A bookshop built on love and bringing African literature to the people

Part of our tradition as African people is gathering to listen and tell stories of ourselves and our history. Stories that are passed down from one generation to the next in order to become guides on how we navigate the world and make sense of our surroundings. In recognising the importance of storytelling especially in an African perspective and accessing these stories. Nokuthula and Forticue Helepi, a South African married couple, started African Flavour bookstore to give authors from Africa and the diaspora shelves were they can be seen, appreciated, celebrated, and contribute towards the total emancipation of the mind of Africans.

African Flavour started in 2015 in Vaal, Gauteng. The bookstore started out of shared love for African literature by husband and wife and was inspired by a continuous struggle to find books that they could relate to. The opening of African Flavour was also motivated by the fact that both owners are writers; Mr Helepi is an author of three books (God of All Seasons, Let a Man of God Arise and Living Life that Pleases God) and he was often questioned about his material and popularity when trying to sell his books in different places.

Captivated by the saying “if you cannot find what you looking for, create your own”, the couple took part in extensive research over three years to find adequate suppliers and validation needed for the demand of African-centered books written by Africans. 95% of books in the bookstore are by authors from all over Africa and the diaspora. Some of the books that can be found at the store are by authors such as Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Frants Fanon, Sindiwe Magoma, Kopano Matlwa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Koleka Patuma, and Zanele Ndlovu. Tiles can be found from the well-known to the less popular and are available in different South African languages.

“We believe that every single story told by Africans is important and deserves to be exposed. Stories live in us and we are powerful storytellers no matter the genre and kind of stories”, says Mrs Helepi.

Mrs Helepi identifies their biggest achievement as seeing their bookstore become more than a place of buying and selling but a community centre where the young and old visit to read, learn, purchase books, and engage in topics that are of importance to Africa’s growth and development. The continued support of the Vaal community has also contributed to the opening of a second shop in Braamfontein. The stores also host talks by authors, and bring publishers to educate the community about writing stories and how to get them published.

“We’ve received great support from the community and for us, that’s an affirmation that African people read and they love to consume stories that reflect them, stories that prove that we matter as a people”, says Mrs Helepi. She also states that on their first book launch, only 15 people attended and they’ve now grown to host events with over 250 attendees.

With an awareness that African people often feel alienated from books, particularly because our pockets present us with the option of choosing between spending money on books or basic needs and spurring on stereotypes that books are only reserved for specific people such as academics, African Flavour is trying to fix this by implementing a lay-by system whereby customers can buy books on installment.

Mr & Mrs Helepi wish to expand African Flavour to different parts of Africa, especially within townships and rural areas.

African Flavour is one of the spaces that affirms a famous African proverb that reads, “Until the lion starts telling their own stories, the hunters will always be the heroesand has actively shown that there are a number of lions who have written and are waiting for the community to find and embrace.