PUKU festival: an unpunctual glance.

By Nadim Nyker

Voices filled the Monument in Grahamstown as children bustled around.  The little girls showed each other their colouring books, whilst the younger ones scratched at their face paint, overwhelmed by excitement.

If all else had failed that day, PUKU had definitely succeeded in creating an overflow of happiness.

PUKU is an online organisation which promotes the learning of children from pre-school to high school level in their native languages. Laying the foundations of learning is very important, so it is here that one can learn best, especially at the grassroots level of learning to read and write. However, PUKU is currently one of the few organisations doing it, where it would seem an obvious implementation by government.

Upon my late arrival on Saturday, the atmosphere felt like the end of a ballad, where the emotion has been shed and the last verse begins, concealing an effort of a perfect dynamic. Something great had been done here, something original.

I hurriedly walked down the stairs, trying to snap photos of what was left of the event. A little body scurried across the room to reach her brother’s hand. I approached the duo:

Siphelele Tetani smiles. Her glance is filled with curiosity. She holds up four fingers and slouches her hand over her body in the pose of a 90s rapper when asked her age. Her English is poor but her isiXhosa is fluent and today has been all about her.

Her 19-year-old brother, Ashley Kusnel, attends Mary Waters High School. He tries to find the right words to describe the day, English not being his forte and isiXhosa not being mine.

“There were so many books, the children got vouchers and were allowed to buy some,” he explained. His face lit up, “I’m just so happy we got the opportunity to come; there were games teaching her how to count. We really enjoyed it.”

I chatted to the PUKU festival director, Ziyanda Gysman.

“PUKU is all about books in indigenous South African languages and generating more content in indigenous languages,” she explained. Gysman was flustered; exhausted by her hard work on a successful event. “It’s been amazing; it’s been received well we think. We’ve had poets, teachers and lots of NGOs.”

PUKU was launched in 2009; a digital platform that hopes to be more active within schools in years to come. The festival’s main sponsor was the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa (REDISA). 2015 is REDISA’s second year as the main sponsor and employee, Fiona Michaels, spoke to me whilst multitasking the closing tasks of the day.

“We believe that the recycling message that we are bringing across should start at a grassroots level,” she said hurriedly and out of breath. “Our message to the children is ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ and this was a great way to get it across.”


Siphelele and her brother, Ashley, after the day’s events.