The Sunday Mail
When a friend used the words “the book industry in Zimbabwe,” I told him that we do not have that!
He flew into a rage. He shifted in his chair. I knew that I had gone too far.
I told him that “book industry” is a far bigger term than what we have in Zimbabwe at the moment.
Book industry presumes a broad and intricately organised process of writing and editing, sales, promotion, and marketing and general business-minded administration of books.
“We do not have that at all,” I added.
We only have a few people who write occasionally when they are not at their workplaces.
We only have a few outfits who publish a good title or two in a whole year. We only leave our homes in search of a book when the child brings a list of set texts from the school.
Even us writers do not remember when we last bought a book to read. I have writer friends who do not have the means to replace copies of the books they have published themselves.
Those who still have copies crawl about the streets and at parties with the books in huge bags, vending.
At that, my friend appeared to follow my angry thread. Then I told him an easy story. The day before, I had gone to a bookshop with a list of books that my Grade Seven daughter wanted.
There were about eight to ten books on that list.
On getting to the bookshop, the harsh reality dawned on me. Each book was going for no less than $70 (bond notes). I needed ten books! Did I have that kind of money? The girl has siblings who also need their sets of books. Later, when I told the girl that this was the situation, she asked, “Ha! Saka zvinofamba sei?” (How are we going to do it?)
Then as I was trying to create a solution, she said, “Daddy, endai kumastreet!” Thunder and lightning. My heart tore. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run out of the house.
“I am an author and I cannot do that,” I said to her in a voice that she knew not to be mine.
Out of interest, I went to the streets. Each of these hastily photocopied and bound books was going for no more than $10 (bond notes). And there was brisk business. So which parent would buy the original at $70 when $10 book was all over the pavements?
So this was our book industry?
A real industry works as a long flowing chain. You put in something in the beginning and get something out the other end. Now these guys paid nothing to be able to stand by the street corner with all these books. They employed no single editor. They paid no royalties to the author. These guys ploughed back nothing to the process of making the book. There is no book industry to talk about in Zimbabwe. Industry is a bigger word than what we are doing.
When five Advanced Level schools in the outlying districts invited me to discuss my book which they were studying, we sat in a huge room. I made a quick survey and noted that I, the foolish author, had the original copy!
Even the teacher sitting next to me, the fellow who had invited me, had a photocopy. Yet, less than a kilometre away, at the Growth Point, a bookshop was selling my book. . .I stood there like a man whose cow has been roasted for free at a robber’s party.
Book industry, my foot!
I have often encountered fellows who tell me: Street vendors are selling thousands of books, so join them. That looks easy and lucrative. But, wait a minute, how would I account for my copies if I leave them on the wet ground this summer by the street corner? How will I find the guy if he disappears and goes to another corner? Besides, how would the book contribute to the economy and the said ‘book industry’ if it is sold on the street corner?
I told my now disinterested friend that from authors, publishers, booksellers, readers to enforcement agents, we now need to be adequately interested in copyright. Intellectual property, I continued, is different from other forms of property as it needs careful investigation and clear evidence for an arrest to be effected.
The police do not just arrest. That Zimbabwe ratified copyright treaties like WIFO does not mean that the police can now arrest offenders.
First, the ratified treaty must be subjected to Parliament before it can become a law that empowers the police to take action.
Even if there were arrests, sentencing itself is done by the courts of law, who also work with sentencing principles as demanded and required by the process of Justice.
The sentencing principles consider factors like: is the copyright violator a first offender, is it a woman offender et cetera.
The subsequent punishment may come out light as a result.
Besides, after buying mealie-meal and bread, how much is left in people’s pockets today? Where are the men and women who buy books?
I told my friend not to mind my rantings.
I am, however, happy with a few books released recently.
In this season alone, we have very exciting new titles.
There is Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “The Mournable Body”, which still has Tambu from “Nervous Conditions.”
There is Rosa Tshuma’s “House of Stone”, the best novel that I read in 2018.
There is Batsirai Chigama’s poetry anthology, “Gather The Children”, whose beautiful launch changed my cynicism towards book launches.
There is Tafataona’s poetry anthology called Rupise, which is a road into Mahoso’s mental journeys into the past and the future.
There is Ignatius Mabasa’s novel, “Ziso Rezongororo”, which is a happy indicator that despite the chilling warning to quit writing, he has stuck to his pen.
But I am still unhappy about the environment into which we release our books.