Literary Magic at the Soweto Book Café

by | May 8, 2023 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Markets/Shopping, Soweto, Townships/Informal Settlements | 12 comments

Last Saturday Thorsten and I went to a launch of Eve Fairbanks’ new book, The Inheritors, at the Soweto Book Café. I was excited because: 1) Eve and I have been friends for years and I was keen to hear some discussion about her award-winning book, which tells the story of modern South Africa in a very unique way; and 2) I had never been to, or even heard of, the Soweto Book Café (SBC), but I had a feeling it was something special. And it was.

Eva Fairbanks book launch at the Soweto Book Cafe
Eve Fairbanks (center) in conversation with writer Sipho Hlongwane (right) at SBC.

Getting to SBC is an iconic Soweto experience: We wound through the city (Soweto is technically part of Joburg but it’s really a city unto itself) to Zondi, a township smack in the middle of Soweto, and had a few inevitable GPS hiccups along the way. SBC is right beside a main artery but not accessible to that road by car, so we looped around on narrow side streets to get there. Like many Soweto small businesses, SBC is in a residential neighborhood with no sign on the outside.

We parked at the end of a haphazard cul-de-sac; walked past a pile of rubble through the open garage door, into the house; climbed a hidden staircase; and entered a roughly hexagonal, magical book universe.

Staircase up to the Book Café
The stairwell up to SBC, stacked with colorful books, provides a hint of what’s to come.
Inside the Soweto Book Cafe
Inside the book universe.

SBC is a first-floor (second-floor, if you’re American) addition to a formerly single-story family home, surrounded by a brick balcony with big, round windows that act as portholes into the surrounding township. I was enchanted.

Thorsten sketch of SBC
I didn’t have time to photograph the outside of SBC. But @theThinking_Hand, as he often does, came to the rescue with his sketches.
Balcony surrounding the Book Café
Part of the balcony.
Looking out over Zondi
Looking out over Zondi.
Zondi portholes
I love the portholes.

About the Soweto Book Café

Soweto resident Thami Mazibuko founded SBC in 2018, a couple of years after he moved back to Zondi from downtown Joburg and realized he and his neighbors desperately needed a place to access books. Books are expensive and hard to come by in South Africa, as are libraries and locally owned bookstores (or any bookstores) — especially in townships.

Thami Mazibuko
The book legend himself, Thami Mazibuko.

Thami started out with his own small collection of books, then gradually grew his stock through donations and relationships with local publishers. Thami and his assistant, Xolani Mahlangu, now stock thousands of books of all kinds: pop fiction, Western classics, African literature, reference books, text books, travel books, books in multiple South African languages. SBC became not just a bookshop but a library, book distributor, book club venue, study hall, and event space for the surrounding community.

Bookshelf at SBC
One of many heaving bookshelves at SBC.
Book I bought from SBC
The book I bought, which I’m excited to read and add to my collection of African travel memoirs.

SBC was perfect for the launch The Inheritors, a large portion of which takes place in Meadowlands (a Soweto township close to Zondi). The launch was well attended by a diverse, engaged crowd and Thorsten and I were so glad we went.

Inheritors book launch
One more shot of the launch.

I can’t recommend the Soweto Book Café enough — keep an eye on their social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) for announcements about future events.

The Soweto Book Café is at 1023 Mafumbu Street, Zondi, Soweto.


  1. dizzylexa

    Looks interesting and what a great place to do a book launch. I have befriended a number of guys at Hospice who are there regularly and buy boxes of books, they are very secretive about what they do with all the books but now I hope that they have set up similar Book Café’s in other areas, I’ll need to ask them again.

  2. Nancy McDaniel

    Ooh, this sounds like an interesting book. I will look to see if it is available in the USA. (And SBC sounds wonderful – and important)

    • 2summers

      Oh yes, it definitely is! Published by Simon & Schuster – you’ll love it 🙂

    • 2summers

      Yep, that’s the book!

  3. Jill Cammarata

    Looks fabulous… too bad we missed it…

    • 2summers

      I’m sure there will be more 🙂

  4. AutumnAshbough

    The place is cool from its inception (fulfilling a community need) all the way through the huge porthole windows!

    • 2summers

      Agreed, it’s ridiculously cool.

  5. Brenda Reiss

    Very interesting book! Not only is it available in the USA but (sorry Eve!) I got it a couple of months back from the Seattle Public Library


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