Tuesday, 11 October 2016


Speech by Pule Lechesa on the occasion

Ladies and gentlemen!

As you all know my brief is to depict the role of commercial publishers in production and dissemination of literature.  

Once again, I am a very proud man as I stand here on this occasion,
which celebrates books and publishing generally. Not many people have
their dreams in life come true, but I am gratified that my early
tantalising dreams of becoming a writer, and even a publisher to boot,
has come to fruition over the years.

Nevertheless, one must admit that the world of books - writing,
creating, bringing books out, marketing and even the critical response
(if any) is often perturbing especially here in Africa. South Africa
is lucky in that our infrastructure is quite developed compared to
most other African countries, but a lot still has to be done.

As a youngster and growing up I derived infinite
satisfaction from going to our libraries in the eastern Free State and
savouring the hundreds of 'African books' there, mainly the creative
imaginative ones and the poetry. At the time I might not have been
aware that this largesse was actually prompted by the vision and
acuity of the major publishers, the so-called commercial publishers who
distributed their tantalising books far and wide. 

It was later that I began to do some research on the superb major publishers responsible for most of these books: mainly the Heinemann African Writers Series,
and the Macmillan Pacesetters Series. These were awesome publishers
indeed who did literary wonders for our continent!

Heinemann of course published all the great names, the world class
writers from Africa over the decades. Such illustrious names include, to mention but a few:
Ngugi oa Thiongo, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Dambuzo Marechera, Kofi Awoonor, Ayi Kwei Armah, Mongo Beti and Oyono.

As for the 'Pacesetters' their influence has been fantastic too over the

‘The Macmillan Pacesetter Series was a tremendous fillip for African
reading, literature and literacy during the "good old days"... the
books were so popular, so physically attractive and compelling,
relatively cheap to buy; and the disparate stories (novels) appealed
to a wide spectrum of people. Young and not-so young people read the
new titles as they were churned out, with talented authors from all
over the African continent. Male and female. Arguably, the books under
the series were even more popular than the Heinemann African Writers
series. Alas, all good things (often!) come to an end, and so it was
with both series'.

As modern writers and publishers we must move ahead with the times, as
there are infinite advantages we have now which was not the case in
the past; the invention and the explosion of the internet for
example. We must make sure our books are distributed fairly well and
not undermine the critics.

We must have our books being discussed on google books, and
particularly goodreads which has now become a phenomenon. Alas a very
large number of African books (especially those published in Africa) are hardly discussed - or even mentioned - on the gargantuan goodreads. We must all combine to do something about this so that African books can
garner some primacy too.

In South Africa this year we have seen how the celebrated young
entrepreneur and writer, Tebogo Ditshego has pulled out all the stops
to ensure his debut book, Kasi Nerd is a success. He has personally
mobilised lots of youth in Gauteng to buy and read his book, even
forming reading clubs to boost his book and others...that is the way
to go.

We can't be supine and give in to the usual despair
encapsulated in the phrase "blacks would rather not read" It is a lie.
I have been reading books all my life! Also the likes of writers
Lebohang Thaisi, Teboho Letshaba, Kamogelo Seekoie, and Mpikeleni Duma have been reading and buying books
since they were kids.

When I was doing my research before writing the biography of the legendary writer Dr. K.P.D. Maphalla I talked to his son, Setjhaba Maphalla who is now the Director of communication in Premier’s office. He told me that when he was young he was forced to read as his father had converted one of his rooms into a private library. We must follow suit and inculcate the culture of reading in our children from when they are still young.

It must be admitted that the
escalating costs of producing books has stultified the proliferation
of reading especially for leisure in Africa. That is why on my own
part I will always appreciate the gargantuan  efforts of the Free State
Provincial Library led by Mama Jacomien Schimper in buying countless thousands of not only African works (over the decades) but also the many titles written and published by "local" FS writers too. Certainly my own
publishing firms benefitted from this for about a decade now!!!

As publishers we must continue to boost literacy and
literature, and not only encourage, but also publish our own talented
writers. I am very proud that I was the first to publish the highly
talented Ladybrand-born novelist, George Rampai. The ideal would have
been for most of our pertinent youth to read or even study his novel,
From where I stand; but this is the type of target publishers must aim
at. (note pix above of Lechesa (right) and ace novelist, George Rampai)

We have under our stable the legendary all time great of Sesotho Literature Dr. K.P.D. Maphalla whose books can be enjoyed for pleasure and for study at schools and universities. Publishing him was a great blessing and we will always be grateful to him for having added weight to the reputation of our humble publishing house. 

My publishing firm also proudly published a major works such as,
Interviews with effervescent writers which added to the limited corpus
of works on interviews with African wordsmiths. I am always filled
with exhilaration when I see the book being compared by eclectic
scholars to such kindred international works like Talking with African
, and African Writers Talking. The book is already stocked in
many major international libraries in America and Europe.

How do we bring down the costs - and eventual price - of books? This is a
cardinal issue which we have to address particularly in Africa. I
remember when I visited west Africa I kept on seeing improvised
booksellers by the side of the roads hawking their literary wares!.
Yet they kept on complaining: "It is a pity that local books are too
expensive...they sell very slowly as most people cannot afford them,"

It is a crying shame when one acknowledges the fact that so
many of our people who genuinely relish reading and indeed stocking up
their private libraries (at home) cannot afford to do so. Hence we
come back to the extraordinary significance of libraries...

I am always proud to state wherever I am whether home or abroad, that the
Free State Library Service is easily one of the best in Africa. The
vision, goodwill, the brilliance of key personnel of our libraries
here is extraordinary. And it has been so for decades. Our libraries
tell comprehensive stories vividly, straddling the decades - via the
panoply of books!  Hence, publishers must have a symbiotic
relationship with libraries, starting with the local librarians. (below, exuberant marchers at the occasion)


  1. A superb speech indeed. Even in Nigeria here we appreciate the approach and knowledge of literary greats like Ogbuefi Lechesa

  2. Mr Lechesa, former protege, is proficient, master of cornucopia of literary essays and speeches. That he can still improvise and pull veritable rabbits out of the hat as he does here, gladdens the scintillating literary soul

  3. Without books - real physical books that delighted the world for centuries - any modern literature would be counterfeit, and never the real thing

  4. Without books, how will we know the other African stories? without books the world will be deadly walking, and people will be talking no-sense no scene.Mr Lechesa outline the importance of books, from writers, publishers,book prices, libraries and distributions of books to reach number of people to read the quality work.You continue to ensure that literature grows with good quality and continue with your great job Ntate to produce powerful writers like Ntate Rampai. Tebogo Ditshego is one of the good example as well in terms of the growth of literature and turn it to business wisely. Pula nala.