by Joe Vaz

From Issue 13 (Sept 2011)

In last month’s feature interview with Arthur C Clarke winner Lauren Beukes, she and I spoke briefly about the fact that some South African bookstores insist on placing SA books under their own “African” section. Neither one of us is a big fan of this practice and it got me thinking about what the possible motivation for this could be.

Though I am sure their reasoning is one of patriotism in highlighting all the books written by South Africans, the truth of it is they are kind of singling out books for your average consumer to avoid. Beukes calls it a kind of book Apartheid.

Case in point: it took me almost an hour to find this month’s feature interviewee, Diane Awerbuck’s book, Cabin Fever. I foolishly began my search under Fiction, I then looked under Science Fiction, that all-encompassing label that is given to any and everything that is not straight-out literary fiction (though, strangely, I’ve noticed that somehow Stephen King, that old master of horror, has migrated into the Fiction section). I even looked under the YA section before thinking to search in the African section.

It took a further ten minutes to find the African section (right next to the front entrance on the left – where you are guaranteed to walk straight past as you head for the huge display of Latest Releases – of which none are South African).

I finally did find Cabin Fever in the African section, along with Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City, SL Grey’s horror book The Mall (even though it was published in the UK) and Lily Herne’s Young Adult book Deadlands. I even found Bryce Courtney, JM Coetzee and Wilbur Smith there.

As I said, I’m sure the store’s intentions are honourable, but how many people know that Bryce Courtney (who’s lived in Australia for over 50 years) was once South African. If having once lived in South Africa is the criteria, then why aren’t Richard E Grant’s film diaries in there, alongside Richard Kunzmann’s crime fiction? By this logic, even Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings (he was born here you know) should be there.

How is it that the people marketing to South Africans have so little an understanding of the South African market?

South Africans, in general, tend to look down on locally produced product; yes, the critics and other local creators are supportive of our peers, but the public, the primary consumer base, is not.

I was in a cinema a year or so ago and a trailer came on for Hansie, a locally made film. It took a teenager three seats to my left all of thirty seconds to pipe up with, “I hate South African films.”

Why? Why did she say that? The trailer is as expertly cut as any US or UK film, the soundtrack is mixed and mastered correctly, the film quality and lighting are great. In fact there is nothing in that trailer that makes it stand out as a South African film, other than the accents and the fact that it is about a South African cricketer. So why was this girl so quick to judge that she “hates South African films”?

I have a theory…

Like any country, most of the local content we are exposed to is television, and our television programming has notoriously low budgets resulting in most of the shows being of pretty poor quality (no offence intended to the few that are excellent).

My theory is that consumers/viewers/readers believe that what they see on television is the base standard for all South African product, which of course it isn’t – in fact almost all South African product is better than our television.

The point I’m making though, is that most South Africans already have a prejudice in place about locally created products, so why in the name of Leon Schuster would you single out local content and mark it as such for all to see?

It is like branding a big red X on our books and movies, marking it clearly so the average consumer doesn’t have to waste his or her time on that product.

We don’t file books by UK authors under a British section, nor do we file US or Australian books that way, so why file English books written by English-speaking South Africans under African – it really is the equivalent of telling consumers: “Do Not Shop Here – head straight to the Fiction section for your books.”

Sarah Lotz said it at the launch of her debut novel, Pompidou Posse: “I’m a Brit living in Cape Town whose book takes place in Paris, but for some reason it’s filed under African literature.”

Local is Lekker has been a phrase so ingrained into our marketing systems for so long that it pretty much has become meaningless. Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that South African creators and marketers are immensely proud of local product and are trying to punt it as much as possible. I just feel the segregation of our product from everything else is doing it more harm than good. Personally, I think South African literature, music, film, animation and television should be judged on a level playing field. Throw it headfirst into general population with all other media and see how well it fares. I honestly think it will fare quite well. I think more consumers would purchase SA books, music and movies and enjoy them a whole lot more without the prejudiced notions that, if it’s local, it must be crap.

Just a thought.

But enough about that.

Time to get our teeth into our September Issue of Something Wicked.

I’m really excited about this one; we have some awesome stories for you this month. All four of this issue’s stories are never-before-published original fiction.

Starting off the batch is ‘Forge of The Soul’ by Jason Kahn, which takes us to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a small town about to be struck by fear and paranoia last seen around 40 years earlier, in another small town called Salem.

Next up we have another piece from Something Wicked alumni, Paul Marlowe, entitled ‘Cotton Avicenna B iv’ which takes us to the dingy back alleys of London one Victorian night, and features the founder of The Etheric Explorer’s club, (which features in ‘The Resident Member’), Rafe Maddox.

Scott Brendel’s ‘Groundswell of Love’ is about a rather unfortunate event, that, coupled with a momentary lapse of concentration, results in a pretty bleak (but surprisingly funny) outcome.

And to close off our month of original fiction we have a beautiful piece by Damien Filer, about a girl whose somewhat ill brother requires a life-changing favour from her, in ‘Herman’s Bad Seed’.

As previously mentioned, our Feature Interview for September is with Diane Awerbuck, award-winning author of Gardening At Night and Cabin Fever.

And that, along with our usual Writers Cornered interviews and two fantastic non-fiction pieces, is our issue for this month.

As usual, if you just can’t wait to sink in to Issue 13 you can download your copy right now for only $1.66 (about R12) by getting a subscription through Weightless Books. Single issues are also available from our online shop or Amazon.

Thanks for reading, and remember – if you’re fan, please consider getting a subscription for yourself or a friend, or simply tell everyone you know about us, we really need and truly appreciate your support.

Till next time…


9:18 am

Cape Town

25th of August 2011

Comments are closed.