The Nal'iBali

Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for “here’s the story”) is a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, founded in 2012. It builds literacy skills and promotes lifelong reading culture in homes, schools, and communities across South Africa.



2021 was another year of rapid and unpredictable change. We started the year working remotely, and gradually returned to face-to-face training, mentoring and collaboration.

We ramped up our media and digital strategies to ensure that we could still reach children, families and educators with reading materials, tips and support. We launched a Nal’ibali TV show, scaled up community radio partnerships, offered virtual training, and added our self-paced FUNda Sonke training and more stories to our WhatsApp bot.

We returned to face-to-face engagement and revitalized our reading club network, once again offering regular, safe and fun spaces for children to improve their literacy skills. We held our biggest World Read Aloud Day to date, despite strict lockdown restrictions, and launched two new community-based projects: in the Eastern Cape (East London and Queenstown) and Limpopo (Sekukhune district).

We seized opportunities to scale up impact through collaboration: we trained more than 7 000 Reading Champions to manage classroom reading corners and start reading clubs, in collaboration with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) and the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative.

We reviewed our theory of change and strategy, to ensure we are fit for purpose in a changing education landscape. A deep dive into behavioural science and literacy development, face-to-face team workshops and stakeholder engagement helped us zoom in on families and parents of young children as key “front lines” where we need to focus our efforts.

We welcomed Kay Lala-Sides as the new Chair of our board and we weathered organisational change: our CEO, Yandiswa Xhakaza, left in October to head up the University of Cape Town’s new online high school. Chief Operating Officer Katie Huston served as Acting Director for five months and our new director Nqabakazi Mathe-Gina joined in April 2022. A combination of clear goals and a team fully engaged in our programmatic work kept us focused through the transition.

And we laid the groundwork for ambitious research in 2022. A new National Reading Barometer will survey the reading habits, attitudes and practices of adult South Africans to inform future programmes, messaging and advocacy, and our market segmentation research will help us understand and better support the parents and caregivers of young children.



Operating in a changing world, Nal’ibali has learnt how to adapt, innovate and respond to evolving needs. The national goal set by President Ramaphosa to have ‘All Children Reading by 2030’ calls for a paradigm shift and reflection on how the country, especially literacy interventions, has been responding to the national literacy crisis. Formed nine years ago, Nal’ibali established its unique disposition towards literacy development by building public awareness around the power of stories to develop reading skills in children from an early age. We invested strong efforts in making sure more children have access to reading materials, engage in culturally-relevant reading content regularly, and are surrounded by reading models that nurture their reading practices.

The past is our best teacher. In 2022 we will celebrate our 10-year-anniversary, and we are asking ourselves: what transformation is necessary within the organisation to enhance efficiency and impact? To ask critical questions asserts a strong learning culture within the organisation. We don’t just focus on whether children have reading materials, but on whether they are developing solid reading skills and are falling in love with reading.

Further, not only do the insights we have pulled from our programmes and models inform the direction of our own work, they contribute towards development in the broader literacy ecosystem too. Our next priority will be to analyse the social impact of our work within this broader system.

We cannot underplay the role of partnerships and collaboration in the work we do. This will remain key to advancing Nal’ibali’s future work. Going forward, children’s reading needs, patterns and practices will be our ‘North Star’ informing our planning, programme design and interventions.


As I write this Chairperson’s report, I am filled with an acute awareness of the many challenges that our beneficiaries, their parents, caregivers, our partners at ECD centres and schools, as well as our staff and volunteers across provinces face each day. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,a weakened economy and loss of faith in systems that should be supporting us, has left far too many feeling distraught and distressed. I am therefore deeply grateful for the work of Nal’ibali.

We spark joy. We do so through song, dance, and reading stories aloud in a manner that is captivating, energising and uplifting. When we do this, we create experiences that are transformative and memorable. And when we tell stories in the way we do, we spark curiosity and interest in words that ultimately contributes to reading for meaning. This joyful approach is the Nal’ibali way. And it is the way we aim to shift the culture of reading in children, in families, in society.

I wish to acknowledge the important contribution of our funders and partners. You make this wonderful work possible. I also wish to express deep gratitude to all the Nal’ibalians across the country who put the wonderful into the work.

