We in South Africa have an environment so incredibly rich and complex and strange that, even if a writer lacked the superlative gifts, he could still with reasonable ones write a story which would excite the interest of the outside world."

-- Alan Paton, 1956

The English language publishers closest to everyone's heart in South Africa are David and Marie Philip, who began David Philip Publishers in 1971 during the darkest days of censorship. Their writers have included Alan Paton and Nadine Gordimer, Desmond Tutu and Ben Okri, Mongare Wally Serote and Breyten Breytenbach. Consequently they have endured constant harassment under the Nationalist government and their younger daughter was once detained in solitary confinement for three weeks. But they persisted and today have a flourishing business, publishing their own titles and distributing those of overseas and local publishers.

When PW visited this remarkable couple at their Cape Town home in June, their authors had just swept South Africa's Sunday Times Alan Paton Awards for nonfiction writing with a first for The Calling of Katie Makanya by Margaret McCord and two of the three runners up: Bessie Head: Thunder Behind Her Ears by Gillian Stead Eilersen and A Life by Mamphela Ramphele.

Rope of Sand a history of the Zulu nation by John Laband was the third runner-up, from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

"All these stories were by women, writing about women," Marie Philip notes. "There was never much of that before. Women are the most repressed people on this continent, but we have a saying here, 'Strike the women and you strike a rock.' And it is true. These are remarkable stories."

In 1995, the English Academy of Southern Africa awarded its medal to David and Marie Philip for their great contribution to English literature in South Africa, the first time a publisher had won the award. While many of the old oppositional publishers, assistent by various NGO's during the apartheid years, have now lost both their funding and their sense of purpose, the Philips are enjoying an expansion.

"The role of the oppositional publisher d sn't disappear just because the government changes," Philip argues. He wrote in LOGOS in 1991, "Publishers of integrity are or ought to be endemically independent, always prepared to give voice to criticism of the establishment, always the supporters of freedom and creativity, holding open the doors for discussion and debate."

"There is a lot to do," they both tell PW now, with youthful enthusiasm. Besides having republished titles that were banned during the apartheid years, many of which are being picked up in high school and university courses, their list includes new fiction, biographies and memoirs, history, religion and politics, much of it co-published abroad with a variety of partners.

"Like most publishers in a small market," says David Philip, "we have to do a variety of publishing to stay alive...we run the gamut from academic titles, to trade books to children's titles...we try to publish any good book that comes along. School prescriptions are transforming our financial situation, however," Philip smiles.

The Philips concede that the new political situation still feels like "a miracle...The time for our books has come, and now we can compete, especially in the new educational departments. So we are repositioning ourselves in the company. We want to work on what we can do best, making books, instead of constantly dealing with the financial cliffhangers we had in the past."

Publishing and marketing functions are securely in the hands of Executive Directors Russell Martin and Bridget Impey, respectively. As agents and/or distributors for US and UK publishers and for many South African publishers and NGO's, the Philips can synergize the marketing and distribution functions, not to mention rights arrangements. They never miss a Frankfurt. This year they celebrate their 25th anniversary as a firm and their 20th Frankfurt.

While few other "oppositional" publishers in the country can claim financial independence and profitability, some have found new homes in larger companies, who encourage their creativity and vision in finding the right books for South Africa's needs.

Ravan Press Pty Ltd (not to be confused with the medical publishers, Raven Press in New York) was one of the very bright lights of the oppositional publishing decades and they are still distributed by David Philip in the Cape and Natal regions of the country. The company, named for its founders Peter Randall, Danie van Zyl and Beyers Naude operated as the Ravan Trust, with the proceeds reinvested into new projects. In 1994 majority ownership went to Hodder & Stoughton Educational Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd who also own Baobab Books in Zimbabwe.

Glenn Moss has left the company to do consulting and Monica Seeber is now General Manager, as well as the rep for APNET in South Africa. (See Resources list.)

The company launched the Black Review in the 70's and published Ric Turner's The Eye of the Needle as well as J.M. C tzee's first novel, Dusklands and James Matthews' Cry Rage. In the 80's they began writing the histories of both the people and the political movements of South Africa, from a non-Eurocentric context and that gives them a head start now.

