In full bloom
In celebration of the 10th year of her company, African Perspectives Publishing, the pioneering former model and communications entrepreneur Rose Francis chats to about what it’s taken to succeed in a books industry still mostly run by white men
We meet in a quiet corner of News Cafe at Newtown Junction Mall, where Rose Francis arrives a few minutes before I do. I am a bit anxious because, while I was involved in the book industry for years before I joined the team at City Press, it would be the first time that I would be meeting a black female publishing business owner – which says something about the industry. Today Thabiso Mahlape heads the BlackBird Books imprint at Jacana, but there are far too few Rose Francises in the mostly white-male industry.
As I enter the restaurant, I see her name pop up on my phone screen. I walk up to the tall and slender lady, who greets me with a handshake and then a friendly hug as she towers over me. We sit, and I notice that her black blazer has a green metal badge in the shape of the continent, with the word ‘Africa’ inscribed in gold.
Clearly, she wears her pride on her lapel. After all, her company is called African Perspectives Publishing and it turns 10 this year. I want to know everything about the formidable Francis. called Spirits, which was about the liquor industry. It was distributed to shebeens, bars, bottle stores and lounges.
“I learnt the basics of publishing through that. I sold the company and started African Perspectives 10 years ago, at the end of 2005.”
On starting up her company, Francis acquired the distribution rights to her first book, Capitalist Nigger by Chika Onyeani, the famously controversial title that spoke of black consumerism.
Her next move was to secure the rights for iconic and defiant poet and author Don Mattera’s work. Mattera had retired by then. “I brought him out of retirement for two books,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “One was a poetry collection called Azanian Love Songs, and the other, called Memory is the Weapon, talks about Sophiatown and the
forced removals set against the backdrop of his personal life.” As the years have passed, Francis has steadily expanded her business and her market. “I was not interested solely in South African titles. I started travelling extensively. Zanzibar was the first country on the continent that I had travelled to – in my personal capacity and also to check out the authenticity of a book that I was distributing, called Tehaka’s Journey by Murray McMillan, which was set in Zanzibar. “It really intrigued me, so I thought, ‘Why not go out and see how authentic this book really is?’ “I fell in love with Zanzibar immediately. I have been going there every year for about eight years. “To date, I have travelled to 39 countries on the continent. I have even set up an office in Ghana and my books are also distributed in Dar es Salaam.”
BEAUTY AND BRAINS Rose Francis believes the future of South African publishing looks bright