The first great book fair in Africa was held annually in Ife, Nigeria. After that, the international gathering place for African publishers was at Harare, Zimbabwe. Although South Africa was becoming the most prolific publishing country south of the Sahara, it was mutually agreed that no competition would be offered to the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. (Though a vigorous local book fair used to take place in East London, in the days of that formidable librarian, Miss Deventer.)
I was invited to Zimbabwe once. It was a bustling, thriving affair – first a mini-conference, then the trade days with stalls all over the park and a tent for children’s events, until the public swooped in on the last day to buy heavily discounted books. ZIBF was profitable enough to pay air-fares, accommodation and an honorarium to speakers.
When Harare could no longer afford such a dazzling event, the first Cape Town Book Fair was launched in 2006. Held annually, the support for this dwindled a little, and it now seems to be a biennial event. The next will be from 13 to 15 June 2014.
Many people, including myself, thought that the Zimbabwe Fair was done for. It isn’t. This year saw two of them: in Bulawayo and Masvingo. They featured many of the traditional events such as the Young Persons Indaba, Traders Day, exhibitions, workshops, and the much loved Children’s Reading Tent where they could hear stories and meet authors.