The Origins of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Established 1983(Paper by Phyllis Johnson; (co-founder of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair)
Hon. Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Mr Lazarus DokoraDiplomats and other distinguished guests and supporters of ZIBF
The Chairman and members of the General Council of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association, and Honorary Members
And the Chairman and members of the Executive Board
Colleagues and Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen
May I just begin by saying Makorokoto, Amhlope, Congratulations to Minister Dokora on his appointment. The ZIBF is a suitable start to your service… We look forward to advances in education under your leadership, and of course education needs people such as the participants here, that is writers, publishers, illustrators, editors, printers, booksellers, students and youth … and readers. I should emphasise that this is a well-developed and talented industry in Zimbabwe, but it is a business and the supply chain needs to be hard working and efficient, and also needs to be able to eat. It is a dynamic industry that has been, and can be again, a significant contributor to the Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.
May I also say to Musa Zimunya, the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association, that you and your colleagues are doing a remarkable job here under your leadership, with vision and substance, with a holistic perspective that is inclusive, not exclusive, and you should be warmly congratulated and strongly supported. I hope that the private sector and the donors and the minister will take note…
I have been asked to talk about ZIBF at 30 since I was involved in the initiation and development of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 1983, with my late husband, David Martin, who was the Founding Director. In reviewing my archives, I found a document that said I was the treasurer, so I suppose I was tasked with raising the funds, we certainly didn’t have much to spend when we started. There were other key people involved and I will come to that in a moment but first I want to reflect on your theme for this year -- ZIBF@30: Enabling Creativity, Writing, Publishing and Reading for Africa’s Growth.
I think the theme for this year, when the book fair is 30, says it all, and the theme for this year actually removes the need for a keynote address, because it tells us why the book fair was founded… to enable creativity, writing, publishing and reading for Africa’s growth. So, happy 30th birthday, the vision is still very much alive and growing.
We can unpack that briefly… The book fair was conceived through a series of encounters, comments and suggestions leading to a vision that spread and gained momentum. But first you need to understand the context. This country, Zimbabwe, was just 3 years old when the first book fair took place, in a country that was the sweetheart of Africa, from its own population right across the continent, and up and down, everyone wanted to come to Zimbabwe, to see and feel this new place, so attracting visitors was not difficult at all. The book fair and the workshops were richly subscribed from across the continent. The best books in Africa were on display.
The vision grew out of a simple question by then Prime Minister R.G. Mugabe, now President, who wanted to know what publishers were doing to bridge the communication gap on a continent where writers of literature wrote mostly in the colonial languages, with a few exceptions, and could not read each other’s work. The point was that to increase understanding, cooperation and development in Africa, the barriers of language need to be bridged.
The French cultural officer in 1982 was a man called Alain Sancerni, who was an ardent facilitator of cultural exchange, primarily African cultural exchange, his wife was and is Ethiopian, and his roots were and are in Africa. He took the three ZPH directors off to meet French-speaking African authors and publishers. He also funded a number of translations to English, and in addition to French, we managed to raise funds to include two books written in Portuguese, from Angola and Mozambique. More on that later. The three directors were David and myself, and Zimbabwe’s literary icon, Charles Mungoshi. So we were well supported in discussing literature. Charles had the frustrating experience of meeting French-speaking writers such as Mongo Beti, whom he could not communicate with.
The classic comment in this regard came later from Jean-Marie Adiaffi, a writer from Cote d’Ivoire who had just won a prestigious French literary award. He attended the first book fair, and Bridget Katiyo translated his book. When Charles and I handed him a copy of his book The Identity Card, published in Zimbabwe in English, he beamed… He said, “Now I have written a book I cannot read!”
