So I’m back in Bulawayo for the first time in 9 years and I’ll be retreading some ground, starting with the Bulawayo Public Library. This is a self-run library over 100 years old and although it now has a slightly dated feel (like a British library stuck in 1965, computer centre apart), it is still a very well run and organised library. The library has separate sections for children, students, and adults and also includes a braille corner, good book displays, a red carpet room for premium members, and runs a mobile library van to schools. BAI books from Mills and Boon and Harry Potter to A-Level Physics and business accounting have been extensively used and frequently borrowed.
I then walk around the corner to the library at the National University of Science and Technology which is cramped and, especially in recent years, very reliant on BAI books. Nine years ago, they were set to move to a new library but it is has been nine years of stagnation, so the move has never happened. There has been no money to but books for several years. Next to the British Council where I am to meet the Bulawayo Book Distribution Committee, where it is very apparent that times are still extremely difficult. Bulawayo, and wider Matebeleland, being nearer to South Africa, more Ndebele than Shona, and politically more MDC than Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, has perhaps seen a bigger exodus of professionals including teachers than other parts of Zimbabwe. In total, it is estimated that 45,000 teachers have left the profession in the last decade and departed for South Africa or other neighbouring countries, and those that are left behind are often poorly motivated and not always paid.
In the afternoon, I visit two of the nine municipal libraries, which have been very under-staffed and under-resourced in recent years, with many staff leaving, but now new library have been recruited. The second library opened in 2008 and is a new one and needs more books to fill up it up. BAI books are well used but the lack of teachers (and motivated teachers) in recent years and the inability of pupils to pay school fees has led to less use of the library. In the evening, I have dinner at Maureen Stewart’s (the British Council Manager’s) house. In advance, I am warned there may be no water (many urban communities are having to use water pumps again). As it turns out, it has come back on, but instead it is the electricity that has gone.