"Promoting reading, donating books, opening worlds"

What Harare City Library needs to return to its former glory

30 Jan 2012

reprinted from The Financial Gazette

by Diana Rodrigues

As a woman approaches her 50th birthday, she is likely to be at the height of her beauty and power: loved and cherished by her husband and children, she continues to influence and serve the family and community she nurtured and supported during her most active years.

Not so in the case of the Harare City Library, formerly known as the Queen Victoria Memorial Library, which opened its doors in 1962 as part of the new Civic Centre just off Rotten Row.

Turning 50 next year, Harare City Library is a grand old lady sadly in need of a facelift. Her two virtual husbands, the Mayor of Harare and the Master of the High Court, have neglected her in her declining years. For the last decade she has received no maintenance, having to take in lodgers to make ends meet (the former children’s section is rented out as a study centre).

Her roof is leaking, she needs re-wiring and she requires qualified librarians, to enable her to be once again a vibrant lending library.

Countless generations of young Zimbabweans have explored the magical world that lies between the pages of books from the shelves of the Harare City Library. Scholars have found inspiration and knowledge to help them pass exams, adults have broadened their minds and extended their boundaries, and budding authors have honed their skills and ambitions by borrowing and reading books from this once superb resource.

As a nation, Zimbabweans are great storytellers and avid readers. There has always been a strong culture of reading in this country, established long before Charles Mungoshi’s Waiting for the Rain, or Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions became best sellers at home and abroad.

Award-winning Zimbabwean author and bibliophile of note, Petina Gappah, spoke to me about her love of literature and the radio programme “Ku Verengwa kwamaBhuku” that she listened to when growing up in the townships. A different Shona or Ndebele novel every month would be serialised and read nightly over the radio, attracting thousands of listeners, eagerly awaiting each installment.

Gappah became a member of the Harare City Library at a young age: it was here that she developed a passion for reading and became the book lover that she is today. Now, as an acclaimed writer, Gappah is searching for ways to raise funds to rehabilitate the library. Working with her committee and numerous like-minded individuals, various schemes are underway. A gala performance held at Reps Theatre of the Christmas pantomime, Robinson Crusoe, has raised a moderately encouraging sum of money.

Lovers of romance, fine wine, superb food and elegant surroundings can attend a Venetian-themed fund-raising dinner at the residence of the British Ambassador on March 29 this year. Patrice Naiambana of the Royal Shakespeare Company, together with a cast of talented Zimbabweans, will perform Othello to a captive audience. For more details concerning this unique event, contact n-benham@dfid.co.uk .

When she turns 50 next year, the Harare City Library will become a protected building. Having been awarded a Bronze medal in 1962 by RIBA (Royal Society of British Architects) for the beauty and elegance of her design, it would be fitting if the fundraisers could achieve the US$US400, 000 required to restore her former glory.