Raw deal for academic, non-fiction authors

Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
The fight against book piracy in Zimbabwe has become a requiem which writers and publishers continue to sing in perpetual hopelessness. The literary choir has its rhythm toned down and it now plays to the gallery. In utter surrender, some of our authors now simply watch their own reproduced works being exhibited for sale on the pavements in the CBD.

Parents, although hoping for higher literacy for their schoolchildren, are yet duped into buying the cheap, poor quality textbooks with missing or smudged pages. New writers are discouraged and what’s more, the growth of the indigenous book industry is stalled. And still, no one seems to care!

Hard hit by this broken chain are academic and non-fiction authors whose works are used in schools and universities. Fiction authors who have their works prescribed as literature set text in the school curricula have also come under siege from the book pirates.

In a wide-ranging interview, the national chairperson of Zimbabwe Academic and Non-Fiction Authors (ZANA), Samuel Makore, highlighted the disrespect writers are suffering due to book piracy and other factors.

ZANA, he said, in association with other concerned organisations, has been active in matters of copyright through the Anti-Piracy Focus Group which was set up by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.

Although efforts by the Anti-Piracy Focus Group has led to a tacit partnership between the police force and ZIBF, the illegal photocopying and binding mills in major cities have not yet been busted.

Makore said most of the copyrighted works which are being pirated belong to members of ZANA and he implored Zimcopy, a reproduction rights organisation of Zimbabwe to which ZANA is affiliated, to effectively play its role as the situation has now gone out of hand.

“We are mostly affected as non-fiction authors. We would want Zimcopy to play a very active role so that the pirates are brought to book,” Makore said.

Zimcopy, which Makore sees as a last resort at least capable of solving the prevailing rampant illegal photocopying of books, is a collecting society that administers the economic rights of creators and authors in the field of literary and artistic works in Zimbabwe.

Formed in 1995, some of Zimcopy objectives are to advocate and lobby for the protection of copyrighted works in Zimbabwe, and increased public and institutional awareness of copyright and the benefits of collective management of rights.

Zimcopy, led by its Executive Director Greenfield Chilongo, is affiliated to the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisation (IFFRO). Given the rampant copyright infringements happening across the country, one would urge the organisation to come up with practical solutions pronto.

Although ZANA, as well as other associations, have, through Zimcopy, access to information and resources on copyright and related issues, there is more work Zimcopy should do for writers.

Makore said universities, colleges and schools are massively photo- copying books and had Zimcopy negotiated with these institutions the use of copyright protected material through licence agreements, as it should, authors would be economically benefiting.

“As ZANA, we are striving to get to that point where members benefit from their writing. You cannot sit down to write and get nothing out of it. Although there is the cultural benefit, we are also there to profit from our writing. Writing is a business,” said Makore.

In Uganda, it was reported that book pirates were last year arrested and their equipment, together with about 60 000 copies of pirated books, were confiscated by the police.

Asked why this is not happening in Zimbabwe, Makore said it is rather ironic that a Zimbabwean organisation (Zimcopy), which helped set up similar organisations in other African countries like Uganda, is ineffective in its own country.

However, Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association (ZBPA), according to Makore, is said to have made positive steps in the fight against copyright infringement.

“I want to congratulate ZBPA for arresting someone who was doing digital piracy. The culprit was taken to court. We should be on the look-out for this new threat called digital piracy which involves e-learning and e-books,” he said.

Another solution to uplift writers’ lives would be to establish a book policy, Makore said. Although the policy has been talked about widely, authors are yet to be consulted.

“There are plans to come up with a book policy but we have not yet been engaged or consulted as authors,” said Makore.

A book policy, he said, helps ease the availability of books in schools because every work published is taken up by the state. The Government buys a large number of copies that are then distributed to state libraries, schools and universities and in the process, the author is exposed also.

Asked why the academic aspect of his organisation has been prominent than the non-fiction aspect, Makore said it is because many of ZANA members come from academic institutions.

“Actually we do promote academic writing and publishing. We encourage especially the conversion of theses or research findings into books so that we are able to bring universities closer to the people,” said Makore.

With branches across the country which are led by elected committees, ZANA has started encouraging the writing of non-fiction works about every aspect of Zimbabwean life. According to Makore, this outreach to the ordinary people will help separate ZANA from the elite of academics to which many budding writers have been relating it.

“People have a lot to write that’s non-fiction but the common feeling has been that one has to come from academia in order to be an ‘approved’ or convincing non-fiction author.

“Old people should be part of us as they are reservoirs of cultural wisdom. We want people to write about our traditional dances,” Makore said.

While academic writing is somewhat research-based and scientific, non-fiction writing can be taken up by anybody who has learnt the writing skills and has a passion for sharing his or her wisdom, knowledge and discoveries. Non-fiction writing includes biographies, essays, memoirs, letters, journal entries and feature articles.

The non-fiction writer, like the fiction writer, is affected also by the economics in the book publishing industry. As observed by Makore, when publishers are not economically viable, writers also suffer.

He said: “Due to the tight economic environment, publishers have resorted to textbooks at the moment and there are no incentives for the authorship of every aspect of Zimbabwean life so that we promote the education of the nation and other people.”

It is clear that if nothing is done to clear loopholes in the local book industry, the country is likely to lose its indigenous publishing gusto and posterity will suffer. The current situation indeed calls for collective action involving concerned parties.

Apart from being the national chairperson of ZANA, Makore is an author of six textbooks and is currently a research manager for commercial subjects at the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council. He also sits on the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Board.

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