"Our new Voices from Robben Island has done very well," says Seeber. "And we are focusing now on nation-building subjects, including business books, interfacing between labor and business. We did Managing Change and Building A Winning Nation both with consultancy specialists. We're also looking at children's titles."

Children's publishing also started early at Ravan, primarily literacy materials, and they have wroked closely with the READ Trust in this regard.

Ohio University Press has been their exclusive rep for USA and Canada for many years and Marketing Manager Bonnie Rand reports that this year sales have been "wonderfully successful. Their title, Apartheid's Genesis has sold as well as any book we have published," she told PW. "Ravan is also re-issuing some of their books under the series, Ravan Writers and we are getting those into the trade. This kind of success if very rewarding."

Ohio also works with David Philip and Witswatersrand and have new project with Skotaville at the moment. (Unfortunately, PW was unable to reach Skotaville for an interview.)

Seventy-five years old next year, the prestigious Witwatersrand University Press has theatre arts and African studies among their biggest publishing areas. Their Black Writers Series includes drama, p try and essays in the various African languages, says Press Director Franscois (sic) McHardy. They have also reissued selected papers from their journal, African Studies, founded in 1923 and a pioneer in the field for the first half of this century.

"Half of our publishing effort today is co-publishing with North American and UK presses," McHardy reports. "They are trying hard to support us now, especially with the weak rand and printing costs that are through the ceiling here."

Among a handful of stallwart independents, John Duarte runs COSAW (Congress of South African Writers) which seeks the copublishing and distribution of new writers in South Africa. A kind of PEN for the country, they represent 350 writers and publishers and during the late 80's when many writers were struggling, COSAW was there for them.

"Now the whole scenario is changing," says Duarte. "There are more competitors for their work now, and we are very quickly running out of publishing funds. We are looking for any form of help we can get. One of the directions I want to explore is children literature, of international quality and novels, adult fiction and children's fiction...things that will find a home in South Africa but be of international interest as well for co-publishing."

P try is not something one thinks of as financially viable these days but p t and literary critic Peter Horn at the University of Cape Town is keeping the genre alive here by published on the internet. His website, South African P try, funded by UCT, includes the works of other COSAW members. Horn helped found the organization in 1987 and before that ran a p try journal from 1966 to 1974.

"I had to learn quite a bit about design on the web," he told PW. "but I am encouraged. I get response from all over the world. It's wonderful."

Most literary successes however are from big companies absorbing little ones.

Nasionale B khandel Chief Executive Helgaard Raubenheimer reports significant new business for the company with the development of their English language publishing program. They first acquired Jonathan Ball Publishers and then 100% of HarperCollins Publishers South Africa in 1994.

Under the imprints Jonathan Ball and Ad. Donker they published 40 titles last year, among them Mask of Freedom by Peter Wilhelm and In No Uncertain Terms by Helen Suzman, as well as a best-selling guide to South Africa. Jonathan Ball still runs the company which he founded, the HarperCollins lines and reps UK publishers such as Orion, Headline, Bloomsbury, BBC and Pavillion.

"HarperCollins UK is our cornerstone, now, with South African titles as an adjunct," he told PW. "We also do biographies and black p try because it is important, culturally. We hope it will be commercially important later."

With his mass market list, Ball also has supermarket distribution in South Africa and can take advantage of the big Leisure Book Club that is part of the Nasionale group.

"Even with such extension distribution programs, sales volumes here are still small by international standards." Ball warns. "Lead authors like Jeffrey Archer and Sidney Sheldon sell 30-40,000 here in paperback. I am watching the new retail chains and retail developments in general with interest."

Two brothers, Gerry and Pieter Struik, each have a company dedicated to celebrating South Africa in handsome four-color oversized titles, but in very different ways. Gerry Struik's Struik Publishing Company dominates the market, in fact most of Africa.

