South Africans are thirsty to learn about their heritage.

It not only came up as one of the top topics of interest in recent reader research done by City Press, but the weekly Our Story heritage book extracts that run in our Voices section – which tell the stories of historical South African figures such as Shoshangana, Shaka and Sekhukhune – are being extended for another seven weeks owing to their popularity. City Press readers clearly want to know more about their roots, cultural histories and ancestors.

Terence Ball is the man behind Heritage Publishers, which he launched “to tell the previously unpublished stories of all South Africans before these are lost to us”. His company publishes nine indigenous-language dictionaries, as well as the massively valuable Our Story series.

Although Ball’s brother is Jonathan Ball, of Jonathan Ball Publishers, Terence was an educator himself. He used to be a teacher, and travelled in South Africa and other African countries extensively to market schoolbooks. Ball says he was spurred on by friends to start Our Story.

“Two and a half years ago, I was sitting in Vuyani with two friends – one of whom is Tshivenda speaking and one who is Tshitsonga speaking, and I asked them whether they knew how Vuyani got its original name. They couldn’t answer the question and I teased them by saying that it surprised me that people who were so respectful of their ancestors knew so little about what they did. My friend’s response was, ‘Terence, you are right to scold us. You know books, you know our schools, you know a little of our language and a lot of our history, so why don’t you do something about it?’”

This led to Ball creating 21 titles telling the stories of our South African forefathers. He says his team has identified 70 more stories they would like to tell. The books are written by academics, historians and writers who do research.

Ball has an obvious passion for heritage and has made it a crusade to bring hidden stories to light.

“People know so little about their past, and it’s worrying. People sort of accept that they don’t know.”

Ball is currently working with the SA San Council and the American Oriental Society to help create new Khoisan dictionaries, and is also looking for funding to create South Africa’s first vernacular crosswords – word puzzles in languages other than English.