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There is very little detailed scholarship on the continuities between colonial publishing practices in African contexts and those of the decolonial period. This study seeks to address this gap via an archival reading of two early twentieth-century publishing events as part of a wider transnational history: first, the work of the Lovedale Press in South Africa and, second, the English translation of Thomas Mofolo's Chaka published under the auspices of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures by Oxford University Press. Against the rather vague assertions of dominating colonial publishing practices, this article presents a detailed account of the particular aesthetic and ideological priorities that informed the publishing of African literature in this period and highlights the strategic and inventive practices of African authorship in an inherently asymmetrical colonial publishing field. The essay underlines the longevity of colonial aesthetic and ideological norms in African publishing during the colonial and decolonial periods and the equally long history of African authors' tactical interventions. It also brings a new complexity to established understandings of the publishing field by arguing that the African author as agent and literary craftsperson remains an unrecognisable category within dominant Western schemas.