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Stellenbosch’s Oldest Book Club: 50 Years of Timeless Tales

Nestled in the heart of Stellenbosch, is treasure that has withstood the test of time — Elize’s book club, the oldest book club in Stellenbosch. 

Stellenbosch’s oldest book club has been a literary oasis for over half a century, bringing together generations of readers in the pursuit of knowledge, friendship, and the joy of storytelling since 1970.

The current book collection of Elize’s Book Club. Photo: Karla de Bod

Pages of History

The book club was established in 1970 by Elize Francis, a resident of Stellenbosch who wanted to create a space where women could discuss and connect over reading and books. While Elize sadly passed away in 1994 at the age of 67, her legacy lives on thanks to the members who have joined the club over the course of 50 years. 

“I was invited to join right at the beginning. I joined because I was new to Stellenbosch and wanted to meet more English-speaking women, as it was mainly English in those days,” says Anne Reinecke, current chairperson of the book club.

Photographs of Elize’s Book Club in the early 2000’s. Photos Supplied

Anne attended one of the very first meetings of the book club, and has been attending every year since. She shares that it is the variety of books introduced by other members and the lack of pretension in the club that have encouraged her to keep coming back.

“Not much has changed since the beginning. Almost nobody has chosen to leave … [if they did, it was because] they either moved or passed away,” says Anne.

The typewritten rules of Elize’s Book Club as set by the founder in the 1970’s. Photo supplied

Tales and Traditions

Today, there are about 10 women who are permanent members of the club. These women meet monthly to discuss books, discover new authors, and share their favourite books with each other. 

“I have loved reading and books since I was little,” says Karina Hauptfleisch, who worked in libraries in Pretoria and Stellenbosch for about 40 years. “Because of this, a member of the book club invited me to attend one of their meetings about 20 years ago. I immediately saw a few interesting book titles and [stayed] with great joy.”

Elize’s Book Club meeting in August 2023. Photos: Karla de Bod

The book club’s meetings take place every first Monday of the month at the members’ houses. At every meeting, two members bring along books of their choice — these books then form part of the club’s reading list. Once the books have been read by every member, they are returned to their owners.  

“Books that you might have never noticed in a library come to your attention and become exceptional reads,” says Vea Tredoux, who has been a member since the 1970s.

Although Vea moved to Gansbaai in 2003, she still drives back to Stellenbosch every month to attend the club’s meetings.

Members of Elize’s Book Club getting ready to start their meeting in August 2023. Photo: Karla de Bod

Timeless Friendships Formed

As the book club meetings have continued for over 50 years, timeless friendships have been formed. According to Karina, the unplanned exclusivity of the club contributes to its intimacy and informality, keeping the club rooted.

“My life is overwhelmingly enriched and broadened through my contact with the book club’s members, as well as the multitude of interesting books I have discovered during my 20 years of being in the club,” says Karina.

Laughter regularly fills the room during book discussions. Photos: Karla de Bod

The success of the club lies in the fact that the members read books that they each enjoy, says Anne. 

“There are no pressures regarding what books you choose to bring when your turn comes around. It is all for the pleasure of like-minded people getting together to share their love of reading over a cup of tea and ietsie om te eet!”

Table are always stacked with books and tea cups at Elize’s Book Club. Photo: Karla de Bod

In a rapidly changing world, Elize’s book club stands as a testament to the enduring power of literature and human connection. It’s a reminder of the timeless joy found in the pages of a book, and the lasting bonds created through the art of storytelling.