The trio from Zimbabwe went on to London courtesy of UNESCO to attend the second World Congress on Books. This was accompanied by a display of books by African writers and publishers at the Africa Centre in London, intended to circulated in Europe, and titled Bookweek Africa. In opening the Bookweek display, the UNESCO director-general, M. Amadou M’Bow from Senegal, expressed the hope that the exhibit would “spread beyond the bounds of London” and be seen in Africa. Another seed had been planted…
This is where we met Hans Zell of the African Book Publishing Record, who showed a similar dedication by publishing an annual record of books published in Africa. He also administered the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, and he invited us to host that award in Zimbabwe. But, he said, it needs to be associated with an event. Charles was excited, we were all excited, and together we agreed with Hans Zell that we should bring the Bookweek Africa display to Zimbabwe and host the presentation of the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa.
As a result of all this, the Noma Award was presented in Zimbabwe during the Bookweek Africa display from 23-27 August 1983. The award was won by Justice Austin Amissah for his book on Criminal Justice in Ghana, published by Sedco in Accra. The ceremony was attended by Hans Zell and by the founder of the award, Shoichi Noma from Japan. The award was presented by a published Zimbabwean author who also happened to be the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Dr Bernard Chidzero. Dr Chidzero urged African authors to take on their responsibility to work with the publishing industry in Africa, to publish locally, and thus save foreign currency on the import of books as well as earning through export.
Hans Zell knew about book fairs, as he had initiated the successful Ife book fair in Nigeria, and he helped David and Charles and the staff of Zimbabwe Publishing House to set up Bookweek Africa. The commitment and dedication of the ZPH staff cannot be overemphasized, including Taine Mundondo, Mavis Chirekeni, Liz Matavire, Lazarus Gandanzara, Nicholas Murove and others.
Although there were few financial resources, there was enthusiastic support from the publishing industry, authors and the Government of Zimbabwe. The Minister of Information of Information, Post and Telecommunications, Dr Nathan Shamuyarira, who was another published Zimbabwean author, was fully supportive and chaired the organizing committee, perhaps the equivalent to your ZIBFA General Council. The other members, in addition to the founders, included Dr Stan Made who was Chairman of the Zimbabwe Library Association; Father Plangger, the head of Mambo Press in Gweru; Christopher Till, Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, ably represented when absent by his deputy, Doreen Sibanda, who is now the Director in her own right; and Ashabai Chinyemba and Aaron Mudapakati from the Ministry.
As the date approached and it became apparent that Dr Shamuyarira would not be in the country at the time of the event, he gave one instruction to his deputy minister, Dr Naomi Nhiwatiwa. His instruction to her was… if David asks for anything while I’m away… say Yes. Although Bookweek Africa came with its own display stands, there was no infrastructure for local exhibitors. So the ministry’s Production Services department was an essential resource in building and setting up the stands.
Dr Chidzero’s ministry assisted with the task of getting the books into the country through customs. And there it was, the first Zimbabwe international book fair was opened by the first Minister of Education and Culture, Dr Dzingai Mutumbuka, who urged the exhausted organizers that this should become an annual event. He was very committed to strengthening the focus on books and learning and reading, and he spent considerable time at the fair looking at books, as did the then Prime Minister, R.G. Mugabe.
This event now had a display of African books and a prestigious award presentation, it needed writers from across the continent, and Alain Sancerni again found some resources and mobilized others. Among his other achievements was the responsibility for bringing home the then not so well known Dambudzo Marechera, but more on that later. …
Norway, Sweden and Denmark who have supported the book fair through the years, were there at the start. The organizing committee was chaired by Dr Emmanuel Ngara, who was head of the English department at the University of Zimbabwe. The members included the late Toby Moyana from the Ministry of Education and Culture, who was instrumental in Africanizing the literature curriculum and ensuring that students could study African writers and have access to their books; Charles Mungoshi, who was Literary Director at ZPH, but did not like to reject any manuscripts because he believed that every writer has something to say; Chenjerai Hove, then an editor at Mambo Press; Kimani Gecau from the Zimbabwe People’s Theatre Project, who later joined the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of English where he has trained a generation of students to think and write, and continues to do so; and Stephen Mpofu, a knowledgeable young journalist from The Herald.
