In the past few weeks, I have reached out to many individuals — politicians, radio personalities, academics, lawyers and churchmen — asking them to share books that they read or helped make them who they are. The responses have been underwhelming, if at all. It could also be that they just do not read as much, or simply never do.
Literary Forum by Bookworm
Barack Obama says books have made him a better citizen. Indeed, the Obama who wrote Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope is every bit inspiring. However, the “leaked” reading lists of politicians in Europe and the US often look like they have been run past focus groups to ensure maximum appeal, with controversial titles replaced by those likely to win the approval of wavering voter groups. I have no doubt they are scripted, but the fact that books and writers are given such prominence is a cause for celebration. And the same cannot be said about President Robert Mugabe who is fabled to have seven degrees, but in the past 35 years he has not shared or talked about books that matter to him.
I wanted to run this series in the last quarter of the year. I hoped through that we could inspire Zimbabwe’s young generation. The common but misplaced lament that young people in Zimbabwe are not readers is a death knell to our intellect as a country and as a people. The more we say it, the more we believe it.
As such, it would be befitting to start the series with one of the most popular Education ministers in post-independence Zimbabwe — David Coltart. His tenure as a Cabinet minister was during the short-lived Government of National Unity. His forthcoming autobiography, The Struggle Continues: 50 years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe is set to be released next year by Jacana Media. The book has a wide historical span beginning from the obstinate racism of Ian Smith that provoked the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, to the civil war of the 1970s, Gukurahundi of the 1980s, Mugabe’s war on white farmers, and the struggles waged by the MDC. Below is an interview, I had with Coltart.
BW: What books are currently on your nightstand?
DC: I have several always at one time and dip into them periodically. The ones there at present are: Bearing the Cross – Martin Luther King Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow; After Mandela by Alec Russell; The Wilberforce Connection by Clifford Hill; The Scramble for Africa by Thomas Pakenham; Schools that Make the Grade by Martin Ratcliffe and Meliss Harts; The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama and Gandhi by Had Adama.
BW: Who is your favourite writer of all time?
DC: David McCullough
BW: What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
DC: History-biographies. I avoid romantic non-fiction like the plague.
BW: What are your favourite books about Zimbabwe, or by Zimbabwean writers?
DC: My current two favourites are Petina Gappah’s An Elegy for Easterly and Judith Todd’s Through the Darkness.
BW: Who’s your favourite fictional hero or heroine? Your favourite anti-hero or villain?
DC: Spiderman. Dennis the Menace.
BW: What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favourite books and authors?
DC: I wasn’t a particularly good reader, my one regret is that I didn’t read more and more widely.
BW: If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
DC: The Bible.
BW: If you require the president to read one book what would it be?
DC: The Book of Isaiah in the Bible.
BW: If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
DC: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Christian who stood up against the Nazis. I would want to know how he managed to maintain his courage and grace in the face of so much evil.
BW: Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? What was the book you put down without finishing?
DC: I have failed to finish Peter Wright’s Spy Catcher and Peter Godwin’s When a Crocodile Eats the Sun.
BW: Do you like to re-read? What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
DC: I obviously re-read the Bible. Loretta King’s The Words of Martin Luther King. Generally, aside from that I re-read some historical books and humorous books by Herman Charles Bosman.
BW: What books are you embarrassed to not have read yet?
DC: No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu.
BW: What do you plan to read next?
DC: I look forward to reading my own first book about the last 60 years of Zimbabwean history when it is published in February 2016.