One of the reasons often stated for the absence of a vibrant reading culture in Zimbabwe is the high price of books.
With most Zimbabweans struggling to make ends meet, it is unlikely that many would spend $15 or $20 on a book unless compelled to by schools or colleges.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa’s announcement of the 40% import duty on text books last year was received with strong criticism by fellow ministers and educationists who said the tax would have a negative impact on students and learning institutions.
The Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology development, Professor Jonathan Moyo was among those who strongly opposed the announced increase in duty. In a letter to the Finance Minister, Moyo argued that the local industry did not have the capacity to provide all the books on demand which meant that importing books would become necessary.
Not long after his initial announcement, it was reported that Chinamasa had scrapped the duty on text books. Harare News spoke to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) who confirmed that the 40% import duty has been maintained on any publication that does not fall under the text book category.
Although this means that text books are still exempt from tax, Senator David Coltart believes that the tax on non-academic books remains a hindrance to Zimbabweans’ ability to acquire knowledge through wider reading outside the classroom.
“If people don’t read they become narrow in their outlook and their general education becomes stunted. Without the ability to read about new trends taking place in the world, people will never advance,” Coltart told Harare News.
He emphasized that knowledge is not limited to text books and that it is important for Zimbabweans to have access to other material during and after school.
Esnath Magurani who works in a bookshop in Harare, said that she has noticed that some books stay on the shelf for months because customers are not willing to pay for them.
“Sometimes people show interest in some of the other books we sell, but put the book back on the shelf the moment you tell them the price,” she says.
“We get most of our sales from text books. Still some opt to photocopy the expensive text books because they cannot afford to buy brand new ones,” she added.
Since the price of books is generally higher in Zimbabwe as compared to neighboring countries, avid readers have resorted to importing books. Even novels by local authors like Tsitsi Dangarembga and Chenjerai Hove are easily found in South Africa at more affordable prices than they are available locally. This has been attributed to the higher cost of publishing in Zimbabwe. Those who decide to buy non-academic books often purchase them second-hand.
Image: Part of the Doris Lessing book collection donated to the Harare City Library last year.
Image credit: Sharon Mazingaizo