Every nation needs an international festival II: Harare vs Cape Town?

Harare Gardens

by Andy Kozlov

While Brazilians are content with a small scale of their nation’s most important literary festival in Paraty, on the other side of the Atlantic, Africans are engaged in discussions of the past and future. Can Zimbabwe International Book Fair ever be at the level this IF had in the 1990s? Will there ever be anything on the African continent tantamount to ZIBF of the 1990s?

Last week I attended a literary discussion “The Story of Zimbabwe International Book Fair – Looking at the history, challenges & successes of the ZIBF”, which took place in Harare’s Book Cafe’. The speakers at the event were Roger Stringer (freelance publisher, consultant for Harare Public Library, Trustee (1990-2000) and Vice-Chairman (1998-2000) of ZIBF) and Musaemura Zimunya (Zimbabwean writer,  Chairman of the Executive Board of ZIBF Association and a member of the executive committee of Zimbabwe Writers’ Association).

The organizers of the event considered it timely to draw public attention to ZIBF, since this year’s book fair is scheduled for the last week of July. For more information on what is going to happen during ZIBF 2011 see Prof. Memory Chirere’s blog and an article in The Herald by Stephen Chifunyise.

A combined assault on the industry by the era of hyperinflation, the inability of the industry stakeholders to register viability in inhospitable times and Zimbabwe’s complicated relations with the international donor community saw the Book Fair effectively failing to organise the annual event during 2008 and 2009. ZIBF used to be the largest book industry event in Africa in the 1990s. And as Zimbabwean economy is picking up in the atmosphere of relative political stability, some voice hope and resolution to bring this IF to its former glory.

The success of ZIBF laid not only with the adequate funding. As noted by Sonny Wadaw, also there was the aspect of an extremely committed, innovative and results-driven executive led by a dynamic leadership running the book fair in Harare. All these factors were critical in unlocking donor support for the Book Fair and in transforming it into a major book trading and literary showpiece not just for Zimbabwe but for the whole of Africa.

Roger Stinger (left) and Musaemura Zimunya (far right) talking about ZIBF at Book Cafe' in Harare

Those who dream of bringing ZIBF to its past glory need to keep in mind that the circumstances and dynamics have changed during the last ten years. One of the decisive factors for publishers and, thus, book fair organizers today is the diffusion of digital publishing facilitated by the internet.

Over the years, the Cape Town Book Fair  has been viewed by many as a possible replacement for the book event in Harare. Cape Town has done an admirable job in attracting and supporting visitors from all over Africa, but still there are critics who suggest that isn’t doing enough to attract more publishers throughout Africa. worked in senior management positions at the Frankfurt Book Fair until the end of 2005.

Having worked in senior management positions at the Frankfurt Book Fair until the end of 2005, Holger Ehling, whose book on Social Media for publishers is to come out this yearclarifies the situationon Publishing Perspectives.com in the following comment regarding CPBF 2010:

1. Cape Town was never developed as a replacement for or a rival to the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. The whole purpose of the book fair was to provide a marketing instrument for the South African book industry. I should know: I came up with the idea for the fair.

2.Cape Town has utterly failed to attract publishers and visitors from other African countries, which is not surprising given the fact that no marketing intitiatives have been undertaken anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that Goethe Institute subsidizes the presence of a dozen or so African publishers [including Amabooks from Bulawayo] does not make Cape Town an attraction for African publishing, but only helps to distort the picture.

3. It should be noted that the participation of publishers from South Africa has been declining dramatically: Whereas in the early years, some 350 stands were taken by exhibitors, these year’s figures of 237 exhibitors are a drastic vote of distrust in Cape Town’s ability to do anything beneficial for books and publishing.

Another commentator Robert Cornford explains further why the book fair in Cape Town will not fill the gap left by ZIBF, “It is as costly for a publisher from Kenya or Ghana to get to Cape Town as it is to get to London or Frankfurt. And, if you want to develop your business, why go to Cape Town, where you will meet predominantly South African publishers, when you could go to Frankfurt or London and meet the world. South Africa is not a large enough or an intellectually open enough market to make a sales trip worthwhile from elsewhere in Africa to sell rights or make distribution deals.” And he concludes by saying, “Because (English language) South African publishing – for understandable and historical reasons – ignores the rest of Africa. Its horizons are London and New York, Melbourne and the Netherlands, not Lusaka and Nairobi, Accra and Nigeria. It has done very little to develop publishing or bookselling in the rest of Africa.”

Book fair in Cape Town was canceled this year altogether. As of 2012, CPBF will be held as a bi-annual event.

I approached Roger Stringer after the Book Cafe’ event and asked him to send me the notes that: he was using in his presentation. Below (in italics) are some of the most interesting facts from ZIBF history that make it stand out in the chronicle of African culture:

Main growth up to 1996. Remained successful to about 2002

Growth in attendance

1992: 136 exhibitors from 25 nations

1993: 170 exhibitors from 35 nations

1995: 230 exhibitors from 43 nations, 28 in Africa

Expansion of marketing and promotion

  • Planning: Date set three years ahead form 1994; themes set two years ahead.

