Welcome to Week 43 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit African Flavour Books, with locations in Vanderbijlpark and Braamfontein.
UPDATE (2020): African Flavour Books’ Braamfontein shop has closed, and the owners have been accused of serious misconduct. Learn more here.
Word of new local bookstores travels fast in Johannesburg. I started hearing about African Flavour Books, which sells primarily African literature with a hint of African-American mixed in, the moment they opened their shop in Braamfontein.
I visited the new Braamfontein shop for the first time a couple of weeks ago and scored a copy of Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland for the rock-bottom sale price of R80. (That’s about $5.75 for a brand-new paperback!) The shop is bright and cheerful, with a fantastic selection of books and an adorable section for kids to sit and read. I fell in love instantly.
The Story of African Flavour Books
As I was making my purchase I fell into conversation with Fortiscue (aka Fort) Helepi, the owner, and learned that while the Braamfontein shop just opened, African Flavour itself is not new. Fort and his wife, Nokuthula (aka Eve), actually started their business a few years ago when they opened the first African Flavour shop in Vanderbijlpark.
As soon as those words came out of Fort’s mouth, I started planning my journey. Marie-Lais and I trekked to Vanderbijlpark a few days later.
Vanderbijlpark (don’t ask me to pronounce it aloud) is in the Vaal, about an hour south of Joburg, in a part of Gauteng that Americans would refer to as “the boonies”. It’s certainly not the first place one would expect to find an independently owned, all-African bookshop.
But Fort and Eve are from the Vaal and they had a dream to encourage a love of books and reading in their own community. So they opened their store in a nondescript shopping center in Vanderbijlpark and refused to listen to their landlord when he predicted they would close down within six months.
The landlord was wrong. In fact, African Flavour in the Vaal became so popular, so quickly, that people started traveling there from Joburg to buy books. Within a few years, the Helepis were doing well enough to open their second shop in Braamfontein. The couple quit their day jobs (Fort used to be an engineer) and now pursue book-selling full time.
Fort describes the Vaal shop as more of a “beginner” store than the Braamfontein shop, with more books available for new readers. There are more school books, business books, and nonfiction in the Vaal, compared with a larger selection of literary fiction in Braamfontein. The Vaal shop also has a selection of local music and films, a larger children’s section, and a special spot called “Eve’s Corner” with all of Eve’s personal recommendations.
I love everything about this story. Also, books aren’t dead. Please support these beautiful bookstores and the beautiful people who own them.
African Flavour’s Vaal store is at Shop 16, Vaal Walk Shopping Centre, Corner DF Malan & F W Beyers Street, Vanderbijlpark. African Flavour’s Joburg store is at 20 Melle Street, Braamfontein. Call +27-16-931-0068 (Vanderbijlpark) or +27-86-538-2548 (Braamfontein).