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Xarra Books: June Josephs-Langa & Khanyiso Mguni

Newtown bookstore lays the foundation for a reading nation.

Monique Verduyn

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June Josephs-Langa of Xarra Books

South Africa is not a nation of readers.Low education levels and poor access to books have played a major role increating a non-reading society. It hardly seems to make sense, therefore, toopen an independent bookstore in Newtown, Johannesburg, the heartof the old city.

But that is exactly what June Josephs-Langaand her business partner Khanyiso Mguni did, their goal being to promote areading culture and to provide access to African literature.Xarra Books, the name comes from the Sanlanguage /Xam and means “united in diversity”, opened its doors in August 2005,having been three years in the making. As part of their research into the bookbuying market, the two spent four months sitting outside bookshops andrecording customers’ buying habits.Josephs-Langa, who has a master’s degree indiplomacy from the University of Westminster, and 10 years’ experience in internationalrelations, says a passion for reading, a love of books and a belief in themarketability of African literature drove her and Mguni to take a risk that fewothers would.“We spent three years researching the bookproduction, publishing and retail value chain,” she says. “On one side thepublic was saying there was nowhere to buy African books, and on the otherpublishers were saying there was no demand for them.”They decided they were best placed to makean intervention at retail level. The result is an ultra-modern, lively andengaging space – shared with a Kaldi’s Coffee shop – where people can buy theliterature, art and music of Africa.“We chose not to go the library or NGOroute, because I believe you value what you pay for,” says Josephs-Langa,calling herself a social entrepreneur. It’s an apt label: social entrepreneursseize opportunities others miss to address social problems and create newsolutions that change society for the better.

But she is also a pragmatist who knew thatadvocacy on its own was not going to create a book-buying public. In tandemwith the launch of the store, they developed the Reading Nation campaign, whichaims to grow the reading market at three levels: for adults, the store hostsregular book launches, readings and discussions; for the young adult market,Saturday afternoon poetry readings and chill out sessions have become astandard; and for children, regular storytelling events are held to inculcate alove for books.“This forms the basis of our marketingstrategy,” explains Josephs-Langa. “Xarra Books has become a compellingdestination; people come here to participate in events, they see our books andthey buy them. It was vital for us to find a way to bring customers here, givenour location. We also take the longer-term view that by contributing to thecreation of readers, we are growing our own future market.” To illustrate her point, Josephs-Langanotes that teenagers are buying books from the store on lay-by, kids arenagging their parents for more stories, and adult readers come from as far asPretoria to find what they are looking for.The two applied to a number of banks andempowerment financiers for funding but were turned down by all because theconcept was new and untested. Finance was eventually secured from Absa’sIncubator Fund, which put up the cash and will remain a minority shareholder inthe business until it is paid off. The store reached breakeven this year. AXarra Books loyalty card has been launched, and discussions are now underwayfor a second store in Cape Town. The website, which went live in December 2005,will soon have online shopping functionality.

The business has experienced steady growthsince its inception, enabling the negotiation of more favourable terms with publishers.“That’s been a key enabler for our development, and it’s also helped us tomanage our cash flow better. Publishers are now confident that we are here tostay and that we can service our accounts.” To cement the store’s future, the partnersare also developing vertical markets and have secured the contract to supplyGauteng’s libraries with African literature. Jospehs-Langa sources not only Africanbooks, but also international bestsellers, business titles, and books onalternative lifestyles, philosophy, history, and current affairs. She is alsoproud of the selection of children’s books on offer. “Asmuch as we are a niche store, we have also had to take into account the needsof the broader market to keep the traffic coming,” says June-Josephs.In terms of location, she likes to seeherself as a pioneer. “We believe in the revival of the inner city, and it’sexciting to see how many businesses are moving in.” Contact: +27 11 832 3069; www.xarrabooks.com

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

Here are 27 of South Africa’s richest people, but how did they achieve this level of wealth? Find out here.

Nicole Crampton

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Learn the secrets of SA’s most successful business people, here is the list of the 27 richest people in South Africa:

In a world with growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often measured in terms of money. The feat of achieving a place on this list is, however, years of hard work, determination and persistence. “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance,” advises Patrice Motsepe.

From the individuals that made the 27 of the richest people in South Africa list, actual entrepreneurs and self-made business people dominate the list; while those who inherited their fortunes have gone on to do even bigger and better things with their wealth. Over the years, some have slipped off the list, while others continue to climb higher and higher each year.

  1. Elisabeth Bradley
  2. Sharon Wapnick
  3. Bridgette Radebe
  4. Irene Charnley
  5. Wendy Ackerman
  6. Paul Harris
  7. Wendy Appelbaum
  8. Mark Shuttleworth
  9. Desmond Sacco
  10. Giovanni Ravazzotti
  11. Markus Jooste
  12. Gus Attridge
  13. Gerrit Thomas Ferreira
  14. Cyril Ramaphosa
  15. Adrian Gore
  16. Raymond Ackerman
  17. Michiel Le Roux
  18. Lauritz Dippenaar
  19. Jannie Mouton
  20. Stephen Saad
  21. Patrice Motsepe
  22. Allan Gray
  23. Koos Bekker
  24. Ivan Glasenberg
  25. Christoffel Wiese
  26. Johann Rupert
  27. Nicky Oppenheimer
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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

Nicole Crampton

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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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