In our annual report we tell the story of the ways we have continued to spark joy with children and also work more deeply with the ecosystem around them. We also reflect our understanding that scale needs to be accompanied by impact, and that impact needs to be evidenced through outcomes. While we continue to pursue outcomes in literacy with children, it is most heartening to see how our work also impacts and produces outcomes for others within our ecosystem.

In an environment where resources are sparse, needs are vast and despair often overwhelming, sparking joy through stories as a platform for literacy, may be the most important thing we do!


Achievements and highlights

In 2021, Nal’ibali remained committed to the work of serving communities with high-quality reading material in all 11 official South African languages; using mass media to raise awareness and shift attitudes towards reading; building capacity, and growing a reading culture through community engagements. Some of the things we are most proud of from this period are:


Nal’ibali is finally on TV. We reached 38.3 million viewers through a new series titled Young Nal’ibali Storytellers on SABC 1 Kids News. It features children as storytellers which models good practice and is aspirational. TV has given us unparalleled reach and mainstreamed our message that storytelling in home languages is power, important and fun.


We’ve reached 38,3 million viewers and 8,2 million radio listers in our storytelling sessions. When children are exposed to stories more frequently they develop “enhanced imagination to help visualize spoken words, improved vocabulary, and more refined communication skills


Each week, we broadcast children’s stories to 6.7 million children on 11 SABC radio stations. A further 1.5 million listeners were reached via a national network of community radio partiers. In its sixth season, adults and children around the country look forward to Nal’ibali’s weekly radio stories that are contextually relevant and spark imagination in a short period of time.


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In 2021, we partnered with the South African Post Office to reduce distribution costs, and we streamlined our reading material application process. This made it possible to get reading materials to everyone who applied. Our supplement subscriber list grew from 58 to 1 039 organisations, who received 98 875 copies each month, and we sent starter packs with 10 books to 1 921 reading clubs. We also began offering free stories on our WhatsApp bot, where we’ve seen consistently rising engagement. We will continue to refine our systems and processes to improve the end-user experience and reduce barrier to accessing free stories.


Over 98 875 monthly copies are used by NGO partners, schools, projects and reading clubs
To keep registered reading clubs thriving 1921 reading clubs were provided with enough resources to nurture a reading culture every week
86565 children are reading for enjoyment every week


Despite Covid-19 restrictions and a smaller staff team, we saw high demand for reading club training and support. 2 279 reading clubs reaching 86 565 children registered in 2021. 60% of these were first-time reading clubs that started in response to needs in their communities. This reflects a strong culture of volunteerism in communities across the country. It also suggests that the “reading club” concept is widely known; that people find it worthwhile to sign up; and that it is a relevant model to create safe, inviting spaces for children to develop literacy skills.

86 565



We trained 41 employee volunteers from Standard Bank and 31 from Liberty on how to read aloud and tell stories for children. It is exciting that other companies have expressed interest to do the same. The changed donor environment has seen an increased emphasis in employee involvement. Offering companies a relevant and seamless volunteer package creates shared value and helps us broaden our network of partners and funders.



We trained more than 7 000 young people to set up reading corners and use our newspaper story supplements in classrooms via the Reading Champions programme, part of the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative. As a result of this collaboration, Nal'ibali was asked to be the Lead Agent in Gauteng for the next round of implementation. This partnership allows us to scale up good practice by aligning with large-scale government employment programmes.

7 000


We set a record when caregivers, fellow literacy organisations and key partners (including the Department of Education) pledged to read our official story to 3 004 906 children on the day! COVID restrictions didn’t dampen the nation’s involvement, and national and regional media support remained strong. A round of follow-up research showed that 2/3 of participating parents read and told stories more often after the event. This shows that an annual call to action is an effective strategy to promote the benefits of reading aloud and helps people adopt the habit.

3 004 906 CHILDREN


Targeting rural communities, two new community-based projects – the Lebalelo project in Limpopo and Yizani Sifunde in the Eastern Cape – launched face-to-face activities in 2021. The Yizani Sifunde project is a collaboration between Nal’ibali, Book Dash and Wordworks that combines proven strategies that promote early language and literacy development: a structured Pre-Grade R curriculum; ECD practitioner training and support; abundant books for children and ECD centres; and community-wide reading promotion through reading clubs, parent engagement and media. This approach showed promise in its pilot year, and demonstrates how collaboration with like-minded organisations can increase our impact.



