The disappearance of the book is reality that is gradually settling in the Zimbabwean society.
Most of the bookstore chains have since stalled their services or gone bust. There are no Zimbabwean writers in stock, no South African writers on sale, nor are there any novels from Kenya or Nigeria or elsewhere in the world.
Today at Kingstons — the former leading bookshop chain — uniforms, cellphone accessories, CDs and colouring books are sold.
A few dusty copies of Mills & Boon are waiting for customers. Kingstons used to be the Holy Grail for any reader and it is sad to see the death rattle for what was once a bustling refuge for the lettered class of our society.
In fact, good books have become a luxury, as hard to get as clean drinking water. I would argue, this is pushing our young people into illiteracy, a whole generation is growing up without books and hence without history and proper stories about their own society.
Isn’t it strange that we are supposedly the most literate country on the African continent and yet a population of illiterates? Zimbabwean people read to pass exams. Our whole education system is a manufacturing process of careerism.
We all have to study to become accountants and doctors and lawyers and engineers and whatever else.
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Unfortunately, we inherited these mechanical reading habits from our colonial past. We were conditioned to be robotic and perform our functions without questioning them.
We were not encouraged to read to develop our mental and spiritual selves. We were blindfolded from the liberating potential of literature. We were taught to condemn reading for the sake of reading as self-indulging and destructive element. Some people still hold on to that archaic view.
And since the economy of the Zimbabwe has been scrapping at the bottom of bottoms, the nourishment of the belly obviously took precedence over the nourishment of the mind. Here is how we have been hard done. In the townships, there are no bookshops or functional public libraries.
A lot of people I know confess that “literature” is a pet hate from school. They were denied the pleasure of finding pleasure in reading but more often than not forced to cram. I have met quite a few people from high school who say, “I stopped reading literature when we left school.” The idea of reading is seen as some kind of punishment, not a fulfilling experience in itself.
The other day I was watching the revived High School’s Quiz on the local ZTV and I was struck by the soul-numbing ignorance shown by young schoolchildren. Professor Emmanuel Ngara, the eminent academic, who chairs the Quiz asked one of the represented schools: “Who wrote The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born?” The three students whispered among each other and one of them confidently answered: “Charles Mungoshi”. Not to say that these are A-Level students at some of our venerated schools in the capital.
This is a far world from the days when we were growing up and exchanging dog eared copies of the Heinemann series or the popular Pacesetters. We not only had an awareness of good African writing but we read and engaged with it.
And we would stand under bright street lights discussing the books until our mothers called us in. If there is a way of bringing back this culture of valuing the book and the African story among our young people, there is no better time to do it than now.