The Hans H fer of Africa, Struik focuses on the middle class market. His large list includes Natural History, but also Gardening, Do It Yourself, Crafts and Cookery and Family Health. Children's books in picture reference subjects are created especially for the young Southern African naturalist. There is also a Christian publishing section and a cartographic section producing a wide range of maps and street directories.

Their guides and maps for the international market, the Globetrotter Travel Series, is rapidly growing, according to Gerry and sells in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe and the USA.

"Our strategy is illustrated general books on a world-wide basis," Struik says simply. "And while 60% of our turnover is still in Africa, the 40% overseas is growing rapidly. In five years I think it will be 60/40 the other way."

So important is this world market that Struik is moving to Australia this summer to oversee his latest purchase, National Book Distributors, now renamed New Holland Publishers (Australia).

"Australia is five times the size of South Africa, in terms of tourists and book buyers," he reasons. "Here we are the market leaders. There, we can grow."

From Australia, Struik will continue to control all group operations, including New Holland Publishers (UK) based in London, leaving behind a staff of 200 in Cape Town, including group Managing Director John Sch man.

Brother Pieter Struik is content with his small Fernwood Press.

"We're niche publishers, selling to a traditional book buyer, the serious naturalist of Southern Africa," he says quietly. "We're not geared to book clubs or price points." Struik prints in Singapore, but you won't find his books in the USA, yet.

You will find Southern Book Publishers, whose MD Basil van Rooyen is currently the PASA Chairman. Born of a marriage between Macmillan UK and Hodder & Stoughton, each of whom had 50% interest, Southern was bought in 1990 by a consortium led by van Rooyen. Last year van Rooyen sold the academic division to International Thomson, so he could concentrate on the trade list and redeveloping an overseas representation.

Like so many Afrikaans speakers, van Rooyen is a lover of words. It is ironic that his company is,after Struik, the largest publisher of English trade books in the country. Natural history is a special topic, including illustrated books, field and travel guides. Two of their books for this year, Africa's Vanishing Wildlife and Running Wild: Dispelling the Myths of the African Wild Dog are being co-published in the United States by the Smithsonian. Their flagship title, Newman's Birds of Southern Africa is copublished by Florida University Press and another Newman bird product is being launched in October, the first fully home-grown interactive CD-ROM for the consumer market.

Southern also has a directory publishing arm. On the distribution side they handle American, British and Australian products in South Africa, including National Geographic, NTC Contemporary, Chelsea House and Merriam-Webster.

Literature in African Languages

As out of fashion as the Afrikaans language might be because of its connections to apartheid, it is first language to more people in South Africa than English. Fiction in Afrikaans sell five times as well as in English and the Afrikaans literature is indisputably the best body of indigenous writing the continent has so far produced.

Two of the biggest general books publishers in Afrikaans, Tafelburg and Human & Rousseau, are now owned by the Nasionale Pers group. Tafelberg recorded its highest profit in a long history in 1995, and has some 1500 books in its catalog and some 4000 on the backlist, according to General Manager J.J. Labuschagne.

About a third of the list is non-fiction. All the adult fiction is an Afrikaans, with most of the great names represented, among them Andre Brink, Willem D. Kotze, Elsa Joubert, Marita van der Vyver and Etienne van Heerden. There are a variety of awards given for Africaans literature and Tafelburg laps them up. Now, African writers are being encouraged.

They are co-publishing The Day GoGo Meets Grandmother by South Africa author Eleanor Sisulu, originally published by Little, Brown. "Little, Brown kindly accepted a low royalty and a low advance so we can get the book out to the maximum number of people here," says children's books Chief Editor Louise Steyn. "We will also have it translated into all the major South African languages."

Finding appropriate literature for the African languages, however, is a basic part of the problem, according to Pamella Maseko, a black editor for Tafelberg in Cape Town.

"We should be going out and looking for authentic stories, instead of just translating from the English and Afrikaans," she says. "But it is difficult to get such material into publishable form. So we start with the traditional stories that everyone knows, and translate them into all the languages.We need much more creative, informative original work."

