ZIBF is bigger and more important than our egos
Shelling The Nuts with Ignatius T. Mabasa
An old woman is uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb
ON Tuesday August 19 early in the morning, Tinashe Mushakavanhu tweeted: Musaemura Zimunya throws a salvo @ignatiusmabasa’s comments on the decline of the Zim International Book Fair.
When I wrote about the sorry state of affairs at ZIBF, I didn’t expect Mr Musaemura Zimunya to scrap the bottom of the pot and use all sorts of superlatives and adjectives to gloss over the truth in order to silence me.
In my opinion, and that of friends in the book industry who sent me solidarity messages, Mr Zimunya’s response was so personal and shows someone who is extremely proud, sensitive, or insecure. Some even told me that he wears his feelings on his sleeves and is easily offended such that he broods on criticism and nurses it into a grudge.
Mr Zimunya and maybe the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association (ZIBFA) Executive Board (because he writes using the honorific plural “we”) thinks my views in an article on the metaphorical death of the ZIBF that appeared in The Herald of August 14 were outlandish diatribe and unjustified.
But, I want to say to Mr Zimunya, it is only a foolish dog that will bark at a flying dog.
Don’t they say, the truth is an offence, but not a shame?
When I said what I said about ZIBF, I was not, and still I am not harbouring any agendas, except to hopefully get things right and working at ZIBF.
ZIBF has become a show of bleeps and blunders, and out of respect my article omitted chronicling how unprofessional the organisation has become.
As an example, ask the young people who were part of the Live Literature programme to tell you how chaotic the event was.
The truth of the matter is that ZIBFA is naked, and people are whispering behind its back.
I am failing to understand why it is not feeling the draught! We have witnessed the steady and sure decline of ZIBF and all that I was trying to do through my article was to disturb the ZIBFA, more like what Sir Francis Drake said in his poem titled Disturb Us, Lord in which he says:
“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,?
“When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,?
“When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.”
I was simply saying ZIBF is failing to respond to social change and therefore it cannot just try to do “the same old things” again.
The world — and particularly the book trade — has moved on and my article was just a wake up call. If you want to continue sleeping, go ahead and sleep like Rip Van Winkle, but just don’t sleep at ZIBF.
My piece was addressing issues at ZIBF and not a personal attack.
I was making a genuine assessment of a situation that urgently needs remedial action by an institution that purports to be what it is not, like the proverbial owl that was claiming to have horns, when actually what it had were tufts of very soft and tender feathers.
Mr Zimunya, I thought your response missed an opportunity to tell Zimbabweans what the ZIBF strategy for growth and relevance is?
What its short and long-term outcomes are and where it is taking the book sector in Zimbabwe?
The ZIBF matter is not about Ignatius Mabasa, but is a national matter. It is attitudes like Mr Zimunya’s to personalise public and national matters that make people not speak out.
I will tell you that one veteran book activist, after reading my article on the state of things at ZIBFA said, “introversion, ignorance, complacency and indifference all have to be overcome first” before ZIBFA can become receptive and act on constructive criticism.
The ZIBF decline is in the public eye. For your own information, the picture of a “sparsely visited stand with bare bookshelves” that you said I chose in order to ram my point home is what The Herald photographers as professionals saw and took. It is the picture that The Herald sub-editors chose, not Ignatius Mabasa.
While at the ZIBF grounds during the book fair on Thursday, I met two very key players in the arts and culture industry and they sarcastically asked me when the “real ZIBF” was going to start.
Mr Zimunya, I wonder whether you and your executive board members read the Book Worm column in The Standard newspaper titled The Death of the ZIBF? The Book Worm columnist shared most of my sentiments and even described the ZIBF as a national joke.
I hope you will also descend on the Standard columnist with your trademark fire and brimstone.
I may sound insolent and ungrateful, especially after ZIBFA invited me to present papers at their Writers’ Workshop and the Young Persons Indaba, but last year for my presentation, I was phoned at 7pm being told to present a paper the following day at 10am.
I was told that I had 30 minutes to present and that my name was already on the programme (which I had never seen) and that my topic was to be “Behind my children’s stories.”
I protested that this was not the way to run things professionally because it meant I had to burn the midnight oil in order to put together a good presentation.
When I eventually made the presentation, I had to explain to the audience that I was only told to prepare something the previous night and that they should forgive me for any weaknesses in my paper.
Mr Zimunya was angry with me for saying that in public, but that was the truth. And, when I stood up to make the presentation, I was told that I only had 15 minutes to speak!
I have taken part in the ZIBF events, and I will continue to participate if I am invited on merit. I will not throw away my jersey because there are some black jacks that have attached themselves to it.
I have gone past the stage where I get frustrated and complain or murmur in the background when I can make a positive contribution to my country.
I refuse to be silenced, especially where matters to do with national development are concerned because I will not be able to explain to my grandchildren and their children why we failed them.
As long as ZIBFA is without a director with agreed deliverables, and who is responsible for the day to day management of affairs and answerable to a professional board, then things will fall through the cracks.
A board cannot manage the day to day affairs of an institution, because they do not have the time and also that is not their role.
Mr Zimunya says ZIBF does not have the money to hire a director, but this is where it becomes necessary to think outside the box. These days, organisations are eating what they hunt, instead of eating what is brought to them.
ZIBF must employ a director who can raise funds for projects as well as for his own salary.
ZIBF must rent out and get money from all the gazebos it owns that are lying idle.
And for your information Mr Zimunya, proper monitoring and evaluation is not about giving out forms which do not go on to inform programming and strategic decision-making.
As we do business and lead national institutions, the question we should ask ourselves is what legacy do we want to leave for the sectors we have chosen to lead?
In the spirit of progress and development, I recommend that ZIBFA must urgently conduct a focus discussion group to get help, practical ideas and solutions about what needs to be done to save the book fair.
Alternatively, ZIBFA can commission an independent evaluator to get public opinion from players in the book industry regarding the state of affairs and the future of ZIBF and the book industry in Zimbabwe.
And by public opinion, I am not speaking of the ordinary Yes or No type of public opinion, but one that really scratches where it itches, such that practical recommendations and actions are suggested and implemented.
My dear mukoma Zimunya, I am not being spiteful like a snake which bites even that which it does not eat.
After all, we share the same totem and hail from the same village, but ZIBF is bigger and more important than us and our village.