Social medial provide a sense of community. This year, our Facebook supporters surprised us by reading full-length stories straight off the platform. We gave them more, and as a result we achieved an engagement rate of 17% which is 3% higher than 2020, and 16% above the industry benchmark. As access to data and the internet improves, the online space continues to grow. We will continue to offer our content and training on platforms most popular with our users.


We doubled our number of funders and diversified our funder base. Increased revenue was driven by commissioned work for a corporate (Cadbury), collaboration with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), mining-related organisations supporting place-based projects (Enaex Africa and the Lebalelo Water Users Association), and our first grant from the National Lotteries Commission. Although the funding environment remains challenging, our ability to attract new funders suggests that Nal'ibali is well respected, and its programmes are relevant.

Rethinking our strategy


The Presidency has set an ambitious goal that by 2030, all children will read for meaning by age 10. This is in line with UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. In South Africa, momentum and focus is growing around this goal.

In the second half of 2021, we asked: What is Nal’ibali’s unique contribution to these larger goals, and how can we best achieve our mission? We held team and Board workshops and engaged with stakeholders to review our theory of change and develop a 2022-24 strategy. It positions Nal’ibali as an organisation that builds reading and story sharing habits in homes, schools and communities, to promote and build literacy skills and a lifelong reading culture.


A deep dive into behavioural science and literacy development research affirmed that regular, positive experiences with reading and stories contribute to cognitive development, socio-emotional development, and positive educational, social and societal outcomes.

We zoomed in on families and caregivers of young children as an area that needs more targeted programmes, resources and messaging. Early investment in children has the highest returns, and early language development shapes later literacy skills and life outcomes. This focus also affirms our unique contribution in the literacy arena, where most actors are focused on schools.

We defined key behaviours we would like to see – adults that tell, read, listen to and talk about stories with children, and who talk and interact with children throughout the day.


We identified tools and strategies – like community radio and wordless picture books – that will help us include all caregivers, whether they themselves are literate or not.


Collaboration through community projects

Across the country, Nal’ibali runs face-to-face programmes in urban areas, rural villages and small towns. In these projects, teams of fieldworkers known as “Story Sparkers” train adults to read aloud and tell stories. They also distribute reading material, run reading clubs for children, and work with local stakeholders to raise awareness of reading culture.


Nal’ibali partners with two renewable power companies – Lesedi Solar Park in the Northern Cape, and Letsatsi Solar Park in the Free State – to grow a culture of reading in four target communities. With a field team of seven, Nal’ibali distributes reading materials, runs and supports reading clubs, trains and supports educators and volunteers, and promotes reading culture and shares stories on community media. This year, reading clubs and regular support visits to early childhood development (ECD) centres resumed. The project launched four community libraries that have proved popular with teachers, ECD teachers and parents alike.

Nal'ibali has brought a lot of joy to my classroom. I can see by the way they love story time and how they ask questions about characters. The Nal'ibali stories have broadened their imagination; they learn new words and the stories always have teachable lessons. I am also more confident in sharing stories because of the tips in the supplements and the story extension ideas they give. I love attending Na'libali events because I always learn something new.

Paulina Van Wyk

Early Childhood Development Practitioner,
Dananny ECD, Postmasburg, Northern Cape

The tuk-tuk library means a lot to our community especially since the town library no longer allows walk-ins since the start of Covid. Some children come to the library to get books for school projects, but most come for reading for enjoyment. We have distributed more than 200 library cards and kids come to read on site during breaktime at school. Working at the library has taught me to be patient and kind. It's always a pleasure listening to a child narrating the story they have read upon returning a book.

Jevelien Witbooi

Community Works Project participant
Tuk-Tuk library in Danielskuil, Northern Cape


This three-year project, funded by the Lebalelo Water Users Association, kicked off in April 2021. It supports children’s development as readers in six villages in the Sekukhune District, Limpopo. Its team of four staff members run regular reading sessions at 22 ECD centres, 11 schools and two drop-in centres. They also distribute reading materials in areas where these are sorely needed, and trained 110 ECD practitioners, teachers, community volunteers and project stakeholders. This has activated a network of 80 reading clubs, where children engage in fun, educational activities on a weekly basis.

