Petina Gappah

Petina Gappah

The Harare City Library honoured Petina Gappah, one of the most well-known African writers in recent times, by naming its children section after her. Gappah is famous her smashing debut short story collection An Elegy For Easterly (our review) and her sophomore offering a novel The Book of Memory.

In the last few years, Petina Gappah has been at the forefront of raising money to ensure that the Harare City Library was restored to a place that all the residents of Zimbabwe’s capital city could be proud of. Knocking on all doors with her team they were finally able to get their library back on its feet with assistance from within and without the Southern African country.

Gappah was honoured for her sterling efforts by having the children’s wing of the library named after her. Perhaps they felt that this was a good way to prod our favourite Zimbo writer to write something for her younger fans. We will never really know.

No one can tell the story of the whole journey better than the writer and we present you her Facebook note explaining the journey to restoring one of the region’s most well-known libraries. Here it is below;

Petina Gappah Library

Okay, so the Harare City Library’s children’s wing was renamed after me last night. I was so touched and honoured, and it was lovely to be surrounded by so many friends old and new, and by my family. Kush cut the ribbon, with the aid of two gorgeous children 🙂 I have to be honest and say that when Mr Dube reached out to me to suggest this my initial instinct was to say no.

And I was embarrassed as well, because I would not have done anything without the amazing support of the then Management Committee, particularly from Roger Stringer, and without my friends Penny Stone and Richard Beattie whom I call Library Titans.

There is a HUGE story behind how we came to bring the Library back to life. One of the things I STILL can’t get my head around was a fraud I uncovered that implicated a British charity (and if you will believe it, poor Prince Charles was caught up in it, as was someone who worked for David Cameron, yes, he of Downing Street, and Annie Lennox and Zambezi Express and Arundel school and many other unsuspecting people) It was so public, so spectacularly public, and so spectacularly fraudulent that it seemed like we were dreaming up the whole thing. I learned that some people will use even a collapsing Library in downtown Harare for their own ends. That incident made me determined that we would rebuild the Library from Zimbabwe, with Zimbabwean money.

And we really tried. So many people joined the library, people paid for parking, little things that made us determined to do even more. And boy, did we fundraise?? Lovely Pilar Fuertes Farragut of Spain held a fundraiser for us, as did Deborah Bronnert of the UK. The door to Mayor Masunda’s office was always open. Even Minister Chombo, then with Local Government, came to one fundraiser and brought us a box of books. The Japanese gave us books. Book Aid International gave us books, thank you Tember Banda ! Before he left the country, the former Chief Justice, Anthony Gubbay, invited me to his house and told me I was free to plunder his library. And Tim Johnston of the Beit Trust, what a champion he has been.

We had volunteers reading to children and telling stories. And the staff, working so hard for so very little money! Working with Mwalimu Saki Mafundikwa‘s college, we held a competition for his students to design the logo. The winner was Lizane Purse who presented a design that made us gasp with joy!

And then Magnus Carlquist, then head of SIDA in Zimbabwe, invited me to the embassy for a meeting that changed everything. I went in thinking they had a couple of boxes of books, but his proposal blew my mind. I remember he joked that Sweden wanted to do even more than the British 🙂 And Sweden did. Working with the Culture Fund, the Swedish embassy gave us back our Library. They gave us a new roof (the old one was leaking, imagine that, a Library with a leaking roof) and they transformed the space into something that can, with pride, host the DORIS LESSING COLLECTION.

I cannot tell you how beautiful it looks, what a lovely space it is, how great the staff is. It is a little patch of heaven in Harare, a patch that belongs to the whole nation, because it was left in Trust for the people of Zimbabwe. It is a Library run by its subscribers, there is no government interference in its operations.

Do please join, do please take your kids. Story hour is back every Saturday. Come and sit on the lovely benches outside.

Nicholas Moyo of the National Arts Council said some very kind things about me in his remarks. I still don’t believe that I deserve this honour, but damn straight, I am going to try and earn it. That is my promise to the Library.