The Book Stokvel: Growing Support For African Literature

It is often said that the reading culture in South Africa is very poor. Young and old people are just not reading regardless of reading and writing proficiency. Yet books are expensive and are largely inaccessible to the majority of the South African population by language and context. The Book Stokvel aims to change that.

The inspiration behind the stokvel

Sarah Mokwebo, founder and curator of The Book Stokvel said the idea for the stokvel came about because of a “recognized need to establish black spaces and black institutions”. She says these black spaces and institutions ranged from businesses to recreational spaces. Taking inspiration from the Abantu Book Festival, Mokwebo decided to start the stokvel.

Sarah Mokwebo

Abantu Book Festival  is an annual literary festival that takes place in December in Soweto. It is the brainchild of author Thando Mgqolozana. He created it as a space for black readers to engage with literature written by African writers. It is a yearly event that seeks to “put black South African authors, aspiring authors, and readers at the centre.”

Mokwebo says it was during the second edition of Abantu that the idea of the stokvel started playing in her head. She said the conversations that happened on the stage and on the sidelines of the festival “ highlighted the plight experienced by black writers and artists at large.” This got her thinking about how readers can “collectively promote, support financially writers, and increase the readership of African Literature”.

The stokvel’s inception

Together with 14 friends, Mokwebo started The Book Stokvel in 2018. This year the stokvel has expanded to include members from around the country, most of whom Mokwebo has not even met. At current there are 70 members of the stokvel. If you are interested in becoming a member for the second half of the year, details can be found here.

Mokwebo says the reaction to the stokvel has been overwhelming “in a good way of course” adding that she didn’t “expect it to balloon so much in such a short space of time.”

How does it work

A stokvel is a uniquely South African concept which consists of a saving scheme where members contribute fixed sums of money to a central fund. Each month one of the members gets to take the collected money as per decided roster.

Mokwebo says the Book Stokvel is a stokvel in its most traditional sense as it’s known in black communities. In the Book Stokvel, each member gives R250 a month. R200 from the amount is used for buying books while the remaining R50 goes for the operational expenses of the stokvel as well as the courier costs of sending the books to the chosen member.

There is a monthly roster which shows when each stokvel will receive their books. The members have the choice on which books they want for the month. All the books are only bought from black-owned stores, suppliers, and vendors said Mokwebo.

Every month, the stokvel also comes out with beautiful bookmarks. Mokwebo says the idea behind the bookmarks are to profile African Literature which she said very from classics to recent ones.

She said: “Each bookmark has an intriguing quote from the book and its summary at the back.”

“It is one of the many ways we can support African Literature; the entire value chain. This is in addition to building communities, virtually and otherwise,” said Mokwebo about the importance of the stokvel.

If you would like more information on The Book Stokvel, you can email them.

Featured image provided by Sarah Mokwebo