I believe that as they keep reading and sharing stories, their mental capacity and thinking skills will increase. The children will help their fellow children how to read and read for meaning. I hope and believethat Nalibali has created a new culture of learning where every child participates willingly, and teachers become more engaged in the classrooms. We are definitely motivated as teachers."

Mrs Malatji

Principal, Moroleng Primary School,
Shakung Village, Burgersfort, Limpopo

When Nalibali came to our community, the love for reading was ignited and developed in our schools, children and even adults. Storytelling was brought back to the hearts of families.

Their engagement was phenomenal, friendly and filled with love and joy for reading. The Nal’ibali staff were knowledgeable about reading and did it with fun.

Many families started to read for their children, allowed children to read for them and sharing stories. The parents in families became involved and interested in their children's books since they could also participate in the activities.”

Mrs Lucia Ntloane

Kwata Pre School, Ga-Phala, Limpopo


This project is a blueprint for effective, impactful collaboration. It is a joint venture of three organisations – Nal’ibali, Book Dash and Wordworks – that seeks to build a solid foundation for early language and literacy development. Book Dash creates and distributes high-quality books to children, preschools and community reading clubs; Wordworks equips ECD practitioners to implement a high-quality pre-Grade R language and literacy curriculum; and Nal’ibali runs storytime sessions, community reading clubs and activations. After a delayed launch due to Covid, the project kicked off in 2021 at 40 preschools in East London and Queenstown, Eastern Cape.

Having three organisations work in one project promotes collaborative work in societies and Yizani Sifunde has proven that to be possible, even to the envy of other government departments we are working closely with. The benefits of these partnerships includes the sharing of resources, knowledge, and experiences. The unity amongst the organisations paints a particularly good picture in communities where people experience our teamwork first-hand, see its possibilities and why it is important to put beneficiaries first.”

Lindelwa Pumelele Keswa

Project Coordinator, Yizani Sifunde

In 2021 we did clinic activations in rural areas giving away more than 900 storybooks. We met people from different backgrounds and different ages groups, however, they all told us this was their first-time receiving story books for their children. They didn't even know that you can get stories for free and in home languages!"

Rodney Msomi

Literacy Mentor, Yizani Sifunde

Volkswagen SA

Nal’ibali is part of the Volkswagen Legacy Literacy Programme, which aims to ensure that children in project schools are functionally literate by Grade 3 or age 10. Nal’ibali contributes to this goal by making sure classrooms and homes are well-stocked with reading material; upskilling and motivating teachers, parents and Literacy Ambassadors to run literacy development activities; and directly running and supporting regular reading sessions and reading clubs for children.

In 2021, the project expanded into Grade R; launched a partnership with education students at Nelson Mandela University; and used community radio to spread awareness and enthusiasm about reading. Stakeholders reported in a survey that the project improves engagement and oral comprehension of children who cannot read yet, that children are asking parents to read for them, and that children’s writing skills are developing.

It's so exciting because I know that they will learn fiction and non-fiction stories from a variety of resources and different authors that are written in two languages, isiXhosa, which is learners home language and English. Their literacy skills such as listening, speaking, reading and writing will develop at an early age. They will become story writers, using any languagethey prefer to, or they are able to. By the way, I'm doing master's ineducation at NMU, and this is my last year. In my research, I've been using the Nal'ibali supplements, in a grade 3 class. I'm so proud of my learners because of the Nal'ibali supplements."

Neliswa Ngesi

Teacher, Vuba Junior Primary School at KwaNobuhle,
Uitenhage, Eastern Cape


Nal’ibali is part of the Volkswagen Legacy Literacy Programme, which aims to ensure that children in project schools are functionally literate by Grade 3 or age 10. Nal’ibali contributes to this goal by making sure classrooms and homes are well-stocked with reading material; upskilling and motivating teachers, parents and Literacy Ambassadors to run literacy development activities; and directly running and supporting regular reading sessions and reading clubs for children.

