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Lobbying to be More Than Just a Book Shop

Ordinary people listening and participating

When the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (an independent non-profit public interest organisation promoting democracy in South Africa) opened Lobby Books in March 2010 it wasn't just another book shop that they had in mind. They wanted to create an interesting public space where ordinary people could interact with politicians, policy makers and authors and a comfortable space where visitors could imagine books and art on the shelves of their own home.

Initially a banking facility 6 Spin Street was built in 1903 and was one of famous architect Herbert Baker's first buildings in Cape Town. Many original features remain including one of Cape Town's oldest springs and the second oldest lift in Cape Town. The building shares a historically and culturally significant location close to Church Square, the site of the old slave tree and parliament, which is rather fitting for an independent book store who promote public interest in South African democracy.

"The general public attend events here that are quite politically inclined"

Characterised by old-world European architecture the homely book shop makes for a calm and quiet space for browsing books, reading the newspaper or watching the city go by over a coffee at attached 6 Spin Street Restaurant. Political debates and panel discussions, book signings, poetry readings and documentary film screenings take place regularly and political organisations often meet in one of two conference rooms. Key figures that have given talks on a range of topics include Breyten Breytenbach and Trevor Manuel.

"Locals enjoy current affairs, politics and have also attended a number of biography launches that have taken place here," says Bookstore Manager Andreas Spath.

"The focus is very much on African politics, economics, history, biographies and fiction"

The independent bookstore sources newer books from The Book Lounge, and second hand, out of print and rare books from Long Street's Clarkes Bookshop. The Institute for Democracy in South Africa also have their offices and publishing department onsite and you'll find a full catalogue of their publications focussing on AIDS, governance and the state of democracy. Prices range from between R100 and R200 but rare, academic or current affairs books can cost up to R500.

"Visitors find books that are important to them and discuss them with others," explains Andreas, "My favourite non-fiction text has to be 'The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Routes of Nazism' by Casper Erichsen and David Olusoga. The book outlines details of the genocide of the Nama and Herero people of Nambia and links this with the third Reich in Germany. It's more a fascinating book that you'd want to read than an academic text."

"I approach artists that I admire and all of the paintings displayed are for sale" - restaurant manager of 6 Spin Street Robert Mulders

When the centre was opened Lobby Books launched a democracy themed art competition and two winning pieces are on display including 'In the Balance' which is based on the idea that if one part of democracy is removed it will lose its balance. 'The Arch' which is a depiction of Desmond Tutu swinging on a chandelier celebrates his vital contribution to democracy in South Africa. There is a central portrait of Chief Justice Unity Dow, painted by Pieter Hugo, who is heavily involved in the Kenyan constitution and her books feature on the shelves of the bookshop.

Besides being a great place to grab a coffee whilst you read 6 Spin Street Restaurant offers catering, a three course parliamentarian or business lunch with an emphasis on speed and value, a hearty glass of wine and an a la carte menu in the evening. Try their Cheese Soufflé to start followed by a main course of line fish or roast duck. During the evenings Robert will sell books even after the bookshop has closed.

By Lisa Nevitt

Visit Lobby Books Between 08:30 and 17:00 from Monday to Friday and 6 Spin Street Restaurant from 08:30 until late from Monday to Friday and from 18:00 until late on Saturdays.

6 Spin Street | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 467 7606 (Lobby Books) / +27 (0)21 461 0666


Be sure to peruse the Book Shelf for inspiring reads or check our our 10 Top Book Shops in Cape Town.

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