By Onke Ngcuka

The bookstore that boasted African literature by African authors was not to the taste of Braamfontein residents.

African Flavour bookstore in Braamfontein officially closed its doors on Friday February 1, due to a lack of sales.

The bookshop, which only stocked African literature and literature in indigenous languages, was co-founded by husband and wife, Fotiscue and Nokuthula Helepi, in 2015 when the couple opened the first store in Vanderbijlpark.

The Braamfontein store followed in September 2017, but was struggling long before its first birthday. The store also hosted book launches, poetry sessions and motivational talks.

Inside a dim and empty store with just over 200 books on what was left of a wall of shelves, co-owner Fotiscue Helepi told Wits Vuvuzela that the couple had opened the Braamfontein store to provide an accessible space of culture among the youth; an alternative to the surrounding nightclubs. Unfortunately, the store didn’t succeed as they had hoped.

“[African Flavour in Braamfotein] was not making money… I can decide that I want to provide a service, but if people don’t want the service, there’s nothing that you can do,” Helepi said.
He added that African Flavour in Vanderbijlpark had financially supported the Braamfontein store from May to July in 2018.

The couple later decided to move to a smaller space in Vanderbijlpark to save on rent in order to continue supporting the Braamfontein store.

“We reviewed the store’s progress after a year [of opening] and decided against continuing with the business in Braamfontein,” the 43-year-old said, adding that the store had not traded since October.

Thamsanqa Tshali, a volunteer at Once in Joburg hostel accommodation, opposite African Flavour, told Wits Vuvuzela that they saw the store closed almost four months ago. Tshali said that personal problems were cited as the reason.

“It’s a nice place for our guests to buy souvenirs and to attend events like book launches and motivational talks. Travellers can buy African Literature because when they are in Denmark for instance, there’s no African literature,” the 25 year old said. “[African Flavour] sparked a trend among the youth…an interest in reading. We need to campaign to bring back African Flavour,” Tshali said.

Avid African literature reader and Braamfontein resident, Zanele Madiba, said she was saddened and disappointed by the closure of one of the only book stores in the area.

“That space was about representation. It proved that black people do read,” Madiba said. “It was very important that a black couple was entering a white-dominated space as most book stores are owned by white people.” Madiba added, “There’s a need to help [the Helepis] and they weren’t forthcoming about [their need for funds]. “It hasn’t been communicated properly. Social media usually helps but nothing has been communicated.”

The African Flavour duo say they will be opening a store in Soweto in the near future.

In the meantime, they are working on an E-commerce bookstore that will deliver to their customers.


FEATURED IMAGE: The Braamfontein market did not take to African Flavour’s offering.               Photo: Onke Ngcuka