Avatar photo

By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Rally to Read continues to enrich where vitally needed

A desire to assist with the crucial stage of a child's development remains the core of Rally to Read's initiative.

The call from Ford earlier this month asking if I would be interested in attending the annual Rally to Read event in the Eastern Cape for a third time came as something of a double edged sword.

Harsh reality of home

On the one hand, I would be driving down a few days before in a workhorse-spec Ranger I had been looking forward to drive more than any Wildtrak, while on the other hand, I would have to brace myself at the shocking state many of the country’s previously dubbed non-Model C schools find themselves in.

Even more, one of the schools that would be visited, was located on the outskirts of my hometown, Despatch, which required passing the very primary institution I attended from Grade 4 to 7 – a part of the so-called childhood founding phase Rally to Read is aimed at.

ALSO READ: Rally to Read: Scaling a different mountain with the Ford Everest

It was a sombre moment passing my former school before, a few kilometres on, entering the area we knew only as ‘die lokasie’  or location while growing up.

A derogatory term used for townships, the school in question was located not for from the industrial area of Despatch and within less than five kilometres of the town previously known as Uitenhage, now Kariega.

Given that my late mother’s job as a social worker often required her to visit branches in “lokasies” throughout Nelson Mandela Bay, setting foot in areas we were warned of as kids didn’t come as a supposed fearful experience.

Dropping supplies at Nomathamsanqua Primary
Surrounds of Nomathamsanqua Primary belies an institution having to accommodate 952 pupils between Grade R and 7.

In addition, my pre-motoring journalism career as a ‘normal’ scribe in Port Elizabeth, now Gqeberha, for a publisher employed by a municipality operating outside the Metro to cover events, often required me having to go to townships.

As such, the fear inducing tales we were told about as kids regarding townships didn’t bother me much as, in my mind, I had seen it all.

Despite this being my first Rally to Read since 2022, the shock of what many schools in townships still have to go through 30 years after democracy left a sour taste in many of our mouths as we entertained the gates of the first institution, Nomathamsanqua Primary.

What is Rally to Read?

But first, some context. The Rally to Read initiative, which the Blue Oval has been backing since 1999, this year celebrates its 27th year of providing reading and writing materials to disadvantaged schools teaching pupils from Grade R to 7.

Widely viewed as the most important phase of a child’s development, the event’s second year of taking place in Nelson Mandela Bay mostly involved a top-up of supplies to schools identified by the Read Educational Trust, some in their final year of being supported by the three-year programme.

Attending the Rally to Read
Each school received between two to three crates of books, plus a bag with rugby and soccer balls.

The support comes at a critical stage after an investigative report last year by the BBC found that 8 of 10 children in South Africa are either unable or struggle to read during by age 10.

While the 2023 matric pass figures showed an increase of 2.8% form 2022’s 80.1% to 82.9%, the BBC report went further by indicating that illiteracy had gone from 78% in 2016 to 81% in 2021, enough to put South Africa last on the list of the countries surveyed by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.

As the study is commissioned over a five-year period, any improvements or deteriorating will only be revealed in 2026, yet it its fair to say that the latter figure seems unlikely to improve without a drastic change.

Progress first hand

In spite of the doom and gloom facing them, the Read Foundation’s perseverance remains and as we gathered outside our hotel to distribute what had been loaded into back of our Everests and Rangers the day before at Ford’s Struandale Engine Plant, we knew it still wouldn’t be easy seeing what many children struggle with on a daily basis.

Attending the Rally to Read
Nomathamsanqua Primary school received three crates as part of its “top-up”.

As with the previous two events, we were again split into four teams; yellow, red, blue and green, with each dropping off two to three crates with books and bags containing rugby and soccer balls at two schools each.

Once in the grounds of Nomathamsanqua, the reality of where we were hit hard in spite of my preconceived thought of familiarity.

Dropping supplies at Nomathamsanqua Primary
Progress: Children from Nomathamsanqua Primary reading from their provided books.

Besides mountains of rubbish, human waste running down the streets, free roaming animals and crumbling infrastructure, the school itself is battling overcrowding as it has to provide tutelage for 952 learners from Grade R to Grade 7 in a structure that seems anything but capable of providing an educational haven.

Despite this, plus the area within the confines of the school grounds appearing wholly unsuitable to accommodate 900 plus children, the enthusiasm remained among the handful of Grade 3 to 6s present, who, less than two years ago, formed part of the above statistic.

Language development

Showing their progress by reading from the provided material, I couldn’t help but think back to my school days, not just at a primary level, but also preparatory.

Easy does it. Manhandling the crates required muscle from all.

I remember well how we were tasked with reading from cue cards displaying mostly English words over and over while in Grade 3.

Being Afrikaans, the discord of having to learn a new language, in addition to your mother tongue, is no easy task.

Dropping supplies at Nomathamsanqua Primary
Each school identified by Rally to Read receives a certificate as per the partnership between the Read Foundation, Ford South Africa and the Department of Education.

While I was fortunate to have had material around me at home, the majority of the kids sitting in front of us lacked this, a facet the initiative is also aimed at addressing by ensuring not only sufficient mother tongue teaching, but also comprehension of a second language, often English.

With the supplies dropped, it was off to the next school, Nkutholo Primary located in the township of Zwide 15 km outside Gqeberha.

Ford supporting Rally to Read
Ford South Africa’s Director of Communications, Minesh Bhagaloo (middle), with representatives of the Read Foundation and Department of Education following the certificate signing at Nkutholo Primary.

A school that had gone through a rough patch with vandalism and crime since the Rally to Read’s last visit, its comparatively expansive surrounds houses 210 kids from Grade R to 7, now protected by a steel fence that hadn’t been there 12 months ago.

Part of the added help provided by the programme and Ford, the school still faces the same situation as Nomathamsanqua as some of the children couldn’t read or write with any form of comprehension at recently as 2022.


Observing the assembled class reading with relative ease from the books they had received, I couldn’t help but feel angry at what I had seen as we departed for our hotel.  

Later that evening, the words of one my colleagues, whose attendance of the event had been his first, hit home as I could sense he was even angrier than me.

An individual not afraid to speak his mind, his summary of the situation spoke more than raised volumes, albeit without a few choice words; corporate South Africa, once again, has to make right what the government is incapable of doing.

His observation didn’t receive questioning as seemingly little has happened over the last two decades, from what I could remember, to ensure quality education and a bright future for the children living in the most impoverished areas of Nelson Mandela Bay.

As much as the situation is, what remains laudable is the work the Rally to Read initiative continues to do in the face one of the biggest challenges still facing South Africa after three decades of a supposed “better life for all”.

This, together with the progress in the kids’ reading ability, plus Ford’s commitment to the project, makes for a rare shining light at the end of a dark and dingy tunnel created by those more interested in self-enrichment than enriching the minds of the next generation.

NOW READ: Ford marks 100 years in SA with science lab initiative

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits