The purpose of this qualitative, participatory action research study was to explore and describe the nature of a reading culture in a rural secondary school before and after a literacy intervention. Themes of reading culture were investigated within the framework of systems theory and with interpretivism as epistemological paradigm. A secondary rural school was conveniently selected as part of ongoing FLY and STAR1 studies on resilience and rural schools. Language teachers (n=6, male=1, female=5) were purposively selected to participate in the literacy intervention. The literacy intervention was developed with phonetic acquisition as basis to develop reading skills. The intervention was implemented in two two-day phases, with a three-month gap in between. Pre- and post-intervention data were collected by means of three focus-group interviews with the teacher-participants. These interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim for thematic analysis. In addition, the school site (classrooms, notice boards) was observed (documented by means of field notes, visual data, and researcher journals). Textual documents (minutes of staff management team meetings) were analysed to investigate the nature of the reading culture at the school pre- and post-intervention. The following themes emerged from thematic analysis: the reading culture in (i) the learners’ system, (ii) classroom system, and (iii) school system in the rural secondary school. Subsequent to a literacy intervention, changes in the reading culture were evident. It was found that the reading culture in a rural secondary school may be affected negatively by the following systemic factors: learners enter this education phase without adequate reading capacity, the language of learning and teaching is an additional language for both learners and teachers, secondary school teachers are not trained to teach (secondary school) learners to read, and the isolated and scarce-resourced nature of a rural school also compounds the difficulties of nurturing a reading culture. Nonetheless, certain systemic factors contributed to enriching the reading culture in the rural secondary school. In the teacher system, the literacy intervention programme addressed teachers’ need for training to help secondary school learners to learn to read. At post-intervention in the learner system, learners received the required learning support to read, their participation in classroom activities in the classroom system improved, and they read more and with greater confidence. In the school system, effective management and use of the library contributed to the reading-culture post-intervention. The role of leadership to implement reading initiatives was another contributing factor at the school-system level. Education-system support by the Department of Education in the form of reading resources and the introduction of a policy providing for a reading period also proved valuable to enriching the reading culture. In terms of the community system, the reading-culture initiative led to collaborative networking with neighbouring primary schools in fostering joint capacity development in the literacy intervention.