To Publish or Perish:
Nirode Bramdaw is levelling the playing field for African students and scholars alike
While African universities have been climbing the rankings in international reports[i], the sad reality is that enterprising academics continue to face challenges in getting their research published. Due in part to a lack of publication houses, constrained distribution channels, an over-reliance on international presses, and a general ignorance when it comes to African-led research – most academics on the continent may perish even if they are able to publish[ii]. However, Nirode Bramdaw is determined to establish a new status quo.
As the Managing Director of African Sun Media – a Stellenbosch-based publisher and integrated media partner that specialises in academic research and reports – Nirode is making it his mission to support academics and further the African research agenda by establishing new printing presses at formerly disadvantaged institutions.
A rising sun
Founded in 2003, African Sun Media combines nearly two decades’ worth of creative talent with printing and publishing expertise to provide unparalleled services to academics looking to publish new research. Yet, it was only with Nirode’s arrival in 2017 that the business really began to establish itself as a leader in the scholarly world.
“At the time, my children had just finished studying in Cape Town and wanted to remain in the Western Cape. Being a typical parent, I decided to follow them from Durban,” recalls Nirode. “I then actively pursued furthering my business interests in the Cape. At first, I had my eye on another business, but then Anita Nel, the CEO of InnovUS, saw my CV and suggested that I get involved in this publishing company instead. And what a great suggestion that was!”
Nirode spent the next few years building the business to new heights, and since then, has gone on to launch multiple academic journals and publish more than 400 titles from various authors across a range of topics, including theology, military science, and race and identity, among others. What’s more, the company expanded its footprint to two additional historically disadvantaged institutions, namely the University of the Western Cape and Nelson Mandela University in the Eastern Cape. These moves earned the printing and publishing house noteworthy clients, such as Iziko Museums, the Medical Research Council, the Agricultural Research Council, and Stellenbosch University, amongst a host of others.
“However, our crowning achievement to date is that – in terms of local book publishing output – we are rated third in South Africa, but the top South African business in the rankings,” says Nirode. “We are superseded only by Springer and Routledge, which are both major international publishers with global reach. As a much smaller operation based in the Winelands, we are incredibly proud to be recognised as one of the best and to bring this prestige to the area, but the focus is now on keeping it up.”
Pivoting in the pandemic
Yet, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, African Sun Media was forced to find new ways of doing business. As Nirode recalls: “It was an exciting albeit concerning time for us. Our biggest client, Stellenbosch University, was moving into a mostly online space and, as a result, there was a lull in demand for physical print services. So, we followed suit and began pivoting on various levels.”
The company began by reorganising its team of designers into a dedicated creative division, and as such, began offering marketing and advertising services to customers – including graphic design, website design and optimisation, as well as social media marketing, and brand activations – in addition to their publishing and print expertise.
“When I reflect on this past year, I think it was the strong relationships that we have forged that really helped us adapt so quickly and successfully,” shares Nirode. “I’m also blessed to have the backing of a strong and multi-talented team. This strengthens you as a business leader and supports your ability to pursue new opportunities. Over time, I have found that the Winelands is endowed with a diverse range of differently and specifically talented people, which is a huge feather in the region’s cap.”
Building the next wave of African academics
While the pandemic has brought with it new challenges, Nirode explains that it has also revealed opportunities to make a meaningful impact, specifically in the area of child literacy.
According to researchers at the University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria, South Africa is in the midst of an illiteracy crisis where roughly eight in ten children up to Grade Three level are unable to read for meaning[iii]. “This has only been exacerbated by continued lockdowns and disruptions to normal schooling,” adds Nirode.
To tackle this, the company launched the African Sun Foundation, which – in partnership with the Stellenbosch University Department of Education and non-government organisations in Cloetesville and Jamestown – provides physical learning and reading materials to children in Grades R to Grade Three in the subjects of English, Afrikaans, and Mathematics. “By doing so, we are addressing the severe lack of printed books and reading exercises available to learners, which are needed to help them improve their ability to comprehend written words. This is especially important for students in disadvantaged communities, where tactile interaction with books is rare, and where literacy is vital to improving future outcomes and opportunities for personal growth.”
Looking ahead, the company also aims to make a positive contribution to the world of academia by contributing to the development of an African body of knowledge. To do so, African Sun Media is planning to expand across the continent and hopes to empower more institutions in under-privileged areas with publishing houses of their own.
“This is incredibly important for our combined growth, be it intellectually, culturally, economically, socially, and so on,” says Nirode. “The problem is that, to date, most African academics are compelled to publish with foreign universities, as they lack the means to do so at their own institutions. While in some cases this gives them a level of prestige, it forces our research to be vetted by a foreign lens – one that does not necessarily fully understand or appreciate the African context. As such, African research often gets disregarded as subpar to international standards, when this simply isn’t the case.”
By empowering people to publish locally, he explains that academics in Africa will be better resourced to advance African-centric agendas without foreign interference which, in turn, promotes the growth of an African knowledge base.
“In the end, it’s about encouraging the collegiality of academics working together on the continent to support each other and advance our mutual intellectual endeavours,” concludes Nirode. “And if we can achieve that, then there’s no limit to our thinking.”
To learn more about Nirode and his team at African Sun Media, go to www.africansunmedia.co.za