A knowledge hub is flourishing in Gugulethu, a community outside of Cape Town, and it’s filling up with books and other excitements! Lumkile’s Book Joint welcomes literary and arts enthusiasts to enjoy the various events now being planned (yet not launched officially until January 2021) and advertised on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Lumkiles-Book-Joint-100902251589038.
His three car garage attached to his house has become an indoor living room that breathes books on limited wall shelves; more books are in storage. Upon arriving at NY22, House No 32, one parks on the sidewalk of this narrow residential street. Lumkile greets me with hands caked with flour. The smell of scones baking is soon followed by their steaming hot presentation with coffee as we sit down to chat. Lumkile Mzukwa, otherwise a senior manager during the day with PRASA inter-city railways, exhibits his enthusiasm for creating a cultural renaissance, the likes to which he references “The Harlem Renaissance” which was a telling intellectual, social, and artistic explosion of African-American culture centred in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, during the 1920s. A long table with benches is surrounded by couches for reading or discussions or meetings that may emerge. Two year old son, Ziniti, runs his toy car along the book shelves, passing notable titles of books that could fit on the ‘twenty best’ or the ‘ten best’ books of the year somewhere or sometime ago.
Twenty eight years ago, the young Lumkile started collecting books, buying his first new book for Rands 35 in 1991, The Theory and Practice of Black Resistance to Apartheid: A social-ethical analysis, by Mokgethi Motlhabi.
Fast forward to our past decade, Lumkile wants to ‘burst the bubble’ around formidable individual libraries. One immediately sees how his impressive collection has focused on content and knowledge about important, ground-breaking events, people and leaders, histories, and political domestic and international issues of note. These are timeless books, appropriate resources as references and for analyses in any discussions about weighted issues of the day.
“This is the kind of library you would get in Obama’s or Clinton’s house, or Christopher Kitchen’s home. Captains of Industry would have this type of library. So my Book Joint is an example of quality collections, not just the ordinary. It gives an example of what Black people can aspire to, and collect, and get excited about, seeing one of their own with such a passion. Now, we have a tangible example of what it means to collect books and to make your own personal library. It’s something we will forever talk about in terms of relating to our children and each other as individuals”…..
How will this cultural hub unfold in Cape Town’s Gugulethu post COVID-19? On one Friday evening recently, I enjoyed a ‘Tiny Desk’ sort of musical concert with home-grown Gugulethu jazz trumpeter Blacks Tempi and his quintet. That next day, the Book Joint sponsored a book sale.
We talked about the high cost of buying books. Why would someone buy a book when The Book Joint has it? How could books be shared? This would be a perfect opportunity for a book club. Many ideas were flung about. But it’s a private book collection.
“My Initial concern is that books get stolen. People who enter this space get excited and want to take a book to borrow. And if borrowed, the book would be misused. I have stories of losing my books. Practically 95% of them were bought from the second hand shops, like CAFDA.”
So what activities would work to promote a culture of reading and cultivating knowledge? A book club? Reading sessions? Theme days? Musical events? Vinyl discussion evenings? Afternoon jazz and wine sessions? Talks and presentations with various leaders and intellectuals?
“Yes, the list is long. These activities are innovative and impressive. But for now, it’s planning and ideas in the making that preoccupy my team and me.”
And what about the sustainability of the Book Joint?
“I need accountability, and am happy to take donations. But I still want this private. I want to build a top story to expand the space, but I don’t have an NGO mindset yet for the Book Joint. We are planning now: There will be daily activities, like a Monday business talk, Tuesday Book Joint tunes with something like creative art and paintings, Wednesday Black lecturers’ night, Thursday Taste of Jazz; Friday for eating meat/braai and socializing to include inviting a leader for a chat, like Thabo Mbeki, or a Friday food fair to taste various foods displayed by people. Saturday a book sale. Maybe Sunday afternoon live jazz and wine or listening to the old jazz vinyls. The jazz events could take a life of their own with partnership with Jazz in the Native Yards.”
As Lumkile talked, my thinking kept coming back to how that Elon Musk book on the shelf could be used with, let’s say, five people, without the book having to leave the premises. How do you work with a book?
“Yeh, I think part of it is to think about what does this space mean to the people looking from inside in, so whatever we do , we tune it right, so that we cater to what people want to see. Do you want people to see this space as a formidable club for sharing a book, or do you want them to see the Book Joint as a diverse space, to play tunes, buy books, talk and hold discussions with important people? On the top floor, I envision, for instance, a bean bag corner and a coffee depot where small groups can to chew and chill on a book. It becomes a social, cultural, intellectual space working all the time, oozing impressions: book sale, book review, live music, vinyl listening, certain people known to come around.”
“I hope to have a Book Joint movement across the country to promoter affordable book sales and reading culture. We have started with hosting book fairs right here. Our second sale day last week was bigger than the first one, and this shows interest is growing for books. All events are listed on our Facebook page, and we’ll have another sale at end of October. CAFDA and other book sellers bring their books for sale. I want to be able to present “100 best books” in X, Y, Z themes. Books today are written referencing what is already known from past writings. There’s nothing new. But I want my daughter or son who is coming off of matric, for instance, to be able to access the writer of a contemporary book, to be exposed to his or her insights. But for somebody like me who is well read, Nadine Gordimer is enough in terms of the whole South African landscape.”
“We will officially function when we launch the Book Joint – in Jan 2021. Our team wants to make sure we have ongoing activities now till then which government can see, as a build up to the launch. A Brochure will give details about how to enjoy the Book Joint – day activities, talks in the evening, etc. How to pay for these activities and have a membership – all this information will be there.”
More questions remain than answers as we watch this space grow, exciting the locals and visitors with a myriad of activities in this truly African hub. Check the Lumkile Book Joint Facebook page. And just maybe Lumkile will have a self-published version of his 39+ poems for sale!!