Literacy rate must reflect reading culture — Zimunya

HARARE - Musaemura Zimunya, chairman of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF), says the country’s overhyped high literacy status should translate into an equally impressive reading culture.

Zimbabwe has for the past three consecutive years been ranked as the country with the highest literacy rate in Africa but Zimunya, a celebrated poet and academic, finds it disturbing that this high literacy rate is out of tandem with our reading culture.

“Our much vaunted literacy status in Africa and the world seems to be calculated according to scholars’ general ability to read and pass examinations rather than a general culture of reading outside school,” said Zimunya, who is also the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Writers Association (Zwa).

The University of Zimbabwe lecturer attributes the poor reading culture to several factors which include the collapse of the country’s economy which gave birth to speculative tendencies such as the “burning” of currencies for survival.

“It gave the majority of our citizens the illusion that education was a luxury for the dumb; something which we could do without,” Zimunya told the Daily News on Sunday.

Zimunya also added that technology has become the curse of the book industry.

“The other factor which is more devastating is that new technologies such as computers, cellphones, and the whole internet revolution have created such a vast array of diversions for our scholars and citizens who now have a very low perception of general reading and buying books for personal reading and development. 

For most people, there is more fun in social media than in reading for intellectual development,” he said.

The ZIBF and Zwa chairman blames parents for not looking at the long-term effects of the technological gadgets they give to their children.

“Worst of all is a culture where parents prefer to buy their children these gadgets without putting conditions for their academic use.  If parents were to set aside a quarter of the money they channel towards these gadgets in order to purchase books — be they physical books or e-books — for their children, it would help to add value to our national literacy.

Zimunya wants to see parents read books as a way of showing their children the value of reading books.

“We have to reverse the notion that sitting down to read a novel is the stuff of vakasara, the “digital aliens,” he said.

He added that the local book industry was disturbed by the increasing number of vendors of pirated books flooding the streets of Zimbabwean cities particularly in Harare.

“We are aware that there exists a parallel “informal book industry” out there operating underground and creating a thriving class of barons,” he said.

“Having recognised this scourge, we at ZIBF decided to bring all stakeholders in the book industry including writers associations, the Publishers association, Booksellers Association, the Police, ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, ministries of Education, Harare Metropolitan Police, Copyright Office, Aripo, Zimra and Zimura.

“The aim of the exercise was to identify the causes, perpetrators, patterns and the extent of book piracy across the country as well as agreeing on a way forward.

“So far, this engagement yielded encouraging results.  At this stage, we have unanimously agreed that it is impossible to curb this crime in isolated fashion and our biggest strength is in cooperation.”

Zimunya said the local book industry’s response to the scourge includes copyright awareness campaigns; restoration of the book value chain where authors write, publishers produce, and booksellers sell books within prescribed parameters and lobbying courts to give stiffer and deterrent penalties against convicted culprits.

“We are pushing for the mounting of raids on streets and “backyard printers” and barons who are at the heart of this parallel industry,” he said.


Comments (1)

Many Zimbabweans don't read, even newspapers. Many including professionals just read for exam purposes. After they get the qualification its bye-bye to books. And if you are bookish you don't make that man friends.

Observer - 1 September 2014

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