The writers workshop was organized with the theme of “Communicating through Literature”, and writers of literature turned up from all over the continent. They were too many to mention here but they included Nuruddin Farah from Somalia; Lewis Nkosi, Nadine Gordimer and Ingoapele Mandingoane from South Africa, Micere Mugo and David Maillu from Kenya, Jack Mapanje from Malawi, Gabriel Okara from Nigeria, Ama Ata Aidoo and Meshack Asare from Ghana. Zimbabwean writers who participated in the workshop and also gave public readings in the First Street Mall, included, in addition to Charles Mungoshi, Shimmer Chinodya, Stanley Nyamfukudza, and Dambudzo Marechera.
African publishers were key advisors and participants in the event, including the local publishers of ZPH, Father Plangger of Mambo Press, Ben Mugabe of College Press, Nda Dlodlo and Sam Mpofu of Longman Zimbabwe, and later Irene Staunton and Murray McCartney of Baobab and then Weaver Press. From further afield, we were able to count on support and draw ideas and advice from such experienced colleagues as Walter Bgoya of Tanzania Publishing House who later started his own publishing house, Mkuki na Nyota; Henry Chakava of Heinemann East Africa which later became East African Educational Books; Ravan Press from South Africa; Victor Nwankwo and Joop Berkhout, among others from Nigeria; and Richard Crabbe from Ghana. Later, after Namibia’s independence, came Jane Katjavivi from New Namibia Books, now the Publisher at University of Namibia Press.
James Currey and Penny Butler from Heinemann African Writers Series and Heinemann Educational Books, Tony Zerbrugg from Third World Publications were early and consistent supporters of the book fair, and so too was Mary Jay of the African Books Collective, which was established much later. Peter Ripken from the Society for African and Third World Literature in Germany came and supported the ZIBF, and later invited the organizers to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1985 with a joint exhibition of African publishers.
And of course… the public. One of the many comments about the first Zimbabwe International Book Fair said, “The response of the public has been really tremendous. The pre-fair publicity and advertising has clearly done the trick. And there has been a never-ending stream of visitors. I made some good contacts.”
The second ZIBF in 1984 as I recall did not have a specific theme or conference… we had enough challenges just holding the book fair after we were evicted from our home at the National Gallery because the then director inherited at independence, did not think it appropriate to have so many people in his gallery, while our objective was to introduce more people to the National Gallery who had never gone there before. So the second book fair was held at Kingstons, a commercial bookseller, who cleared out space to hold it mainly during a weekend from 28 September -1 August 1984. It was different, very crowded and very successful, with as many exhibitors as could fit into the space. Dr Shamuyarira opened the second ZIBF. The Noma Award was presented again during ZIBF to Professor Njabulo Ndebele from South Africa.
By the time of the third ZIBF in 1985, the director of the National Gallery had changed to Dr Cyril Rodgers and we had negotiated our way back in, hosting a workshop to accompany the book fair at the same venue, with the theme of “Books for, by and about Women” to mark the end of the UN Decade for Women. Women writers came from Zimbabwe and all over the continent, including Nawal el Sadaawi from Egypt, Micere Mugo from Kenya and Mabel Sagan from Ghana, as well as Irvashi Butalia from India and others; and publishers launched new books by women writers. Local participants included publisher/writers Barbara Makhalisa and Tisa Chifunyise, Olivia Muchena from the University of Zimbabwe, now Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, and Sekai Holland from the Zimbabwe Institute of Mass Communications.
We had to skip 1986 for various reasons but the fourth ZIBF in 1987 matched the enthusiasm of the first in its local and continental support. This was opened by the Mozambican Minister of Culture, Luis Bernardo Honwana, who is also a published author of literature. That year had a deep connection to this year… when we have lost the grandfather of written African literature, Chinua Achebe. The theme “Children’s Literature in Africa and the Third World” drew authors from a wide range of countries who presented papers, including Cyrpian Ekwensi, Kole Omotoso and Chinua Achebe, all from Nigeria, and Ngugi wa Thi’ongo from Kenya, and included many of the local writers, including Ngugi wa Mirii.
