Lumkile Mzukwa, who has been collecting books since he was a teenager, is sharing his collection of more than 2 000 books through Lumkile’s Book Joint.
The 50-year-old Gugulethu resident converted his garage into an informal library and community space in January so that he could share his vast collection with those who love to read. By extension, he created a space schoolchildren could use to do their homework and study.
Mzukwa’s love of books became apparent when he was in high school. He bought his first book, Black Resistance to Apartheid, at a Cafda bookshop in Claremont in 1991. The bookstores generate income for the Cape Flats Development Association, which has been in existence since 1944.
Since then, he has not stopped buying books. “Today, I have more than 2 000 books. I have books here that you will never find in the library. I have a collection of classics from the 1960s.
“For years I have been reading these books alone. And that is why I have finally decided to share them with other readers from anywhere in the world. That is how this book joint was born,” said Mzukwa.
The thought first came to him in 2014, when Mzukwa realised he had too many books. With so many, he could easily start a library, he thought. On 13 February 2019, he started to convert his garage, a process he said was a worthwhile challenge.
An autobiography of Malcolm X and a book on Xhosa history greet you as you enter the space. These books are on a makeshift stand next to five shelves not far from the door. A long reading table and chairs separate the two main sets of shelves further down, on which a variety of books are neatly packed.
Paging through the books, Mzukwa said, “I’m an extremely slow reader, but I’m a fast collector. That is why I have so many books. Because I’m a slow reader, I spend most of the time here. I don’t watch TV. I grew up that way.”
Mzukwa had planned to launch Lumkile’s Book Joint on 27 April, Freedom Day, but that didn’t happen because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The coronavirus, having ravaged the city of Wuhan in China and many places in Europe, spread to other parts of the world, including South Africa.
The World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic on 11 March and in response, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on 23 March that the country would be placed under lockdown for 21 days to control the spread of infection and give South Africa time to prepare for the pandemic.
Gatherings were banned under the initial lockdown regulations, which were scheduled to end on 16 April. But the number of Covid-19 cases kept increasing, leading the president to extend the initial lockdown by another two weeks. He then implemented five levels of an ongoing lockdown, with varying regulations. In line with level three regulations, Mzukwa was able to host a small group of people on 5 June to celebrate Youth Month, with plans to officially launch the space on 16 June, Youth Day.
Admirers of his initiative include Thandi Gqiba from Langa, who writes short stories in isiXhosa and English. Gqiba met Mzukwa through his Facebook page. “We wanted to see the launch through, but we had to adhere to the lockdown rules,” said Gqiba about the initial postponement.
“I am a regular at Abantu Book Festival held in the first week of December in Soweto. I also attend Franschhoek [Literary Festival], but this is what we always needed. Johannesburg is very far. In Franschhoek, you can feel that I do not belong here. This is where we will have a sense of ownership. This is long overdue,” she said.
‘Flying the Gugulethu flag’
Gugulethu parent Nondumiso Pikashe salutes Mzukwa. “I can already see this spreading throughout the continent. He is flying [the] Gugulethu flag high. This will reignite the spark of reading within me. It will inspire the youth to read.”
Pikashe has known Mzukwa for 10 years and said she noticed then already that he was someone who wanted to get things done. “This is a realisation of his dream.”
Even Covid-19 couldn’t stop Mzukwa from realising his dream. “This is the first book joint in Africa. The only thing that comes close to it is the book cafes in Belgium, Israel, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia … This is history.”
His initiative may not be the only one of its kind on the continent, but he has always wanted to use his collection of books for the benefit of society, in particular the youth. “I want them to incorporate reading in their lifestyle. Reading books is good for their health. They will realise that leaders are readers.”