Human & Rousseau, which began about the same time as Tafelberg, the late fifties, has an even bigger list and developed its reputation with Andre Brink and Etienne LeRoux and Karel Sch man. They have since become the leading publisher of children's and cookery books and non-fiction pictorials in Afrikaans, though they still win awards for their literary work, as well.

Queillerie Publishers was founded by Hettie Scholtz in 1992. Frederik de Jager, a fiction editor at Tafelberg, came on board as a minor partner in 1994. An Afrikaans media group, Penta Publications bought a majority interest in the firm in 1995 and today de Jager is MD.

There are 42 titles on the list and the company expects to exceed R1 million in turnover by the end of the fiscal year. Two Queillerie titles have won international recognition this year. The NOMA (Japan) Award for African Literature went to Triomf by Marlene van Niekerk (still being translated into English) and Mark Behr's The Smell of Apples, which has gained international success in English translation from the original Afrikaans. The Blake Friedmann Literary Agency in London represents many Queillerie authors.

Andre Brink has recently edited for them a "day in the life" series of essays by writers on Election Day 94, some in English, some in Afrikaans. Part of the proceeds of the book went to the South African Red Cross Society. This was followed by a sequel, writers' reactions one year later.

While de Jager will be going to Frankfurt for the first time this year, he finds the Zimbabwe Internatonal Book Fair very heartwarming. "Like a big picnic...and Harare reveals the market of the future."

"There is a new world energy here," de Jager continues. "Compare our strong, powerful language today to the USA literature. We are hoping for great literature to come out of our struggle for independence, as it did in the USA. And fortunately we are now attracting both established writers and new talent."

de Jager admits that publishing in Afrikaans is easier than in English in South Africa. "You are competing with the rest of the world when you publishing in English," he reasons.

The international publishers, too, want to get linked to this new Africaans literature. Stephen Johnson, former president of PASA and MD of Random House South Africa (Pty) Ltd plans a new local publishing program in 1997. Formerly MD of the retail chain Exclusive Books, Johnson joined Random House four years ago.

"The disproportionately high percentage of internationally renowned writers coming out of South Africa in the last 40 years vindicates my belief in the existence of many new exciting voices of similar quality for the future. There are new Laurens van der Post's, JM C tzee's and Andre Brink's out there and we want to find and publish them locally. And we must do them in whatever language has commercial potential."

Random House has published periodically in its 30 years in South Africa, but it is primarily a sales and marketing operation, 100% owned by Random House UK Ltd. In addition to the group lists from London and New York, Johnson represents Walker Books, Victor Gollancz, Helicon and John Murray.

The London office has published several South African authors already, in English, including Nadine Gordimer, Wole Soyinka, Niki Daly and N l Mostert. The SA company has published local satirist Pieter Dirk Uys, Olive Schreiner and most recently Harvey Tyson.

John Allen, MD of The Penguin Group SA, launched their local publishing operation 11 years ago. While 80-85% of their material originates from the UK and they also handle Faber & Faber, Element Books and the Rough Guides. They are a sister company to Maskew Miller/Longman but operate independently.

From the Group they already offer paperback editions of the works of J M C tzee, Nadine Gordimer, Alan Paton, Laurens van der Post and many others with a local interest, so they are a substantial presence in the market. One local hit for Penguin has been a humorous look at the "new" South Africa, It Takes Two to Toyi-Toyi which has sold over 50,000 copies. They published The Hanging Tree by local author David Lambkin, his second title. It has just been published in the UK by Viking, a first for Penguin SA.

"We would love for these books to travel, of course," says Allen. "In most cases, they are the author's first book. This program started off as a social responsibility, but we should make a commercial success of the venture. It probably will take five years before we see the real fruits of our labor. We do get support from the local press, however, which makes a difference...and the ladies' book clubs help considerably with hardback fiction.

"Local publishing will be our key area of growth in the future," Allen predicts. "We are developing some non-fiction material exploring 'how-to' titles, consumer guides and basic economics and popular psychology/management areas of publishing. And I am confident we will see more titles originating in our stables published independently overseas. It is very exciting."