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A showcase of indigenous publishing
African Review of Books
August 30, 2004

The Zimbabwe International Book Fair has announced the list of Zimbabwe's 75 best books of the 20th century. The list is divided into the country's three languages English, Shona and Ndebele with the judges highlighting the top five books in each of the three categories.

The list is also a showcase for indigenous publishing in Africa with a majority of the books having been published by Zimbabwean companies, including Baobab Books, Zimbabwe Publishing House, College Press and Mambo Press. It is not unusual for indigenous publishing houses to publish indigenous languages, but in Zimbabwe's case even a majority of the English-language books were first published in Zimbabwe. Many were subsequently published by multinational publishers, which also appear on the list, such as Penguin and Heinemann. Even in the English section, Heinemann originally published three of the 25 books and all three before 1980 which is evidence that Heinemann's decision to end its African Writers' Series in 2003 was not as dire an event as many commentators implied.

Charles Mungoshi, one of Zimbabwe's top writers, has seven books in the list, four in the English category and three in Ndebele. Heading the list for the Shona category is Ndabaningi Sithole, whose fame has more to do with his political aspirations under the regime of Ian Smith than Umvukela WaMaNdebele (AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi), a title published in 1956 by Longman.

The earliest book in the list is from 1956 and while the list is intended to be representative of the country's literature of the 20th century, the lack of books in the first half of the century is an indictment of the restriction of educational and publishing opportunities in colonial Zimbabwe.

One gap in the list which is slightly disconcerting is the lack of information in the Ndebele category. While both English and Shona sections have the category of book provided, there are many gaps in classification of the Ndebele category. (Note: This list is reproduced from the website of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair).

Now that the list has been announced, the next challenge of the ZIBF is to turn this celebration of Zimbabwean literature into a marketing tool, such that these books are republished, and not just in Zimbabwe. Few of these books are available outside Zimbabwe, even though four of the English category titles are also in the list of Africa's 100 best books and one of the titles, Nervous Conditions, is being published by Ayebia later in 2004.

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