/ 9 December 2011

Ultimately our democracy will suffer

Open letter to Koos Bekker, chief executive of Naspers, Esmaré Weideman, chief executive of Media24 Corporate, and Eloise Wessels, chief executive of Media24 Books:

Dear Mr Bekker, Ms Weideman and Ms Wessels

As writers, publishers, readers and buyers of books, we are deeply distressed that Media24 is considering shutting down the Boekehuis in Auckland Park. Although we understand Media24’s financial considerations, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of the unique space it has created for cultural and intellectual activity in Johannesburg.

Firstly, the Boekehuis public readings and discussions have become among the most important gatherings in the Johannesburg literary calendar. As such, they have done much to promote not only literary talent and ideas but also the profile of both the bookshop itself and Media24. There are no comparable forums in Johannesburg and the loss of the Boekehuis is a blow against the culture of reading and debate, which is so crucial to the wellbeing of our democracy, particularly given the steady erosion of book culture in South Africa.

Secondly, in the era of online commerce, the Boekehuis staff have set the bar for selecting publications of quality and worth. Bookshops, where people of all ages who care about reading can gather and browse — and buy books too, of course — are at the core of the kind of civil, deliberative culture that we believe South Africa so urgently needs. And when they are as beautiful and welcoming as the Boekehuis, all the more so.

For these reasons, we would urge you to reconsider your decision. –André Brink, Antjie Krog, Marlene van Niekerk, Njabulo S Ndebele, Nuruddin Farah, Ivan Vladislavic, Zakes Mda, Deon Meyer, Albie Sachs, Arthur Chaskalson, David Goldblatt, William Kent-ridge, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Lauren Beukes, Ingrid Winterbach, Jonny Steinberg, Mark Gevisser, Andries Walter Oliphant, Tim Couzens, Antony Altbeker, Denis Hirson and 304 others

For the full list of signatories, go to mg.co.za/boekehuis