Achebe delivered a handwritten paper on “Children’s Literature in Africa”. He told the story of searching for books for his four-year-old daughter and finding only what he called “beautifully packaged poisons” which if they mentioned Africa at all, showed its inhabitants as witchdoctors wearing feathers and climbing coconut palms. He concluded that, “We must all get cracking and produce in far greater numbers than we do at present and at better quality the books that will sustain the imaginative life of African children.”
We had a short flurry of children’s books such as Meshack Asare’s beautifully illustrated story book about Great Zimbabwe, Chipo and the Bird on the Hill – a tale of ancient Zimbabwe, that followed his Noma Award for The Brassman’s Secret. But really, 25 years after Achebe’s plea, have we really progressed much in producing well-illustrated stories for our children? And if produced, would these be bought and read anyway? These decisions involve not only parents, but also nursery schools and the educational system.
There is another image to give to Minister Dokoro from that visit to Zimbabwe by Chinua Achebe in 1987. He was so excited and inspired to be here, in this newly emerging country, and he was treated like a pop star, by the general population. From the time he stepped off the plane, from the baggage handlers to customs and immigration, everyone knew him, they had studied his novels in school, they recognized him and they welcomed an opportunity to talk to him, and so did he. This happened throughout his short visit to Zimbabwe. He talked to people, and they talked to him. We mourn his loss this year, and we remember this legacy of his classic work, but somehow I wonder if he had come more recently to visit Zimbabwe, whether he and his writing would have been recognized in the street in the same way…
This was also the historic year when James Currey, who founded the Heinemann African Writers Series with Chinua Achebe and Allan Hill, decided to go it alone and establish the now very successful James Currey Publishers. He told us later that he had watched us doing book schedules and costings for ZPH in our collaboration with Heinemann, and he had decided that if we could do that, so could he! All of these things spun off or were influenced by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.
We had our own teething problems, we had to learn things while doing them. I did something during the first year, which must have been in my capacity as Treasurer, that inadvertently generated one of the enduring “moments in history” of the early ZIBF. I thought that because the visiting writers would all have per diems to buy meals and drinks, and this socializing was important when they were all together here in the same city, that local writers, most of whom didn’t have any money, should also get a small per diem so they could spend time with the visitors.
Well, we had recently published The House of Hunger, and our author Dambuzdo Marechera used up his per diem in a matter of hours in the bar and spent the night sleeping in a gutter on one of the roads near the National Gallery. He had not quite slept it off when he woke up and dusted off to attend the writers workshop on “Communicating through Literature”. He began talking loudly and interjecting comments during the presentations, until the distinguished participants were getting very upset. One of them was Dr Eddison Zvobgo, the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, and a writer in his own right… and he eventually took Dambudzo by the arm and led him downstairs and out to his ministerial car. But on the way down the stairs through the gallery, Dambudzo spotted me and began yelling racial abuse across the gallery.
I’ll have to shorten this story because it goes on and on, but briefly, he then started a rumour that he had been arrested and was in jail, and the visiting writers, who felt he did not deserve this, got up a petition. The petition was hastily withdrawn after they discovered the truth of the matter, that he had been driven in a ministerial Mercedes and dropped off at Africa Unity square. He told me later that he thought it a more effective literary drama to start a rumour than to walk back to the workshop.
Suffice to say that the following week, he knocked on the door of my office in then Union Avenue (now Kwame Nkrumah) and came in, sat down, smiled and apologized. “I’m sorry for my behaviour last week,” he said, “I’ve come to get a royalty advance!”