  • Dates to fit into international calendar

  • Importance of doing business with more than Zimbabwe (i.e. all of Africa)
  • Regional marketing representatives/agents: UK/Europe/N. America; East Africa; SA; Asia, 1996
  • Eunice went to Delhi, Engelbert went to Accra, Roger Stringer went to Cairo. reciprocal arrangements

Interesting ideas

Book in a Day, 1993

Find the Weirdest Book Title competition (for children up to 16), 1993

Buy a local book, get an imported one free (from Book Aid International), 1995

To mark the beginning of the 21st century, and encouraged by Professor Ali Mazrui, the Zimbabwe International Book Fair launched the international compilation of “Africa’s 100 Best Books.” This project was organized in collaboration with the African Publishers Network (APNET), the Pan-African Booksellers Association (PABA), African writers’ associations, book development councils, and library associations. A jury made the final decision from the short list and the final list of “Africa’s 100 Best Books” was announced on February 18, 2002.

And to conclude, a few notes on the origins of the distinctive identity of ZIBF:

1991: 19–24 August (6th; 1st under Trust)

  • Trish Mbanga’s proposal at first meeting: “ZIBF should aim at creating a Zimbabwean cultural identity in terms of its promotional material and overall presentation” was endorsed by all. Immediately: brown and green colours: cheap paper – samples of forms, etc.

    Trish full-time Director of ZIBF from 1992

  • Use of Harare Gardens (Sculpture Gardens)

  • Construction of 400 stands – following identity, green/sand

  • “permanent exhibition centre, unique in concept and design”. Construction of first thatched shelter June 1992. Offers to exhibitors to pay for constructions (property of ZIBF, discounts to exhibitor, long-term rental)

Zimbabwe International Book Fair has a very distinct and, to be poetic (as the its chairman Musaemura Zimunya was at Book Cafe’ last week), “heroic” past. The fair could build on this to revive its status as an event-to-be-at for the buffs of African literary culture.

My recipe for the success of ZIBF initiatives:

  1.  creative and experienced management that takes into account the new digital environment that publishers and writers operate in today;
  2. internet-based marketing campaign with strong off-line network of supporters and fans abroad ;
  3. adequate funding that will come as a result of steps one and two

You can write to Andy Kozlov on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com


5 thoughts on “Every nation needs an international festival II: Harare vs Cape Town?”

  1. A Zimbabwean author Tendai Huchu wrote to us, “I have attended book festivals but never any book fairs. I was tempted to think that a hybrid combination of the two might be the solution for the ZIBF. That technology is important in the way book rights are handled today might be true but then why do we still bother going to the theatre, or here in the West I can do all of my shopping online and have it delivered to my house but I still prefer the human interaction of going to a supermarket.”

  2. Thanks for this candid description of the present situation, and thanks for quoting my clarification of the Cape Town Book Fair idea.
    Having attended ZIBF annually between 1992 and 2005, I think that the demise of ZIBF is to a large extent directly related to the breakdown of government in Zimbabwe. I remember vividly the altercations between ZANU and GALZ, and the ever increasing political harassment. From around 2000, ZIBF seemed to be colluding with ZANU, transforming the once respected Indaba conference program into a sounding stage for the lunatic fringe of anti-Western politics.
    But apart from this, even during its glory years in the mid-1990s, ZIBF bore the seed for its demise – i.e. the heavy reliance on donor funding. A trade event such as a book fair cannot function if the economic reasoning for the exhibitors does not exist. The publishing arms of institutions such as the World Bank, WHO or Oxfam used ZIBF to meet their regional distributors. But publishers from Uganda or Nigeria or Senegal did not have a business in Southern Africa and only came to ZIBF because donor money paid for it, even including a per-diem fee for the publishers.
    This situation has not changed very much: Today, there still is no business for West African publishers to be found in Southern Africa. Nobody in Zimbabwe or Botswana wants or needs text books from Nigeria. And when have you last seen a novel by a Kenyan writer published by a Kenyan publisher on the shelves of a book shop in Cape Town or Bulawayo or Maputo?
    If ZIBF is to have a future, it must be as a national event that promotes books and reading and literacy. If donor money can be attracted, it should not go into the funding of trips for publishers from other African countries, but into book buying programmes for libraries. If libraries buy books from exhibitors, these exhibitors will be able to see an economic reason for coming to ZIBF and will do so without subsidy. If the economic reason for coming to ZIBF should fail to materialise, exhibitors will stay away, and rightly so.

  3. Oh, I forgot: The Parati literary festival is what it says, a literary festival, of which there are more than 100 in Brazil. The main book fairs are held in alternating years in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and they both attract around 1500 exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors.
    The Frankfurt Book Fair is currently developing a new book fair project in Brazil which might materialise in 2013.

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