Nkemiseng Molefe is preserving heritage through storytelling

Nkemiseng Molefe

Nkemiseng Molefe started a publishing company that promotes reading in indigenous languages. In seven years, she has published 65 books. She shares how she achieved tis great stride. By Kwanele Mathebula

I was exposed to books from a young age. I was born in Pinetown, Durban. And, when I was three years old, I moved to Pretoria after my father, Dr Lawrence Molefe left his job at the to work at the University of South Africa (UNISA). He worked in the African languages department, and is an isiZulu author. He often shared with me statements from his publishers, showing how much he was getting in royalties. I didn’t understand how they made more money than him while he was the writer. This stayed with me into adulthood.

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In 2012, I registered my publishing company, Pelmo Books. After matric, I studied part-time at UNISA while working in retail. In 2009, I quit university to sell hair and eventually opened a salon. But, seeing my father’s manuscripts around the house sparked the idea to publish them on my own. I jokingly asked him if I could publish his books so that I could get his publisher’s fee and he agreed. I then began looking into how I could self-publish by researching and talking to one of his publishers. With this information, I began working on getting his books published. By the end of 2011, I had published three of his novels. The following year, Mpumalanga Libraries advertised a tender in which it was looking for Zulu novels. The tender process required that the applicants be registered. I then registered Pelmo Books and got the International Standard Book Number for the books. The team from Mpumalanga was patient and helpful in teaching me ways to navigate the tender process, which I was grateful for. I got the tender, and supplied the three books to all the libraries in the province. They then ordered more books which I fortunately could supply from my father’s many manuscripts.

Being a small player in publishing has been difficult. South Africa isn’t a huge reading nation which has made it difficult to sell books. So, getting people to read in their indigenous languages is even more challenging because many can only speak and not read in their mother tongues. Also, getting my books into major bookstores has been hard because they largely sell popular books written in English. This is the reason why I supply my books to libraries and schools. I believe that if we foster the habit of reading from a young age, we will have a generation that not only reads, but does so in their indigenous languages.

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To have published 65 books in seven years is amazing. Currently, I publish books in six languages; IsiZulu, IsiNdebele, SeSotho, SeTswana, Xhosa and SePedi. This has led to many career highlights, such as winning the M-Net Literary isiNdebele Award for the book Inzinto Zyaphenduka in 2013 and getting one of my dad’s books, Bahlukumezekile Behlakaniphelana Nje, became part of the national Grade 10 IsiZulu curriculum. In 2017, I also got the opportunity to translate the popular children’s book, Alice in Wonderland (uAlice Ezweni Lezimanga) as part of its 150th birthday celebration, which was incredible.