Children's Literature in Southern Africa

Puku celebrates 20th Anniversary of 'The Day Gogo Went To Vote'

Book cover: 'The Day Gogo Went to Vote' by Elinor Sisulu, RSA

This Freedom Day marks 20 years since the publication in South Africa of the classic children's book, The Day Gogo Went to Vote.

The story of a hundred-year old woman voting in South Africa's first democratic election, was penned by Puku founding member and current Executive Director, Elinor Sisulu. The story is based on her own experience when working in a polling booth in the Johannesburg suburb of Bez Valley in the 1994 elections.

"It was one of the most moving experiences of my life," she recalls.

"An old man dressed in tattered clothes presented us with his tattered ID. Because the photograph was unrecognisable, we could not allow him to vote. The presiding official, Malinda Miller, advised him to go to the Home Affairs office in the city centre to get a temporary ID.

My heart sank as he shuffled off.

He will never make it, I thought.

Minutes before we closed the polling booth at 6.00pm, in shuffled the same old man with his temporary ID and he managed to vote in the nick of time. Malinda Miller gave him the box of chocolates she had organised for the last voter and everyone in the polling booth stood up to applaud him. It was an emotional and satisfying climax to an extraordinary day and it was the main inspiration for the book that would have such an impact on my life."

The Day Gogo Went to Vote was first published in the United States by Little, Brown and Co in 1996. Tafelberg Publishers bought the South African rights and went on to publish the book in six languages:

  • English, (The day Gogo went to vote),
  • Afrikaans, (Die dag toe Gogo gaan stem het),
  • isiZulu, (Mhla ugogo eya kovota),
  • isiXhosa, (Mhla uGogo waya kuvota),
  • Sesotho, (Mohla Gogo a neng a ilo vouta),
  • Setswana, (Letsatsi le Nkoko a ileng ditlhophong)

In the US, The Day Gogo Went to Vote featured on the 1996 best books list of the American Library Association and the Smithsonian Institute. It won the 1995 Jane Adams Peace Award for books promoting democracy, as well as the African Studies Association 1996 Children's Book Award.

Logo: Tafelberg Publishers RSA

The Day Gogo Went to Vote has been extensively reviewed in the US and is a standard text for teaching children about South Africa, voting and civic rights.

In South Africa, The Day Gogo Went to Vote was selected by the Library Association of South Africa as one of the 10 best books about South African democracy. Apart from that award, the book did not achieve the same level of accolade in South Africa, perhaps because there are few accolades for picture books in this country.

It was this experience that inspired author Elinor Sisulu to devote herself to promoting children's books and was one of the motivating factors behind setting up the Puku Children's Literature Foundation and the Puku Story Festivals, now gaining momentum in South Africa.

Find the book here.