It was only a matter of time, really, but Naspers has announced that they will be closing down Boekehuis at the end of January 2012.
Naspers, henceforth known as the evil empire, has informed Boekehuis in Johannesburg that they intend closing that fine bookshop at the end of January 2012. Despite raking in billions, they contend that they are closing Boekehuis because it is not profitable. Such short-sightedness stupifies one. Boekehuis is a literary haven in Johannesburg, a forum for the free exchange of ideas. As such we will all be immeasurably impoverished by its closure. Protest against the decision and messages of support for the shop have been streaming in since the announcement, including those from Mark Gevisser, Albie Sachs, Edwin Cameron, Zakes Mda, Achile Mbembe and Evita Bezuidenhout, amongst many others.
The link above leads to a far more eloquent and passionate defence of Boekehuis and other institutions like it than I could ever hope to manage, but I share the sentiment.
And the sad thing is, its not as though Boekehuis has been quietly rotting away, unattended and unloved. It has had people in it, it has been busy. But perhaps Naspers cannot see the value for the bottom line. I’m fairly sure Boekehuis can support itself, though it may not turn much profit. And while this is a blasphemous suggestion to make in this capitalist world, maybe that’s all it needs to do. It just needs to support itself. It does not need to make mega-bucks; indeed that is not its purpose. Boekehuis has evolved beyond the tawdry exchange of coins and notes; it has become a home for literary expression, a watering hole for the minds of Joburg that have sought the cool waters of knowledge and sexy prose. That such a venerable institution is being so summarily shut down is as saddening as it is pathetic.
I will keep all readers posted if there are any petitions or motions to save Boekehuis. In the meantime, don’t forget to support your local bookstore, especially the Mom & Pop stores that are closing down quietly.