Don’t underestimate the power of illiteracy

I was shocked to discover that 19% of our Grade 4s are able to read. Who are these little suck-ups? These goody-goody nerds think they’re better than the 81% who can’t make head or tail of the most basic of sentences in any language. How very dare they.

In this country, we don’t encourage success. And for good reason. We’re not some namby-pamby meritocracy. We’re not like those shiny-eyed losers in Singapore. We are proud to call ourselves a kakistocracy, and I do mean kak in the purest sense of the word. We haven’t worked long and hard to get where we are today and it would be a terrible injustice if the 19% grew up thinking they could become our leaders, lording it over us with their smarmy book-reading ways and ability to spell big words like giraffe and chardonnay.

We have a government run by the worst, least qualified and most unscrupulous citizens. This is how we like it. The only book our leaders have read is the Ministerial Handbook. Well, they’ve read the P for Perks section, anyway. Perhaps someone read it to them. They are, after all, also products of our impressively dysfunctional education system. Come to think of it, given the average age of the leadership, they were most likely educated during apartheid, an era that produced brilliant lawyers like Nelson Mandela. The exiles were educated abroad and when they came back, those who could read without moving their lips were invited to form a government.

Then there is Angie Motshekga. This paragon of purposeless pedagogy has been minister of basic education since the early Pleistocene period. The Taung child was one of her first students. Poor thing never did learn to read. Nor did the kid. Probably for the best.

Speaking of missing links, Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education – a portfolio given to the first person who could quote all four volumes of Das Kapital by heart – has managed to avoid damaging the prospects of school leavers by staying very still, moving only to reach for a fresh glass of red wine. It’s a good strategy, one that he learnt from Motshekga.

Unfortunately, news that 19% of Grade 4s are able to read has forced her into action. Like a snail inching onto grains of salt, Motshekga is foaming at the mouth. She has threatened to hunt down the suck-ups. “Can’t read so well with a mouth full of broken teeth, hey?”

Deflecting the heat like a shield on one of Elon Musk’s stupid rockets, she wants the Treasury to fund what she calls a “national literacy strategy”. The Treasury scrambled for a team of experts to formulate a diplomatic way of telling her that there is already a national literacy strategy in place. It’s called the “basic education system”. And the funding? It’s called a “budget”. In this case, a paltry R32-billion. You can understand why she wants more. It’s not nearly enough to make sure that absolutely no child will ever learn to read. So far, that amount only covers the Grade 4s. Not good enough. They must all be stopped before it’s too late.

Reading is a gateway drug that can easily lead to worse things. Like writing. Some of those smug pups who make up the 19% will already be dreaming about a career in journalism. One or two might even want to become columnists, unaware that shouting into the void every week for a pittance is a tragic way to make a living.

Reading will make you question things you thought were true. For instance, the 81% who are in Grade 4 right now will be old enough to vote in eight or nine years. Having spent the intervening years learning about life through the age-old oral tradition involving uncles and cousins with lucrative government contracts, they will cast their ballot for the ANC. Had they been able to read, they would have discovered that the party was the ruination of South Africa. And since the oral transmission of knowledge is traditionally conducted around fires, they wouldn’t remember what electricity is anyway.

Of course, the 19% won’t be voting. They’ll be too busy going to university to read more stuff so that they can learn how to read financial markets and eventually buy yachts and cruise the Mediterranean and do loads of coke and have wild sex parties and never again read anything other than begging letters for a laugh and maybe glance at the Dow Jones once a day.

How dare the racist, sexist, homophobic “experts” who run the imperialist, counter-revolutionary Progress in International Reading Literacy Study rate us the worst out of 57 countries that participated? This is clearly rigged. Worse than Iran? Really? A country where only men are allowed to read only one book? Not one book a year. Just one book. I shan’t mention its name for fear of being stabbed in the face like Salman Rushdie.

Our Grade 4s don’t need to learn to read. They need to learn to rig tenders, launder money, bribe officials, and, for those with good eye-hand coordination, dismantle an AK-47 blindfolded and recognise a cash-in-transit van from 500 metres.

I wasn’t that lucky. I got sent to a whites-only government school. It started with reading about Janet and John and quickly progressed to beatings if you couldn’t name every bone in the human body. The only one I could ever remember was the penis, which inexplicably warranted an extra flagellation of my tender pubescent arse.

When I was in Grade 4, my mother was taking me to the Durban North library three times a week. That’s where the rot started. It gave me ideas. Made me think. I became a journalist, then a columnist. A lifetime of looking at words and understanding most of them. Eyes ruined. Brain full. No money. It’s all too sad.

16 thoughts on “Don’t underestimate the power of illiteracy

  1. Johan Slabbert says:

    Dear Mr Trovato
    Please continue shouting into the void.
    You have an excellent voice.

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      Hey Joe. Thanks for the kind words. Getting a bit tired of the echo, but shall continue for as long as I can.

  2. geoff says:

    Benjamin-another wonderful piece-so wonderful in fact that I am going to send several hundreds of more rands “pour encouragez les autres” who take your wit and wisdom for free, gratis, niks and fokol. BTW per Charlotte, I don’t think there is any possibility of you being thrown in Jail for you opinions Apart from the reading thing, our rulers have literally zero collective conscience an no fear of any nasty consequence no matter what they do or what any of us say

    ps Have your Bank details changed??

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      Thank you Geoff, that’s very kind. My bank details are the only constant in my life…

  3. Gavin Selfe says:

    Truly a comic genius Ben ! This article had me crying with laughter. Well written !!

  4. Dave Beattie says:

    Ouch! After this article you may need to run and hide somewhere. You are one of the last writers to speak the truth to those in power, but with your brilliant sense of humour.
    Please keep it up !

  5. David Lewis says:

    Great Idea!

    I doubt that it will cover the drinking though.

  6. Verne says:

    “One or two might even want to become columnists, unaware that shouting into the void every week for a pittance is a tragic way to make a living.” Does is still feel like that, Ben, even with your 62,000 odd subscribers? (Not that we necessarily accept that we are odd.)

  7. Charlotte says:

    What a TOTAL RELIEF that so few people know how to read! Just think! If they could read your column, they would stop you and put you in gaol. And that would be a tragic loss.

    PS DO be careful, Ben…

  8. Allen Radford says:

    Ah, the life of a columnist has always been viewed with disbelief, tinged with pity. Keep it up. We need you x

  9. Dominique says:

    Spot on as always!

    I see you have 62 000 odd subscribers.
    If we all pay R2 a month, will that be enough to sustain your drinking habits?…oh and your brilliant blog?

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      Not even close. Thanks for the offer, though

  10. Alan Paterson says:

    Ben, the ruining of the eyes may possibly be the result of other nefarious activities. Onanism or methanol ingestion? Anyway our learners only need to know three letters in the alphabet, the rest are irrelevant…..
    Give us an A, give us an N, give us a C (not that C).

  11. Graeme Bird says:

    Oh well at least we don’t kill our weed dealers like Singapore :::::::)

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      We will once trade is legalised…

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