In 2021, the project expanded into Grade R; launched a partnership with education students at Nelson Mandela University; and used community radio to spread awareness and enthusiasm about reading. Stakeholders reported in a survey that the project improves engagement and oral comprehension of children who cannot read yet, that children are asking parents to read for them, and that children’s writing skills are developing.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the reading session. The training session that was held before the reading helped me to improve my story telling abilities. I wished that the session lasted longer because the chemistry between me, my other colleagues reading in the session and the kids was warm. I loved how interactive the session was and it filled my heart with joy to see how responsive and appreciative the kids were during the session. The session has really inspired me to keep on volunteering my time to brighten up someone else's day."

Mosenya Phetla

Manager Relationship Entrepreneur,
Standard Bank

Something new!

Capturing the imaginations and hearts of South Africans is key to our work. While many children, families and caregivers have come to rely on Nal’ibali to consistently deliver stories and literacy materials in familiar ways, we also love trying new things! Here are three initiatives we tried in 2021 that helped innovate, increase our reach and support those we already work with.



After years of dreaming it, Nal’ibali is finally on TV! With 12 short, light-hearted inserts airing on SABC 1 Kids News throughout the year, we reached 38.3 million viewers.

Kids News is a daily children’s TV show broadcasting in different South African languages and committed to sharing news and information for the benefit of children. The opportunity to provide storytelling content for free broadcast could not be turned down – as we’ve long known, TV can significantly increase Nal’ibali’s reach and appeal.

On a shoestring budget of just R180 000, we produced a series titled Young Nal’ibali Storytellers. Each insert featured four schoolchildren taking turns to tell a story. Filmed in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, stories were told in isiXhosa, isiZulu, SiSwati and English.


In May 2021, Cadbury Dairy Milk – a popular chocolate brand – announced its intention to create 1 500 new stories in all official South African languages by 2023, to help inspire a love for reading in children across South Africa.

Cadbury commissioned Nal’ibali to help them realise this dream, and just three months after launching, we had produced 31 original stories and translated these into all 11 official languages. Totalling 341 stories, we had reached almost a third of their target!

By the end of 2021 we had created a total of 506 stories. The stories were collated into three carefully curated and illustrated storybooks, each featuring five stories. Cadburygenerously donated 12 497 hard copies, which we have earmarked for our partnership with government’s Social Employment Fund (SEF).

This partnership allowed us to impact the literacy ecosystem as we provided commercial opportunities to local writers, illustrators, translators and editors, as well as gift free story books to SEF. Importantly, we also took our first modest yet effective steps towards generating an income stream – an important part of becoming a self-sustaining organisation.



Writing stories for South African children, Nal’ibali’s first online workshop, was held in June 2021. South Africa faces a critical shortage of African-language children’s stories, and the workshop was held in support of the campaign’s call to aspiring and seasoned authors to submit their original indigenous language stories to us.

Authors of selected stories received guidance from Nal’ibali’s publishing team and their stories were edited, translated and in some cases illustrated by the campaign before being shared on its official on-air, print or online platforms.

This was an excellent opportunity, particularly for emerging authors, to have their stories published.The workshop, covering essential considerations when writing for young SA children, was very well received.


Some 325 participants attended the online event in June, and it was further selected for inclusion at the annual prestigious Literacy Association of South Africa (LITASA) conference later in the year.

For young children to fall in love with reading, they need to hear and read stories in a language they understand, and see characters that they can relate to reflected in books. And while there are scarcely any children’s books in languages other than English and Afrikaans, Nal’ibali has seen that there is a growing number of people excited to share their home language stories. We are immensely proud that in 2021, the campaign helped significantly to further the writing careers of at least three authors whose stories were selected for sharing with children nationally.

Audited financial

Nal’ibali obtained another unqualified audit opinion from out external auditors, BDO South Africa, for the year ended 31 December 2021.

Our audit was completed without any material audit findings. Revenue, from 11 sources, was R50m, which was an increase of 72% over the previous year (6 sources providing R29m).

Other income and interest were R0.9m, compared with R4m of the year prior. The significant decrease was largely to no TERS being received in 2021. And, as a result of tighter fiscal control and initiatives to keep costs down, the total operational expenses for the year were R34.2m - a decrease of 23% over the prior year (R44.4m).

The net surplus for the year of R16.7m was largely due to funds received from a major donor in 2021 of R15m. Its delay caused a net deficit of R11.6m in the prior year.