A bookshop devoted to African literature hopes to foster a love of literature in Vanderbijlpark, an industrial town in the Vaal. PONTSHO PILANE reports.
African Flavour Books is an African literature enthusiastâ€
Husband and wife team Fortiscue and Nokuthula Helepi are the owners of the bookshop tucked away in the Vaal Walk shopping centre in Vanderbijlpark, 60km south of Johannesburg. For the Helepis, African Flavour Books is a three-year dream thatâ€
Helepi, a chemical engineer who moonlights as a writer and publisher, says that the idea for a bookshop that focuses solely on African books was born from his love for reading â€“ and also from frustration.
â€œI was tired of struggling to find African books in mainstream bookshops,â€ Helepi says. â€œThey are not really catering for our people.â€
African Flavour Books sells 80% African books and only 20% non-African books. The Helepis have intentionally focused on African literature because, Helepi says, â€œpeople will read more if itâ€
Helepi says he was surprised at the appetite for African literature. Just a week after theyâ€
In the midst of the books, there is a display of films and music from across the continent. I spot one of Penny Pennyâ€
On the day I visit, the bookshop has attracted quite a crowd; curious shoppers are constantly walking in to browse the shelves. It is gaining the most popularity among young people, who are always walking in to buy or make enquiries.
Motlalepule Mofokeng (26) says that the bookshop was a beautiful and much needed surprise for locals.
â€œI was just passing by and I saw the name â€“ I had to see for myself. I love reading African books and this will definitely encourage me to read more,â€ he says.
Mpumelelo Dlamini, a 21-year old student, says she has been relentlessly searching for DJ Sbuâ€
Having a local bookshop, she says, would deliver a much-needed service to the community, and would â€œchange a lot of peopleâ€
African Flavour Books, it turns out, is the only one in the area. Locating the bookshop in the Vaal was conscious choice for Helepi. He says that while setting up shop in Johannesburg would have been more economically viable, he wants to use his bookshop to promote reading in the Vaal.
For people living in Vanderbjilpark, the closest book shop is in Johannesburg, which would mean travelling 60km in each direction, at a cost of R60. â€œItâ€
In a world where print readership is fast falling and chains of bookshops are closing, opening a bookshop might seem like a bad idea. But Helepi still believes that a bookshop can help to reignite a love of reading.
The feedback, especially from young people, has been overwhelmingly positive, he says. Some of the people that walk in have never read or finished a novel, but they are willing and want to become avid readers.
â€œOne lady told me she couldnâ€
Conscious of the socioeconomic conditions of his target market, Helepi says he wants to sell all his books for less than R200. Staying in business could prove to be challenging, but Helepi says heâ€
– All images: By Pontsho Pilane.