Columnist’s outlandish diatribe unjustified
We refer to Mr Ignatius Mabasa’s rather melodramatic opinion piece entitled “ZIBF a case of truth decay” (sic) published in the Tuesday 4 August issue of The Herald. For the sake of common decency, we shall not touch on every accusation levelled against us but suffice to say that his remarks somewhat outlandish, bluntly disrespectful and wildly off the mark.
As ZIBFA we accept genuine criticism of the structure, operations, management of the Fair and direction of the association but it is important that we highlight certain matters of fact for the public to understand and make their own conclusions:
It is incorrect to state that ZIBFA has “recently” been restructured from ZIBF. Mr Mabasa may not be aware that the organisation was run as a Trust from 1983 to 2005. In fact, this restructuring of Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association was occasioned at the recommendation of funding partners following mismanagement of resources by an official who held the same high position Mr Mabasa regards with the highest esteem.
From then on, there was a mass flight of “donors” which in turn crippled the organisation’s ability to recruit an executive director. In spite of this, the new structure has managed to safeguard the financial resources of the organisation through rigorous checks, transparency and accountability — not to mention personal sacrifice of Board members that did not exist before. An additional benefit has been to restore confidence in the organisation among our development partners.
Mr Mabasa seems so ill-informed that he presumes that the post of director at ZIBFA has been dissolved or abolished. It has not.
The only reason we currently do not have one is lack of financial resources and once this challenge is overcome we shall advertise, at which point the individuals with a genuine interest in the affairs of the sector may be free to apply.
He proposes that we interview our clients during our events in order to gauge their views and evaluate activities.
For his information, we have been using evaluation forms since 2010.
If it is true, as he says, that he attended the Indaba, the Young Persons Indaba and the Book Fair, he will have filled out our evaluation forms at the end of each activity which seek precisely the answers to the questions he poses. Our participants at The Harare Literary Evening and the Writers Workshop — which events Mr Mabasa does not mention — filled out the same evaluation forms.
Mr Mabasa is so keen to prove his point that he does not hesitate to shoot from the hip. Regarding the displays, ZIBFA does not choose the stands for the exhibitors but is the exhibitors’ prerogative to choose stands by cost, size and position in the garden – even if that means there may not be anyone between them and the next stand for meters around. It is unfortunate that Mr Mabasa is so keen to ram his point home that he uses an insert to recreate a sparsely visited stand with bare bookshelves as representative of the event.
However, we happen to know that this same gazebo is the property of one of Zimbabwe’s biggest publishers and was well stocked and had more visitors in ZIBF 2014 than suggested.
Somewhere in his logic, Mr Mabasa accuses us of turning the Book Fair into an Association and not a “trade fair”. We have already indicated elsewhere in an interview with this paper that it is the publishers and booksellers who make the “Book Fair market” while the Association plans the event and affords the platform. In any case, it is superfluous to mention that we reintroduced Trader’s Day as a commercial activity at every ZIBF back in 2013.
We detect a contradiction when in one breath he declares that “For me, the ZIBF public exhibition is dead and that demise has little to do with the economy” and then in another acknowledges without apology that (ZIBF) ‘lost the opportunity to develop/change gradually with the technologies because of the collapse of the economy and our “lost decade” in the new millennium’! It defies all logic for anyone to say that the economic environment which has destroyed our industries could have spared the book sector in its tale of havoc. From where we stand, government, the biggest consumer of books cannot resource schools while given the choice between books and food. The last 10 years have seen parents being more preoccupied with putting food on the table for the survival of their families. Further, it is apparent that book piracy thrives in times of economic crisis.
In any case, can someone who is not prone to amnesia remind Mr. Mabasa what The Book Fair was like in 2007, 2008 and 2009? And compare it with 2014? We are absolutely certain that those who have been attending this event regularly since then will have found Mr Mabasa’s observations baffling.
Curiously, in a haste to kill, Mr. Mabasa drags in the contentious matter of the “neocolonialism” of donors and advises us to be liberated from this phenomenon. He seems to have forgotten or thinks we do not remember that he was, until recently, programme officer for a British funding agent salaried in hard currency and was well fed during the “lost decade” while the rest of our citizens survived on maputi and soya chunks.
Anywhere in the world this would be considered an insult. Given the attitude towards associations in the book sector displayed in his opinion piece, one wonders what sort of influence he had on the failure of their efforts to raise funding.
Or perhaps he would rather exercise his right to hypocrisy in order to reinvent himself as a political radical or revolutionary – which, by all accounts, he is not. What department of government – central or local, social sector, economic sector or cultural sector can claim to have broken the chains of this “slavery” for good?
What boggles the mind is that Mr Mabasa has been a key participant in our last two ZIBF’s. He presented a paper on “Writing for Children Now” during the 2012 Writers Workshop and another one on “Inspiring the Young to Create in Mother Tongue Languages” at the recent Young Persons’ Indaba.
On both occasions he was well received and at no point did he utter a single recommendation as to how things could be made better. One wonders how he reconciles his nihilistic comments with these facts or would the thought of it deny him the desperate opportunity to insult and condemn.
Mr Mabasa attacks ZIBF organisers for pandering to their own egos through the spreading of The Exhibitions beyond the capacity of the limited exhibitors. Those who read his article may wonder what is more egotistical than attacking time-keeping at the Indaba without making a single reference to the value of the sessions and topics on the subject of indigenous languages, literatures and knowledge systems, an area that should presumably be close to the author’s heart and soul.
Is it not the very epitome of pettiness to attack procedure without reference to objective or form at the expense of content? And then he would mention The President’s name in vain, presuming that His Excellency has a low regard for ZIBF.
If he had checked his facts he would have been embarrassed to discover that ZIBF was a beneficiary of 10 computers from The Office of the President in 2013 and that these are now indispensable assets for our digital zone has become a permanent e-learning feature of every Book Fair for the benefit of young scholars who throng our exhibitions. In any case, if the success of a fair is an automatic guarantee of a presidential visit, when was the last time Cde Mugabe turned up at HIFA?
As for the list of individuals he recommends to run ZIBF, we have always left our doors wide open to worthy citizens to come aboard — though some have left on their own volition. In fact, one wonders whether he is aware that Ms Virginia Phiri and Ms Chiedza Musengezi (who also happens to be Chair of Programmes Committee of ZIBF) actually sit in General Council of ZIBFA as well as Mr Stephen Chifunyise, who was Chair until 2013.
Ominously, some of our funding partners — of whom we are very proud — have warned of a secret lobby zealously funnelling falsehoods and adverse reports to the donor community in order to unplug support and destroy the organisation.
Mr Mabasa’s views can, therefore, only serve to demonstrate that emotion without facts is truly the mother of destruction.
Musaemura Zimunya is the chairman of the executive board of ZIBFA.