Making reading real

One of the most enduring social upliftment programmes active in South Africa is the Rally to Read, founded 21 years ago by Brand Pretorius who still remains chairman of the steering committee.

Brand Pretorius
Brand Pretorius

Since its launch in 1998, the rural schools project has changed the fortunes of more than 1 600 schools, 12 000 teachers and 250 000 children.

The concept is simple: revive failing rural primary schools that do not get the support they need from education departments. There are thousands of them around South Africa. Most lack basic educational materials such as books and stationery. Some do not have desks, classrooms, electricity or even sanitation. No matter the state of neglect, the result is the same for their children: illiteracy and a bleak future.

Rally 2014 Limpopo4

That is why, for the last 21 years, Rally To Read has been delivering books and teacher training to remote schools around SA. The results have been unprecedented. Instead of being forced to drop out of the educational system, unable to read, children have the opportunity to go on to high school and university. And it is not just the children who benefit. Their families and communities are seeing benefits they once thought had passed them by.

As Pretorius puts it: “Rally To Read is South Africa’s leading and most sustainable literacy programme aimed at enhancing the quality of rural education.”

Why does Rally To Read work? This is not an anonymous, give-us-your-money programme. Sponsors meet the people they are helping. They learn first-hand the challenges they face. And they see for themselves the impact of their generosity.

It costs R36 000 to be a corporate sponsor of Rally To Read. Most of that buys portable classroom libraries containing books designed to encourage reading skills. These may be in any of SA’s various languages. The rest of the money pays for teacher training.

At no extra cost, sponsors and up to three guests join us for a weekend in far-flung corners of SA, delivering their libraries in person (an R18 ,000 option for private sponsors allows one guest).


Convoys of offroad vehicles meet early Saturday to load up libraries and other educational equipment, before spending the day visiting at least two schools. Each school is supported for at least three years so sponsors who continue their support over that period see how reading skills improve each year.

Saturday night is spent in local accommodation, where organisers and sponsors share ideas and experiences. The only exception is the one-day Kwazulu-Natal rally on August 31.

Costs of these weekends are borne by our partners. Mercedes-Benz SA, Ford Southern Africa, Shell and the OneLogix transport group, which is a long-standing supporter of Rally To Read. So is the Jonsson workwear group, whose corporate social investment arm, the Jonsson Foundation, is our lead partner.  Besides hosting a rally, the foundation underwrites many of Rally To Read’s operating costs.

There are six rallies in 2019. A Mpumalanga rally happened early this year and dates for a follow-up event before the end of 2019 have still to be finalised.

Confirmed dates are:

August 31:  Kwazulu-Natal 1

September 7-8: Free State

September 14-15: Kwazulu-Natal 2

October 12-13: Eastern Cape

October 19-20:  Western Cape

For more information on Rally To Read, or to become A Sponsor, visit or contact Brand Pretorius on


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