Dealing with book piracy in Zimbabwe

David Mungoshi Shelling The Nuts
The maxim that says, “to each according to their needs and from each according to their ability” is particularly relevant in today’s Zimbabwe. We have neglected this basic principle and replaced it with acts of consumerism and avarice.

Everywhere you turn you see these parasites, people exploiting the sweat of others through unethical business practices. You hear about corrupt activities aimed at dispossessing people of the proceeds of their honest labour.

For example, the scourge of tobacco sales conmen known as “makoronyera” very nearly sabotaged Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry. The conmen somehow subvert the process and end up owning the tobacco brought in by the farmers.

They buy it from hard-pressed farmers for a song and re-sell the same tobacco at unbelievably higher prices. Under these circumstances, tobacco farmers found it difficult to continue farming and some seriously considered quitting.

Soccer, the peoples’ game is not spared. When there is a big match that is a crowd-puller you can rest assured that some smooth talker dressed like a gentleman will divert some of the gate takings.

During the match between Caps United and T. P. Mazembe at the National Sports Stadium in Harare there were fears that the Green Machine may have been prejudiced of thousands of US dollars.

The Caps United and T. P. Mazembe game was not the first one to raise such suspicions.

Music bands are victims of piracy too. Their albums are sold for what Zimbabweans call “sick money”. Music pirates like other pirates, have no qualms about their ill-gotten earnings.

The pirates brag about their takings and are quite oblivious of the prejudice they curse composers and singers with. In this equation, credit must go to musicians for successfully undercutting the pirates with new marketing strategies.

Alick Macheso began the trend with his blockbuster album “Tsoka Dzerwendo” which sold at one dollar per copy. Jah Prayzah did the same with his “Mudhara achauya” album.

The thinking behind this innovation is that no right-thinking person would bother with contraband when they can get the genuine article for just a dollar. The book chain should take a cue from this.

Popular musicians easily break even in terms of what they invest and what they get in return. Live shows do the trick for them. They get to play at different venues and sometimes do so to full houses four days in the week.

The musicians tend to benefit from economies of scale. When they manufacture hundreds of thousands of CDs and sell them cheaply, the music becomes a component of the consumer basket.

The fans then buy and as a matter of course, something that translates into handsome financial rewards. So, when a song makes it big bands earn more on the live show circuit. Willy-nilly, successful albums advertise, promote and sell a band’s shows. Nothing of the sort happens for writers.

Writing is a lonesome activity. When you are writing seriously you become something of a recluse. Intruders, who may be close family are not welcome at this point.

You sit and sweat and write sometimes deep into the night and when you come up with a particularly evocative turn of phrase only you can witness it. There is no standing ovation for you because you have no audience.

Your audience is a silent and anonymous one. When success comes your way there will be those who will swear by your name yet they will not have read any of your books.

Some authorities define writing as rewriting. Accordingly, doing more than one draft of a manuscript is routine for perfectionist writers. Too many budding writers think that every time they put pen to paper they create a masterpiece.

This conceit makes them reticent to have their work critiqued and they become unnecessarily defensive.

This kind of writer does not fully understand the processes of writing nor do they understand the need for professional conduct according to which every necessary step is taken in the interest of a new publication.

A number of imperative activities are usually buried this way: the need for proper reading and editing as well as the production of good cover designs and blurbs.

Some writers are not aware that it is necessary to do serious research before committing anything to paper. In my experience, whenever you feel that the book is done, you discover that there are things that need your urgent attention.

Thus, when you start thinking, “it’s a wrap”, you discover numerous silly errors on your manuscript. Revision is, therefore, critical and most serious writers recognise this.

You burn the midnight candle, you invest money into your project and you agonise over phrases and single words in order to come up with apt ways of telling your stories. In short, there is just so much that you must do before your manuscript becomes a book.

Imagine then, a writer’s indignation, when he sees photocopies of his book on the pavements. You confiscate the photocopies but you know it’s all in vain because the unscrupulous pirates probably have loads and loads of your book in some obscure warehouse somewhere.

Shady consortiums of avaricious book pirates make a living out of the product of a writer’s labours while, conversely, the writer has little to show for his days and nights of gruelling labour.

The writer can’t even justify having to sometimes neglect loved ones. As a seasoned writer, you know too that in the end, society may question your sanity, given that you seem to persist with an utterly thankless task that does not put bread on the table.

Sometimes you win an award and sometimes you don’t. Regrettably, few of the awards are anything to write home about materially-speaking. Of course their sentimental value is greater and they increase your visibility in society.

That, under normal circumstance, should translate into such benefits as heightened sales and royalties. But guess what? The grinning pirate is the one that laughs all the way to the bank.

These debilitating thoughts came rushing into my mind when I was overseeing some of the processes involved with the publishing of my latest book, “Live Like An Artist”.

I kept wondering if I had read the signs correctly or if I was being foolhardy in releasing my latest intellectual baby into the wide world.

Had the market changed sufficiently to warrant the kind of confidence I was showing in it or was I being myopic about it all? I know someone who, in the good old days, was able to buy a stand and build himself a comfortable house that he still lives in.

He had the distinction of being a writer whose books were sustaining him. Several other writers were beneficiaries of proceeds from the sale of their books. They lived well, ate well and even bought cars.

Add to all this the adulation which society accorded them and you can see that it was the time of their lives. They had it made, and everything was going our way.

Ironically, with a bigger population and a higher literacy rate things are no better. Something is obviously the matter and we need to address this something urgently.

Current changes in the national curriculum will suffer a still birth in some respects unless certain things are done. There has to be far-reaching changes in the mentality and attitude of people at all levels.

People must learn to once again respect another person’s labour and sweat. We must begin to be driven by a new ethos of consideration for others and by common ethical behaviour all round and in all spheres including civic and political.

Stories of corruption such as the one that is rumoured to have occurred in a key district of Mashonaland East in the days preceding the 2016 Christmas festivities must never be allowed to happen.

According to villagers five haulage trucks were brought in with food aid for distribution among the villagers. They were each supposed to have received their share of rice, flour and cooking oil. Allegedly, everything was going well until the collusion between the police, public figures and a chief.

A whole haulage truck with its full load is said to have disappeared under unclear circumstances. That is what the rumours say, but life teaches us that there is no smoke without fire, even in these days of fake news.

Zimbabwe’s new education curriculum must create citizens with a sense of responsibility, citizens averse to underhand dealings. Only when there is re-adjustment all round can authors start being hopeful again.

Everyone must play a part: government, publishers, writers and booksellers! Perhaps the purchase of school books should be done centrally through government.

If this does not happen there is likely to be a huge disappointment with writers feeling hard-done-by. An urgent protocol is necessary to kill off piracy.

  • David Mungoshi, author of the newly-published poetry anthology “Live Like An Artist” is a short story writer and an award-winning novelist.
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