Shortage of books on Africa led to opening of shop

Kays Mnguni disproved the old saying that if you want to hide something from a black person, hide it inside a book. He opened one of the first black-owned book shops in South Africa.

Kays Mnguni disproved the old saying that if you want to hide something from a black person, hide it inside a book. He opened one of the first black-owned book shops in South Africa.

His passion for reading and for books drove him to open Xarra Books.

He spent years in Europe where he developed a passion for reading. On his return home he found that the books he favoured, those written by Africans about Africa, were difficult to obtain.

This disturbed Mnguni and he attributed the shortage to a lack of black-owned book shops.

He identified an opportunity to open a book shop, but lacked the funds. So he approached a longtime friend, June Josephs, to become a partner in the venture.

They applied for finance, but struggled to raise the start-up capital because no one was interested in funding a book shop.

The Absa incubator fund eventually agreed to finance them.

Josephs now manages Xarra Books in Newtown in Johannesburg and is a 50percent owner. Xarra Books has Africa written all over it.

The shop also sells Afro-jazz music and African art. It stages book reviews every Thursday night, mostly of books by African authors. There is a wide range, from books by Osei Koffi to George Bizos' autobiography.

The shop also supplies books to libraries, schools and universities. Mnguni says the returns are satisfactory. He has entered into a partnership with the Steve Biko Foundation to write a book about the man himself.

Mnguni says that a story about the hunter and the hunted will always be the same if it is told by the lion.

"In other words, our own African stories will always be the same until told by us, Africans," he says with a smile.

The shop has carved a niche in the market. It is known across the continent and was recently profiled on SABC Africa.

The owners plan to set up more shops in Soweto's new malls. They also plan to sell literature in indigenous African languages. Already almost half of the children's books it stock are in indigenous South African languages.

Mnguni holds a degree in electrical engineering from a German university and an MBA from Wits Business School.

He also owns 45percent of the shares in Sword SA, a French software company. While working for the Trade and Industry Department as a consultant from Deloitte, Mnguni heard that Sword had won a tender to provide software services to the department. But the company needed a local equality partner. Mnguni jumped at the opportunity and collaborated with Sword to form the local branch.

Based in Sunninghill, north of Johannesburg, Sword has grown to be a technology integration company. Its clients range from large insurance companies to financial service giants and state-owned enterprises.

It employs 20 full-time black professionals. The employees are trained overseas where they are equipped with high-tech skills.

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