PMB landmark enters a new publishing era

2007-12-14 00:00

For most Pietermaritzburg residents the name Shuter and Shooter is associated with a book shop in Church Street. However, the book shop, since closed, was only one branch of a company with a long and proud history of book publishing and that recently launched a new trade imprint called, simply, Shuter.

“The new imprint will consolidate and resuscitate what we have done as trade publishers in the past, while giving it a new identity,” says Dave Ryder, the managing director of Shuter and Shooter who retires at the end of the year.

As a publisher, Shuter and Shooter was mainly associated with educational books but it also published general books. Some of them could be regarded as South African classics, such as The Social System of the Zulus by Eileen Krige and Freshwater Fishes of Natal by R. S. Crass. The company also published several titles by Ruth Gordon, including the ever-popular Dear Louisa. Other titles of note include Vince van der Bijl’s autobiography Cricket in the Shadows, written with John Bishop, The Witness’s sports editor, and two books by Witness feature writer David Robbins, Inside the Last Outpost and his CNA award winner, The 29th Parallel.

Over the past couple of decades, the publishing focus shifted to education. Now, with the new imprint, the company has adopted a new strategy.

“We are responding to changes in the educational market and we are creating a new fresh identity for the trade market — they are two distinct markets,” says Ryder.

A focus of the new Shuter imprint will be indigenous language titles, not that the company is a stranger to such a venture. Shuter and Shooter has long published books in Zulu. One of these, uDingane by Rolfes Reginald Raymond Dhlomo, has never been out of print since its first appearance in 1936, the year that also saw the publication of uShembe, a biography of Isaiah Shembe, founder of the Shembe church, by John Langalibalele Dube, founding member and first president of the African National Congress, who was a friend and neighbour of Shembe.

Although it began publishing in the mid-thirties, the origins of Shuter and Shooter are to be found in one of the earliest businesses in Pietermaritzburg, Vause, Slatter and Company which was established in 1850 as a printing, stationery and music business. The company was taken over in 1921 by L. G. (Gerald) Shuter.

According to local book expert and former Shuter and Shooter book-shop manager Tony Osborne, Shuter returned from serving in World War 1 and went to see city mayor Daniel Sanders, who owned Vause, Slatter and Company, and asked for a job. He was given the task of closing down an unprofitable branch in Ladysmith. Sanders said he wanted £300 and any surplus could be kept by Shuter.

“Well, he came back and put £600 on the table,” says Osborne. Then Shuter asked ‘What’s my next job?’. ‘I’ve got no more jobs,’ replied Sanders, who then suggested he buy the Maritzburg branch. ‘You’ve got £300 to start with and you can pay me back from the profits a young man like you is bound to make’.”

Shuter bought the business which remained Vause, Slatter and Co. for five years until, in 1925, R. A. Shooter arrived in response to a job advertisement. The two men went into partnership and changed the company name to Shuter and Shooter.

According to the 1968 book City of Pietermaritzburg, it was Shooter who was responsible for adding publishing to the firm’s activities and in 1936, Shuter and Shooter published its first book in Zulu aimed primarily at schools. “This was both a long-sighted and brave undertaking. Long-sighted in that the development of the Zulu schoolbook market was foreseen and brave because the firm’s capital was already working overtime without the comparatively long-term investment in publishing ventures.”

Ryder says that Shooter was a progressive person for the time. “He was a very liberal thinker — at a time when white people thought blacks could not write, let alone have anything important to say.”

Maureen Nel, the daughter of Shuter, says her father was supportive of the move. “He always thought this an important milestone for the firm, and he was very proud of the fact they had done this.”

Although uDingane remains the title longest in print, Shuter and Shooter also published several other titles by Dhlomo including uShaka, uMpande, uCetshwayo and uDinizulu. Dhlomo, the brother of writer Herbert Dhlomo, was born in Edendale and was a respected journalist and short story writer. He was the first black South African to publish a novel in English, An African Tragedy, published by the Lovedale Press in 1928.

Another important Zulu writer published by Shuter and Shooter was Cyril Nyembezi. After resigning from his post at Fort Hare University in protest against apartheid education, Nyembezi joined Shuter and Shooter, initially as editor of African languages.

As a writer, he is best known for his novel Inkinsela YaseMgungundlovu (The Tycoon of Maritzburg), which was adapted for television and became a popular series on Radio Zulu. In all, he wrote over 20 books, including two other novels and several volumes of poetry.

He also edited several anthologies and translated Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country into Zulu. He compiled two dictionaries — The Compact Zulu Dictionary and Scholars Zulu Dictionary — with G. R. Dent. In 1992 came his definitive Zulu dictionary Isichazimazwi Sanmuhla Nang-omuso. His colleague, Dent, also translated Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island into Zulu under the title Isisulu Sabaphangi. Other Zulu titles of interest include Isabelo Sikazulu by Petros Lamula, Amasiko Esizulu by T. S. Masondo and Uzwelonke by J. A. W. Nxumalo.

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