. Lorna Levy
  156. Bridget Lotz
  157. Barbara Ludman
  158. Lindiwe Mabuza
  159. Wendy Maartens
  160. Deon Maas
  161. Joanne Macgregor
  162. Hugh Macmillan
  163. Tshepo Madlingozi
  164. Bongani Madondo
  165. Kathu Maestro
  166. Nelly Page Magwaza
  167. Siphiwo Mahala
  168. Sello Mahapeletsa
  169. Macdonald Mailula
  170. Joshua Maluleke
  171. Desiree-Anne Martin
  172. Julia Martin
  173. Malose Erick Makgotho
  174. Angela Makholwa
  175. Justice Malala
  176. Gerhard Mare
  177. Lebo Mashile
  178. Sizwile Masukuma-Sibindi
  179. Zethu Matebeni
  180. Nixon Mateulah
  181. Makanaka Mavengere
  182. John Maytham
  183. Moeletsi Mbeki
  184. Liz McGregor
  185. Eusebius McKaiser
  186. Fiona Melrose
  187. Rajend Mesthrie

Also read:

"The first step is to keep the book industry alive" – an interview with Mark Gevisser


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    Breyten Breytenbach

    Voeg asseblief my naam, sonder enige voorbehoud en in totale solidariteit, by die lys.

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