How Esusu is About to Shape African Literature and African Reading Culture

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In recent times, the conversation about how Africans do not read has dwindled. There has been an explosion in the number of African literature published and also in the reading culture especially among African youths. Youths are no longer shy to be associated with books; many Facebook profiles these days read: “Writer. Avid Reader. Poet. Storyteller.” Reading (and writing) is no longer for an elite few, everyone now embraces it as cool. That’s why few months ago we gave some hacks on how to read more books in a year.

However there is a snag: despite this improved reading culture, we would expect that authors would be making more money, right? But this isn’t the case. There is the unavailability and the inability to purchase books especially current ones, making many find succor in e-books (consequently enabling piracy) against their better judgment.

It was this problem that made Sarah Mokwebo come up with “The Book Stokvel” initiative in South Africa because of a “recognized need to establish black spaces and black institutions”. With 14 friends Sarah started the initiative in 2018, and by this year the group has grown to 70 members.

Sarah Mokwebo
Credit: The Daily Vox

What is The Book Stovel?

Facebook Cover Photo, The Book Stokvel

This—uniquely a South African concept but very similar to the Nigerian esusu—is a kind of thrift cooperative where members contribute a fixed amount to a central fund. At the end of the month, following a roster, one member gets the money—not in cash, but in books. The money is usually used to purchase and courier the books to the month’s recipient.

Books purchased by the Stokvel in May 2019
Credit: The Book Stokvel Facebook Page

Members contribute a sum of R250 where R200 goes to the purchase of books while R50 is used for covering operational costs such as courier services. Members have the choice on which books they want for the month, and all books are bought from black-owned stores, suppliers and vendors.

Another beautiful thing about The Book Stokvel is that each month the books come with colourful bookmarks containing an intriguing quote from the book and its summary at the back. Sarah said the bookmarks are meant to profile African Literature from classic to recent ones.

A bookmark by The Book Stokvel for Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood
Credit: The Book Stokvel Facebook Page

Since the thrift cooperative is a concept already popular in many countries in Africa, The Book Stokvel is an initiative that should be easily replicated across Africa because it benefits are boundless both for us, as readers and authors, as promoters of the African story.

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