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writer wants books, not bridges
October 28, 2005
Zimbabwean writer Chenjerai Hove explains why he thinks Africa's
reading habits are in decline.
of the Mugabe government, he currently lives in Norway, and his
published work includes poetry, novels, essays and reflections.
I signed books
until I developed blisters on my fingers once at the Zimbabwe International
But that was
not only my experience.
and poets such as Yvonne Vera, Chirikure Chirikure, Charles Mungoshi
and Shimmer Chinodya (Ben Chirasha) were also busy signing dozens
It was in the
early 1990s and the public, thirsting for new books, had flooded
the National Gallery Gardens to meet the writers and see the books.
Not so today.
A few years
ago, I was busy signing autographs on newspapers and pieces of paper.
afford the books anymore.
have not put in place well-planned book development policies. Books
are subject to the same sales and duty taxes as other commodities.
producing books, like inks, newsprint, printing plates, and the
essential technology, are all taxed on the same rate as bolts and
spare parts for cars.
days when I was a teacher, books used to have an especially low
postal rate, almost free.
could order books from the National Free Library in the country's
second city of Bulawayo.
But now books
have the same postal rates as any other article in the mail.
As a result,
only those who are within walking distance of the National Free
Library can go to borrow a book.
of taxes on books is in that governments in Africa are the biggest
buyers of school textbooks.
Education give money to schools or the responsible authorities as
an annual book allocation.
of Finance then taxes the books bought by the Ministry of Education
in order to give schools grants for the following year.
education systems in Africa are also examination-oriented.
never taught to read books as a pleasurable experience in itself
without thinking of exams.
and colleges are producing what I call the "new illiterates".
They have their
degrees and diplomas, but hardly take time to sit and enjoy reading
In some countries,
literacy campaigns have been put in place, but it does not help
because soon the new literates have nothing more to read.
back to illiteracy.
becomes a futile exercise.
development policies mean affordable books will be available on
a continuous basis in order to make reading a habit in the heart
and soul of every reader in every country.
It is sad when
I realise that African books are read more outside the continent
only view development in terms of bridges, school buildings, clinics,
hospitals and roads.
mind is the least of their priorities.
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