By Frederick Philander
The Government must subsidize local writers because without such financial assistance they can neither creatively produce nor economically survive.
This public plea was made on Wednesday during a roundtable discussion on the problems facing Namibian writing and publishing by educationist, Otillie Abrahams.
She and a number of local writers and publishers took part in the two-hour discussions preceding the official handing over ceremony of the NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa that took place last night. The discussion took place at the University of Namibia.
“There are children in Grade 12 who do not know what a novel is. If you ask them what a novel is, they show you a textbook. This says a lot about our education system. As it stands now a child can actually proceed from Grade 1 to Grade 12 without having read one novel because the education system is such that we don’t do set work in schools.
If we don’t do set work in schools how can we cultivate a reading culture in Namibia?” Abrahams asked.
She claimed that Namibians don’t have books of African writers such as Achebe or Soyinka in schools.
“To salvage the situation we should go back to the time of the Renaissance where the State subsidized artists and writers to make sure people write. We have very few Namibian writers that have to do something else in order to economically survive because they cannot make a living from writing.
If Government cannot support writers they cannot contribute to Namibian literature – so essential and necessary for education,” she said.
Government has to subsidize Namibian writers and literature must be made compulsory in schools.
“This will encourage a reading public as well as Namibian writers to produce works that can be used in the education system. I am convinced that this investment in writers and publishing will eventually pay dividends,” she said optimistically.
An experienced African publisher from Tanzania, Walter Bgoya, encouraged a strong indigenous publishing industry for the country away from State publishing.
“Most funding in African countries goes to educational publishing dominating the scene, whereas only five percent of publishing caters for literature other than textbooks. Furthermore, the existing publishers are not interested in the publication of novels, poetry and drama.
Some publishers have started off with the idea of also publishing ordinary literature when they started off, but did not honour their commitments,” Bgoya said.
The government textbook publishing model is seen and considered to be a non-starter by African writers.
“This sort of publishing hampers efforts for cultural autonomy in African countries in a situation in which Americanisation and Europeanisation dominate. In addition ministries of education are a problem for multi-national publishers, who play tricks to quickly publish books on the curriculum that has taken more than five years to develop, effectively marginalising indigenous publishers.”
According to the Tanzanian with 36 years African publishing experience, textbook publishing is the enemy of reading because such books are considered to be boring and lack a sense of interest.
Pieter Reiner of Gamsberg Publishers and Jane Katja-
vivi, a former publisher under New Namibia books, both vehemently defended textbook publication in the country due to the fact that their companies entirely depend on Government textbook publication.
Both companies were heavily criticised by author and Namibian playwright, Dr Sifiso Nyathi, who accused them of having dominated the textbook publication scene for far too long having adjusted their operations as multi-nationals to fit in with the Ministry of Education’s language policy.
“I have just entered the publishing field and as a self-publication author I am doing much better in a shorter period of time than what I have been involved with for the past 20 years as a writer,” said Nyathi, who expressed his disappointment in NIED for not attending the round-table discussion.
NIED is the ultimate education body that accepts or rejects works from Namibian writers into mainstream