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From modelling ramp to book publisher's desk

By unknown | Jul 09, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Rose Francis does not simply enter a room. She takes occupancy of it.

Rose Francis does not simply enter a room. She takes occupancy of it.

From there she reduces everyone else, including her hosts, to bit part actors and mere spectators.

For someone who does not count for much on the weight scale, she nevertheless has a domineering presence.

Minutes after waltzing into Sowetan's offices out here in the sticks of Industria, a blue-collar diesel and trucks and fafhi and machonisa territory on the west side of Jozi, she asked for - nay demanded - water.

"I'm dehydrated."

The boardroom's malfunctioning air conditioning does not help, but after a few sips of mineral water, which miraculously materialised from the editor's private fridge - it comes with the territory baby - and Rose is in her element.

She usurped the interview and even went so far as to tell me to quickly forget about her days as one of the country's top ramp and fashion models.

"That's old hat, don't you think?" Well, well. Moments later, I understood why Madame Francis does not want to dwell too much on the past.

After all she's now among Africa's elite women publishers, a job that commands respect and the intellectual decorum that goes with it.

So who wants to be cast as an airhead bimbo who earned a living by parading in front of lusty drunken men? Old hat for Rose. Fine by me.

But let us revisit the past circa early 1980s to the early years of the next decade.

Rose, together with the likes of Nakedi Ribane, Joe "Mr Ambi" Molefe, Sonto Mazibuko and Yule Simone and oh yes, Yule Masiteng, the Scandal actor who changed his name then to go with his career as a model, were the "IT" generation of their time.

Among the first generation of black professional models, they lived a charmed life of debauchery and excesses.

In the Jozi of old, they had an open invitation to the nightlife of the city that never sleeps a wink.

Where the rest of the black workers and sojourners were quickly shepherded to huge dormitories and labour camps called townships, these beautiful young things played hard and lived large.

They were admired by millions of black youths trying to make sense of their dreary township lives.

They were the creme de la creme of black society; the upper-drawer class forever on shoots in exotic places. In an ironic way, they helped break down racial barriers by working and partying with white colleagues until the wee hours of the morning.

Charmed lives, I say it again.

But years later, Yule was to take me into his confidence during a chance meeting at the Market Theatre in downtown Johannesburg.

"We looked successful because we played the part," he said. "In reality, we were terribly exploited. Black models were paid a pittance compared with our white counterparts."

When the lights dimmed and newer models pushed them off the covers of the old Drum and the pages of the World and the Post, Rose didn't just sulk and go into permanent hibernation.

She quickly launched Rose Francis Communications, a mid-sized communications and publishing company.

For eight-and-half-years, in the 1980s, she published a liquor industry magazine called Spiritz.

"I enjoyed publishing, especially Spiritz. But I got bored always having to rely on a constant stream of advertisers."

She sold the rag and went on to establish African Perspective, a book-publishing venture that heralded the entree of Rose Francis into the big publishing league.

With her new gig, she didn't have to pander to the whims of advertisers or be bullied by them.

"I publish who I like," she said.

African Perspective soon acquired publishing and distribution rights throughout the world. But, as the name suggests, the radar is more on African writers, those in the Diaspora or those with a perspective on African matters.

Book publishing can be a bank-breaking venture, but Rose is of the opinion that it's only capital intensive once off.

"I balance the publishing with the acquiring of distribution rights for published authors."

Though she doesn't consciously go out looking for big authors, she has managed to acquire a couple of hard-hitting names along the way.

Besides, she also held the African distribution rights for the best-selling book Capitalist Nigger and managed to make some good money from it.

While in her stable, the book was on the South African best-selling list for almost a year and continuously made the number one, two and three spots on the list.

". you should know that Chika Onyeani is one of the finest authors to come out of Africa." But, my mental vaults refuse to process the name and, obviously enjoying my discomfort, she rubs it in like a sadist enjoying every moment of it all.

Other successful authors in her stable include Kenyan Kahende, who has just published The Centre is Black, former Irishman Murray McMillan, who wrote Tehaka's Journey , a book about the 19th century slave and spice trade into Africa and John Dunbar's Ciongo 63, a fictionalised account of South Africa's destabilisation of its neighbours.

But has Rose not heard that black South Africans hardly read? Whoever said that if you want to hide something from a black person, place it in a book?

"That's patronising. Black South Africans were the major buyers of Capitalist Nigger," she says with a flash of irritation.

She said the majority of titles in book shops don't speak of black experiences, hence the erroneous believe that black people don't buy books. "The books need to speak to us."

She also decries what she bluntly calls the exploitation of African human capital. "I have a problem in that we, as Africans, keep financing other people's dreams and their ideas.

"We are not starting anything. We are also not even manufacturing something as basic as a bicycle," she states with conviction. Amen!


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