In April 1946 a five-year project was initiated, which aimed at developing materials and techniques for literacy classes for African adults, particularly on the gold mines, using methods developed by Frank Laubach in the Philippines in the 1930s. It was started by the South African Institute of Race Relations, and conducted through a special committee whose members included specialists form government departments, and with finance provided by the Department of Education, The Bantu Welfare Trust, private donors, and the Institute.
The years 1952 1964 were a pre-Bureau period in which work continued, and on the 1 April 1964, the Bureau of Literacy and Literature became an independent voluntary organisation, and was registered as a `non-profit making company'.
The teaching methods were based on Dr Frank Laubach's phonetic alphabet, which he developed in the 1930s in the Phillippines, and which were applicable in different languages, by using the sound of a syllable in association with a familiar picture. He would later be called "apostle of mass literacy".