Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Minding Their Own Business: Penguin in Southern Africa

McCleery, Alistair


Alistair McCleery


The title of this essay is taken from the 1975 Penguin African Library revised edition of Antony Martin’s ‘Minding Their Own Business: Zambia’s Struggle against Western Control’. This article exploits archival evidence to highlight Penguin’s distinctive attitudes to and practices within the southern African market, particularly, but not exclusively, the major market of South Africa. The Penguin African Library itself contained not only many volumes on South Africa, but also pioneering works on Portuguese decolonisation, the Rhodesian question, and on South-West Africa. This article adopts the framework of a three-phase development in the motivation behind publishing for Africa: tutelage, radicalism and marketisation. The first of these phases is represented by the Penguin (Pelican) West African (later simply African) Series; while the later Penguin African Library illustrates the radicalism of what was then the editorial standpoint. These African Library mass-market paperbacks had a double intent: to inform western readers about a region which, from the early 1960s, dominated international headlines, and to reflect back to increasing numbers of self-aware and educated Africans aspects of the region hidden from them or about which they wished to know more. The degree of opposition to and compromise with colonial and apartheid regimes forms the subject of discussion, as do the reactions in the UK to continuing operations in the region, particularly after the expulsion of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961, the adoption of UN Resolution 1761 in 1962, and the growth of the Anti-Apartheid Movement during the 1960s and 1970s. Penguin faced not just the commercial challenge of possibly losing an important export market but also the ethical dilemma posed by a belief in the transformational power of knowledge through the availability of good books at reasonable prices. The article concludes with a discussion of the resolution of that challenge and dilemma subsequent to the takeover of Penguin by Longmans in 1970, and the onset of the final phase of marketisation.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 16, 2018
Online Publication Date Apr 16, 2018
Publication Date May 4, 2018
Deposit Date Jun 6, 2018
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2018
Journal Journal of Southern African Studies
Print ISSN 0305-7070
Electronic ISSN 1465-3893
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 44
Issue 3
Pages 507-519
Keywords Penguin Books, publishing, African Library, Ronald Segal, Longmans
Public URL
Contract Date Jun 6, 2018


You might also like

Downloadable Citations