Christopher Farai Charamba The Reader
Last week was filled with drama over floor prices for data that priced a number of people off the internet. For many this meant they couldn’t connect to Facebook and WhatsApp, the biggest drivers of internet usage in the country.The new data tariffs also affected those who prefer to do their reading online, an option I recently discovered and have grown into.
I certainly do prefer the look, texture and smell of the traditional printed form but with exorbitant price of books in Zimbabwe, online reading is more lenient on the pocket. This, however, was threatened under the directive from the regulator which has since been suspended, gratitude goes to the Minister of ICT for the intervention.
The worldwide web is a treasure trove of multifarious items that cater to all tastes. For those with a penchant for literature, the internet caters to those tastes, from classical texts by Dickens, Shakespeare and Austen available for free, to modern novel series on individual blogs.
A few years ago, the Southern African online community was enthralled by the series “Diary of a Zulu Girl” by Mike Mphoto. The blog-turned-full novel started off as a joke according to the author but began to garner a lot of interest and in 2013 had reached up to 33 million hits.
Mphoto would post a weekly chapter of the life of Thandeka Mkhize, a Zulu girl from a small town halfway between Johannesburg and Durban who travels to Wits University to study law and is caught up in the fast life of Johannesburg and becomes involved with older men.
Each chapter would continue Thandeka’s journey and with every new post, the number of readers increased.
While a completely different medium, “Diary of a Zulu Girl” reminded me of how Charles Dickens’s books were published as weekly or monthly serials, some over a period of close to two years.
The publishing style used over 150 years ago has resurfaced online and is a perfect way to engage readers in this digital age, particularly as they are constantly bombarded by a barrage of information and might not have the time to sit through hundreds of pages at one go.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, certainly rings true of this medium of publishing that many have taken to online.
One of my favourite online reading platforms is Brittle Paper, a virtual publisher founded by Ainehi Edoro. It is a space for new African writers to share their work and create a different kind of African writing for the modern African.
Of Brittle Paper, Edoro said, “(it) is a literary project designed to adapt African literary culture to this new reality (of) speculative writing — fantasy, science fiction — but also in experimental narratives, pulp-fiction, and other offbeat genres.
“Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.”
One of my favourite stories on Brittle Paper, published in a similar style to “Diary of a Zulu Girl”, is titled “In the Shadow of Iyanibi”.
It follows Ihumbi, a girl who looking for her missing sister is forced into the darkness of the forest and has to face off Urunma — a forest-dwelling demigoddess hungry for the souls of lost children.
The task that Brittle Paper has undertaken is a brave and necessary one that transforms writing on the African continent from an anti-colonial and Diasporan space to forge a different yet engaging form of literature.
Online reading might not be the favoured preference for many readers, however, it is a perfect platform for new African writers. With the growing number of Africans connecting to the web, and the inexpensive publishing options online, new African literature has a space to develop on the internet.
With favourable data prices and the growth of internet use among young adults, online platforms could be the renaissance for literature in the 21st century.