A bookstore in Soweto combines reading and township

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Soweto (South Africa) (AFP) – There is no hint of what lies behind the door of this house on a quiet Soweto street: book-lined walls from the hallway to the stairwell, through which Thami Mazibuko, the township bookseller, makes his way. .

This is the house of his childhood. At that time, she did not own a single book. Now 36, he is the head of this bookstore-library he created upstairs. He launched the business four years ago with about thirty books from his personal collection, followed by hundreds of donations.

The stacks contain bestsellers like “Everything Falls Apart” by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe and national treasures like Sol Plaatje’s “Mhudi,” the first English-language novel by a black South African.

“Books allow you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” the thin-faced man told AFP. “I want people to come here and be transported elsewhere.”

Outside of school, he had left the township to settle in a then-white suburb of Johannesburg. He lived in a house full of books with members of his artistic family.

It was there that he developed an insatiable appetite for reading, dragging his books to the reggae club where he was a regular.

Gradually he began a personal collection, which he brought with him when he relocated to the township on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Some, unable to pay for the books, began to borrow one, then two. Thus began the Soweto Book Café.

Today, Thami Mazibuko sells books to those with money. Others can subscribe for just over three euros a year (50 rand) to borrow. Although in reality he lends books to almost everyone who asks him.

Sindisiwe Zulu at the Book Cafe in Soweto, April 5, 2022 Emmanuel Croset AFP

“This is one of the reasons I created this place: literacy and access to books and information, a fundamental human right,” says the enthusiast.

“I do not know how to read”

The Book Cafe regularly hosts a reading group of about fifty young people, called “The c’est super cool lesson.” From four to sixteen years old, the older ones read to the little ones and the bookseller also introduces them to board games or chess.

Sindisiwe Zulu, 27, initially came up with the idea to help her niece in distress.

The latter had confessed to him: “I don’t know how to read, I don’t understand anything, that’s why I’m failing.” The circle widened little by little.

Small neighborhood bookstores like these have been on the rise during the strict Covid lockdown, which closed public libraries for more than a year.

A survey revealed ten years ago that Johannesburg had 1,020 bookshops, just five fewer than Paris and many more than New York. Most are full of second-hand books, like the Mazibuko bookstore. He especially likes to focus on African literature and sometimes organizes launches and readings.

But above all, it offers a safe space in the neighborhood: “I come here to do my homework, read and relax,” says Anele Ndlovu, 14, a regular. “This is where I like to think about what I want in life,” continues the young woman who dreams of becoming a merchant.

Anele Ndlovu at the Book Cafe in Soweto on April 5, 2022
Anele Ndlovu at the Book Cafe in Soweto on April 5, 2022 Emmanuel Croset AFP

At the moment, she is immersed in a Michael Connelly thriller, but later she will read “books that teach life”.

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