There’s an old joke that says if you want to hide something from an African/ black man, you put it in a book. This joke is a bit disturbing because there is a lot of truth to it. In Zambia, we have a very bad reading culture. Primary and secondary school teachers repeat this joke, lecturers in tertiary institutions as well, and even the President at a recent press conference said that Zambians have a bad reading culture. Little wonder that people could support the enactment of a new constitution only to learn later that the same document they supported contains provisions that bar them from holding their coveted offices. There is real humour to some of these things.
Reading is something that you can take a lot of joy in. I know this because I never started out a reader. In fact, I accidentally took Literature in English when I was in High school and performed very poorly in the final exam simply because I could not pay enough attention when reading. In one of life’s twists, I wound up falling in love with reading only 3 years or so after leaving high school and that’s when I realised that the more you learn from written material, the more you seek to learn. There is real power in knowledge, and Zambians could do well to practice a better reading culture. There is also something about reading that makes it richer in content than watching the same story or documentary on film. When I first heard of this notion, I could not believe that written material could be more definitive than something you can watch on film. I have long since been disabused. The fact that the reading goes hand in hand with your imagination can make you explore things even beyond the imagination and capture of a film director giving you untold insight of the explanations in the literature. I suppose this is why one philosopher called Descartes said: ‘The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.’
Sometimes I feel as though the older generation of citizens had a better reading culture than the new crop. They also concentrated on reading material of substance as opposed to reading nonsensical posts all day long on social media. I have a grandpa – Mr Eric Nawa – that loves to read, and not only does he love to read but he has a friend he refers to as his reading buddy. Anytime he comes across a piece of literature that he describes as a gem, he will quickly share the literature with his reading buddy so that he equally savours the material. If you are a reading person out there, you will agree with me that there is real joy in reading.
On the 28th of January, 2016, News24 reported that a Human Rights Activist – Rhoda Kadaile – said the weak education system in South Africa is creating a culture of entitlement. She was responding to the Fees must fall protest. “When I was a student, I worked to pay for my own admission fees” she said.
She continued, “But because our education system is so pathetic we compensate for what is going on at universities and are breeding a culture of entitlement.” She also went on to say that uneducated parents are also adding to the problem saying too many parents can’t help their children with homework because they are illiterate.
As I read those words on the news channel on television, I could not help but think of the culture here at home in Zambia. Our situation at home here certainly has some of these issues of illiterate parents being unable to help children with homework as a result. In the end, we tend to have a peculiar situation of generational illiteracy in Zambia, where parents pass their culture of never reading a book on to their children. Standards are dropping at a fast rate in our education system and one wonders what next. I read a statistic in Andrew Sardanis’ Book – Zambia the first 50 years on page 303 which talked about how in the 2012 Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SACMEQ), Zambia ranked 13th out of 14 countries in reading, and 12th out of 14 in mathematics.
When I look around, I see very few people reading, which would obviously explain why we ranked 13th out of 14 countries. Even when you go to our different shopping centres, you find very few people in the Book stores. And even from the few people in the book stores, a number just end at admiring the books, very few actually go on to buy books and read them. We have very few people around in this country that have got personal libraries. It’s like spending money on a book is one of the most painful things a Zambian can endure.
In Zambia, most people that call themselves learned tend to have only read the study material relevant to them passing their exams allowing them to get bestowed with those so called powerful qualifications. They then take so much pride in those qualifications as though they are so intelligent and nobody can tell them anything. Little wonder that we have had highly educated people in our successive governments over decades yet they have evidently struggled to make Zambia a prosperous country. We are just another country with too much poverty, no jobs for our educated youths and almost every nice thing that you see around belongs to foreigners.
What a story 51 years down the line. I wonder if those who started the struggle for our independence envisioned that we would be here this time round.
A good reading culture is one where you read beyond the material required for passing exams leading to your attainment of academic or professional credentials. It also tends not to have too much to do with earning capacity, but it involves trying ever so hard to quench that undying thirst for knowledge because the way of the wise is that the more they know, the more they seek to know. Even when it comes to newspapers, in Zambia, you don’t get many people reading the newspapers, it’s almost like many people feel that what’s in the newspapers is just none of their business, when on the contrary, nothing could be further from the truth – much of the content in the papers is the business of every Zambian. You really don’t have to be a political person per se to follow the news, it involves all of us.
I know there are many people out there including myself who tend to get put off with the culture of Zambian newspapers and other media-houses always picking political sides and appearing to have a vested interest in a given political party emerging victorious in an election, but sometimes you just need to read beyond the rhetoric and propaganda, pick up the little substance in the news that will help you understand what is going on in your country and add to your knowledge base.
Reading is a very important activity that we need to encourage our youths to get involved in. It was gratifying to see the Daily Nation hold that essay competition on tribalism for young people. The incentive of the prizes was a good way to motivate young people to participate, and their participation inevitably involved them researching while reading. This type of competition is very good for our country and it would be nice to see more of the same.
I would also implore Zambians to read a lot of domestic books.
Sometimes we read a lot of American or other international books, which is fine, but I have found that local literature, which is available in every major book store around is a good way to learn a lot about events in Zambia outside of the story covered in material published by domestic media-houses.
Everybody has their own story to tell with about their experiences in Zambia be it political, business, social or otherwise. It can give you different accounts and you can judge for yourself as to what could have really transpired. Reading can be a real source of a wealth of knowledge. It’s when you read so much material that you begin to get an understanding of the world that few people have – you become a true intellectual.
My dear brothers and sisters, let’s change our attitude towards literature. May literature to us not be like Kryptonite to superman. Share your views: firstname.lastname@example.org