By Beaven Tapureta
On day one, October 22, the opening storytelling and poetry performances at the 2018 ZIBF Indaba by Shona writers Ignatius T Mabasa and Tinashe Muchuri were sufficient to prepare guests for more exciting yet profound knowledge exchange on issues affecting the African writer and the book industry.
The two-day indaba held at Crown Plaza Monomotapa was introductory to the other main book fair activities which are open to the public from tomorrow to Saturday in the Harare Gardens.
This year’s overall ZIBF theme is “The Book: Creating the Future” which sparked debate at the indaba, particularly on Africa’s position in terms of technology, and multiple recommendations for the way forward were made during open discussion.
Zimbabwe’s award-winning writer and storyteller Mabasa, who is loved by children for his blend of humorous Shona modern and traditional styles of telling his tales, presented his paper titled “The Folktale in the Modern Era” which told all that the time is now when writers should make better use of modern technology in their works. His focus, as well as that of another presenter Roselyn T Kumvekera, was on children’s literature which was the first session’s general point of departure.
Mabasa, a contemporary doyen of the Shona tale, said he wasn’t happy with some cultural conservatives who deny innovation and yet, ironically, we have the idiom “kare haagari ari kare” which implies the changing nature of times or eras. His stories for children, told in his mother language, fuse modern imagery or objects with some African philosophy. He clamoured for African-made software which speak or help tell our own story as Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular.
However, the keynoter Professor Peter Wasamba from Kenya, though subtly supported technology, had his own misgivings about it.
He articulated convincingly the pride the continent should take in its population growth which indicates possibilities of realising Africa’s innovation dream. However, the ‘Google syndrome’, in his view, has destroyed the fabric of African identity, that is, our respect and dignity. Google has become the parents of some African children while the continent continues to be the dumpsite for obsolete Western technology. Prof Wasamba said Africa is in need of mental decolonisation. The physical book to him is a wonderful world which the e-book cannot replace.
“The ritual of opening it up, turning page after page, devouring the magic of words put together in a special way, and sometimes taking refuge in reflection, engaging with the muse. It’s a wonderful world, the world of a physical book. Even the beauty of a bookshelf with books on it cannot be replaced by what you have on the e-book,” he said.
It all began with colonisation and it still has not yet ended. If the writing and publishing industry is to survive, there is need to stop borrowing other people’s ways of doing things. His strongest opinion was that the physical book, seemingly under threat from the e-book, is where the future lies.
Great Zimbabwe University lecturer Farasten Muzavazi, spoke about collaboration between the new and traditional print media, and sang praises for the social media, seeing it as part of the publishing industry. The new media, according to him, has created a healthy competitiveness where the physical book has to now embrace innovation.
When writing on social media, one is actually writing for ghosts, said another presenter Dr. Cheela Chilala from Zambia. His paper “Writing for Ghosts: Audience Indeterminacy and Fluidity in Social Media Texts” explored the invisible nature of the audience on social media and misinterpretation of information which sometimes happens.
Indeed, the well-researched presentations were sharply inquisitive of the role of modern technology in creating a better future for the book. Only Bulawayo-based poet Mzana Mthimkhulu’s paper was somehow a little removed from the issue of technology. His was a compound review of the recently launched books in Bulawayo and suggestion for way forward. One of the recommendations made was to turn all these beautiful ideas from the indaba into books