Dambudzo was very disarming, he had a wide smile and he certainly needed his royalties. But first, I asked him why he did it, why racial abuse directed at me? “Well” he said, “its an easy way to get attention isn’t it?” And what about the rumour that he was in jail? Oh, he was very proud of that one, he thought it was a good dramatic stroke. And that was the point about the late writer, Dambudzo Marechera. It was like he threw pebbles into the water to watch the ripples. He wasn’t crazy at all except when he was drunk, but he was an exceptionally good actor and he used his skills to effect, including disrupting the first book fair and the writers workshop. He would like this, the publicity he’s getting now, and he is part of the story of the book fair.
There was another incident, not involving Dambudzo but one of his books, that the Minister should take note of. This was the period of trying to Africanize the literature curriculum which was still inherited from Cambridge and mostly European, so there was a process of pushing through literature by African writers for use in schools. It was a hard struggle to begin with but after the decision was taken, the trickle turned to a flood. One day we got the happy news that another of Dambudzo’s books which we had licensed from Heinemann, called Black Sunlight, was approved as a resource book for primary schools. I was apparently the only person in the publishing house who had read this book, so I took it up with the editors and with David and Charles, and they sent me off to find the relevant official in the Ministry of Education. Black Sunlight contains lurid descriptions of explicit sex, and it was lucky to pass the censor board let alone get into primary schools. Like the Ministry, we had published initially without reading the book! So they had another look and raised its rating to secondary and tertiary study only….
The small but hard-working staff of the newborn Zimbabwe Publishing House which we had started were all key in the initiation of the book fair in various ways, and I mention among them notably Charles Mungoshi, who was then a ZPH director; and Taine Mundondo, who became the marketing director and later, as you know, was for many years the Executive Director of the African Publishers Network (APNET) where she worked tirelessly to promote publishing in Africa. She is now at Zimbabwe Women Writers and I hope she is here with us today. I’m sorry to mention you Taine, I know you’re not old enough to have been involved in book publishing for 30 years, but neither am I! We started young…
The Zimbabwe International Book Fair has had its ups and down over the period, and in many ways, it is a miracle that it has survived. However, that miracle, in my view, is human-generated, based on the vision and hard work of the publishers and writers among others, and those who continued the work and expanded the fair. I hesitate to name names because I will certainly miss some, please know that you are included, but I must mention in chronological order, the book fair directors, including Anne Knuth, Hugh Lewin, Trish Mbanga, as well as all of those who later formed and lead the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association, including Greenfield Chilongo of ZimCopy who organized the book fair for several years under very challenging circumstances, and later Dr Carelse and Musaemura Zimunya as mentioned earlier, and Ruth Shato, the events coordinator, your sterling work is recognized and appreciated. The support of the local publishers and writers has been essential in keeping their book fair alive and growing …
Thirty years is a good age for introspection and reflection on where you have been and where you want to go. The book fair is no exception to that, and I want to offer you a short closing thought that essentially sums up what you are doing, and confirm that this continuing vision was the vision of the founders of the book fair….
I hope you can draw ideas from my presentation, and dust off the archives and see what gems you can find there. Moving the book fair around the country to other cities was always a dream and it is now a dream that you have made into reality. Having a permanent home with year-round organizing staff with long-term planning capacity was another dream, now reality. The achievements are many, you have come a long way….
Moving with the times into technology and digital publishing is essential for the survival of the industry, or we will lose the content battle for young African hearts and minds who want to know who they are. That is a challenge not only to the ZIBFA but also to the writers and publishing industry. Sustaining and strengthening all of the links in the publishing chain right through printing and distribution, is important to us here in Zimbabwe, where this vital, competitive publishing industry is admired in other countries who do not have this luxury of working together to develop education and youth, literature for children and adults, and Reading…
We must all continue to write, publish and communicate, as noted by the founder of ZIBF, David Martin, to “increase understanding, cooperation and development in Africa”.
+ This was presented on 30 September 2013 at the ZIBF Indaba in Harare. We reproduce it here with the author’s permission.