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"Local is Lekker: My 2020 Zimbabwean Reading List" by Rutendo Chichaya

My name is Rutendo Chichaya, I live in Harare, Zimbabwe where I completed most of my education. I currently work as a corporate attorney in Harare. When I am not working, I enjoy reading books (both fiction and non-fiction). Sometimes, I write poetry, short stories and I have a novel manuscript gathering dust somewhere, waiting for its time. This year I started a book review blog because it is something that I have always wanted to do. People have always asked me what I think of the books that I read and now they have an opportunity to read my thoughts on and on the blog’s Instagram page @rehabandrelapse. My vision is to see this baby of mine grow into an active platform for readers and authors to interact. I hope to host interviews with authors and readers, and perhaps even run a bookstore one day. I will definitely be taking it one day at a time and putting in the required work to make this a reality.

A few weeks ago I was reflecting on my 2020 reading list. Every year I come up with a reading list and I try as much as I can to stick to it. In December 2019, I decided that 2020 would be the year to dedicate most of my reading time to stories from home because I realized that I was not reading enough Zimbabwean literature. I wanted to be intentional in my efforts. I find stories from my home to be very important because they comment, probe, depict, and give life to our history and to our present, as well as painting a picture of our desired tomorrow. My plan was to read at least 52 books by Zimbabwean authors which I had not read before. I managed to read 53. Pictured here are 38 books from my reading list. I ended up repeating 3 books (Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera, House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and These Bones Will Rise Again by Panashe Chigumadzi) due to the national lockdown which saw bookstores shutting down.

I knew that it was not going to be an easy journey trying to access local literature in Zimbabwe. Reading novels in Zimbabwe is a luxury for the rich, which it should not be. I want to share here some of my successes and struggles during my reading journey last year, in the hope that it will raise awareness of the current literary scene in Zimbabwe, and perhaps inspire us to pave a better way forward:

  • Older books published in the 80s and 90s are largely out of print and so I had to search far and wide to find copies of those I wanted to read. Buying copies from book vendors helped a lot. They have some of the older books which are hard to find in bookshops and their prices are good. There are a lot of emerging mobile bookstores such as Book Fantastics, whose service is commendable.

  • Accessing print copies was difficult because most local bookshops no longer stock local literature. If a book is not a “set book” put on school syllabi by the Ministry for primary and secondary education, there is not much of a market for it since most people cannot afford to read for pleasure.

  • Most books by Zimbabwean authors that are published overseas are not available in local book shops because the cost of getting them into the country is outrageous. This can be attributed to Zimbabwe’s book tax which translates into a selling price that is beyond the reach of most. I could not bring myself to buy cheaper pirated copies.

  • A considerable number of contemporary authors that are resident in Zimbabwe are selling their work by advertising on social media and delivering copies to clients. This eased the pains of accessing these books and I am grateful to those who have chosen this path as challenging as it is.

  • During the successive lockdowns last year, libraries were closed, and even if open the pickings are slim nowadays due to a lack of funding.

  • Late last year I received a Kindle device as a gift and this helped greatly in my reading journey. Thanks to technology, I was able to buy some electronic books on Amazon which come at a relatively cheaper price. But, as all true readers know, nothing can replace the feel of a printed book. I also found some books on the Internet Archive ( a digital library that is considered legitimate and safe (because most of the work on the site is under common licenses or in the public domain). On this site one is able to borrow books for 14 days and after that the loan expires, allowing you to borrow again.

  • Book exchanges with other readers are also quite popular in Zimbabwe. However, with the country in lockdown that was not practical or safe.

  • I am multilingual and I had envisioned a reading list which included books written in Shona, Ndebele and English. Accessing Shona books was easier because I reside in the capital city, Harare, where Shona is spoken by most. Now let’s talk about my struggle with finding Ndebele books! I now know that if you want Ndebele books you have to be in a city/town where Ndebele is the primary indigenous language. Due to travel restrictions brought about by the national lockdown, I didn’t do much traveling in 2020 and thus did not have access to Ndebele literature. When I look at my reading list, which is definitely an achievement, I can’t help but notice its deficiencies. I hope to correct these in the near future as I continue my journey of reading stories from home.

  • In addition to my personal reading endeavors, I am also part of the Harare Book Club whose aim is to support local writers by buying and reading their work. I encourage others to join such book clubs, as well as to start others of their own.

I found incredible beauty in the books by my Zimbabwean brothers and sisters that I read last year. I could see myself in most of the stories. I learned a lot. Love, pain, war, familial relations, trauma, community of yesterday and today, are dominant themes. A pleasant surprise was finding magical realism in Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu’s work. I appreciated that style of writing. I look forward to more Zimbabwean writers branching out into different genres.

The obstacles faced by the Zimbabwean literary scene are many, but despite this, Zimbabweans write and Zimbabweans read. I am extremely proud of emerging Zimbabwean writers who despite the odds are publishing their work, and the publishing houses doing everything in their power to support Zimbabwean writers.

My 2020 Reading List (in reading order)

  1. Broken Roots - Paul Chidyausiku

  2. Bonds of Love - Hope Dube

  3. Waiting for The Rain - Charles Mungoshi

  4. She No Longer Weeps - Tsitsi Dangarembga

  5. Wounds - Jameson Gadzirai

  6. The Polygamist - Sue Nyathi

  7. Jikinya - Geoffrey Ndhlala

  8. Strife - Shimmer Chinodya

  9. Red Hills of Home by Chenjerai Hove

  10. Ask Me Again - Hope Masike

  11. Songs from the Temple - Emmanuel Ngara

  12. Rainbows in the Dust - Chenjerai Hove

  13. Harvest of Thorns - Shimmer Chinodya

  14. These Bones Will Rise Again - Panashe Chigumadzi

  15. Butterfly Burning - Yvonne Vera

  16. House of Stone - Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

  17. Nehanda - Yvonne Vera

  18. Effortless Tears - Alexander Kanengoni

  19. The Polygamist - Ndabaningi Sithole

  20. Zenzele: A Letter For My Daughter by Nozipo J. Maraire

  21. Vakasiiwa Pachena - Juliet Chikanza

  22. Ndakakutadzirei - Sharai Mukonoweshuro

  23. Imbwa Nyoro - Renny. M. Mumvuma

  24. Rurimi Inyoka - Giles Kuimba

  25. Walking Still - Charles Mungoshi

  26. Black Sunlight - Dambudzo Marechera

  27. Without A Name - Yvonne Vera

  28. Not Another Day -Julius Chingono

  29. Masimba: Nyaya pfupi dzakapetwa naChiedza Musengezi

  30. The Setting Sun & the Rolling World - Charles Mungoshi

  31. Trapped - Valerie Tagwira

  32. Running With Mother - Christopher Mlalazi

  33. Grace and other Stories - Bongani Sibanda

  34. Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like A Foreigner - Tariro Ndoro

  35. Harare North - Brian Chikwava

  36. Acacia - Tendai Machingaidze

  37. Child of War - Ben Chirasha

  38. This September Sun - Bryony Rheam

  39. Intwasa Poetry collection

  40. The Black Insider - Dambudzo Marechera

  41. The Theory of Flight - Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu

  42. No More Plastic Balls: New Voices in the Zimbabwean Short Story - Clement Chihota and Robert Muponde (Editors)

  43. A Family Affair - Sue Nyathi

  44. The Boy Next Door - Irene Sabatini

  45. Birth Place: A Collection of Recollections - Lindiwe Dhlakama

  46. The History of Man - Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu

  47. Behind Enemy Lines - Joe Ruzvidzo

  48. Ndiko Kupindana Kwamazuva - Charles Mungoshi

  49. Chakaipa Hachivandiki - A.C. Kakurira

  50. Escape from Freedom – Benjamin S. Sibanda

  51. The Ties That Bind – Phillip Chidavaenzi

  52. Déjà vu – Rufaro C Mayowe

  53. An Elegy for Easterly – Petina Gappah

To all the writers taking steps to ensure that their books are available at home, in print and in electronic format, I say “thank you” because the struggle is real over here. As the saying goes, ‘local is lekker.’ I cannot agree more with that as I continue on with a new reading list for 2021.

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