By John Tafadzwa Chirinda.
It is a fact though debatable that the new generation of our children can hardly read the vernacular or mother tongue and are not even inclined to write properly because we still believe it’s backward. Mother tongue is not a language of science, commerce and of the digital world. Our own languages are in real menace and dilemma.
It’s a reality that community members speak to each other in the language they all understand regarded as home language or vernacular language. The pronunciation or accent is similar and instructions therefore become lucid. Our Zimbabwean educational system then becomes a source of the abandonment of the vernacular languages as confirmed by the current curriculum. The medium of instruction has been maintained as English deniably showing to be the first language for the increasing number of Zimbabweans. Our media has invested heavily in the same official language competing well with education system of the day.
The argument about Early Childhood Development (ECD) using the vernacular remains a lost cause as on the ground, English is the preferred language for all schools. Most pupils learn in Zimbabwean language at foundation but switch to English as early as at the same level of ECD. This is even evidently not a teacher’s choice but is exercised by parents and the pupils at the ECD stages. Same if one wants media source in vernacular, it’s either none or nil within our communities resulting in tuning or reading what’s available.
I have taken time to listen to our Zimbabwean radios during this #Lockdown (thanks to #Covid19 and #Lockdown) both owned by the state and the pro-government ones in the Zimpapers stable, the AB Communications ZiFM, the provincial commercial stations across and discovered that they present an aesthetic that is so remote from the lives and loves of our ordinary people. Most presenters are in essence disc jockeys simply because they compete in aping pseudo accents. I also could not pick at home any space available for me to play a role to properly pass on to the younger generation the indigenous languages. There is zero space at all and the continued absence of community broadcasting perpetuates the dearth of our indigenous languages which should worry our leadership across the breath of government and political parties.
I had liked the proposal of having every child learning in their vernacular language at primary and secondary during the new curriculum review and revision processes but the ground proves tokenism. More if not everyone choose English as the official language of our nation. Pit on us especially on the Political arena where a whole politician sweats our speeches to his own mothers and grandparents in this official language yet all the audience could simply follow the vernacular. I wouldn’t refer to those referred to as local MPs because they behave foreign, shame on us indeed. Our churches have also become the best competitors’ kumusha ikoko vachizhaka Shoko muruzevha imomo, muchembere imomo, mutwana imomo neChingezi. (in rural areas preaching even to the elderly and children in English)
Yes language disappearance and endangerment are a worldwide phenomenon where every homeland has been affected and infected just like the current pandemic Covid19. But we still have options not to miss this. This is where some people like Cde George Charamba (my favourite polyglot in the government of both the late Mugabe and current Mnangagwa), the present social media aficionado Ndavaningi Nick Mangwana would have been heroic enough to set Zimbabwean media to innovative trends to address the survival of the vernacular languages by policy through what they are technocrats in. Alas, they have a whole list of arguments on how good what is there is like or just have excuses.
The national media policy would have opened up indisputable community broadcasting that would recognize and protect minority languages, broadcasting that promote mother-tongue instruction and creative collaboration between community members and linguists to develop a speaking system and introduce a formal order in the vernacular language. It remains that one essential factor is the attitude of speakers towards own language. It is important for our government especially through the media to create a social and political environment that encourages multilingualism and revere for marginal languages so that speaking such a language is an asset rather than a liability.
I cry for the MaShangwe, the MaKorekore, the Budja, the VaTonga inter-arlia as Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) has called for licensing of community radio stations without government guaranteed support especially on sustainably through any known resources to be given. An opportunity missed again as fear for the unknown has taken its roots in our political brethren mentality that if communities were to gain autonomy in media they can’t then be manipulated politically. It’s still mind-boggling as to how we are starting at only ten slots and not thirty licenses with so many dialects and languages for community radios.
I however remain thankful together with my other like-minded cadres in the media that something has been done. I share the happiness with ZACRAS and MISA for having done all they could on community radio and strongly believe the coming on board of National Community Broadcasting Forum (NCBF) is again to advance the access to information cause especially in areas where people have suffered enough regards dearth of information.
The initiatives underway to award community broadcasting licenses are an opportunity that may address the issue of preserving and developing vernacular languages though we still have many shortcomings within the Zimbabwean media sector. Nelson Mandela at one point observed it right that, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.” Zimbabwe has witnessed several new communication platforms that have been utilized to disseminate information during this Covid19 pandemic with the missing strategic link which is community broadcasting. Let the government of Zimbabwe open up more space in community broadcasting especially radio to enjoy the fruits of independence fully.
John Tafadzwa Chirinda is a media advocate with passion in community broadcasting especially radio. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or +263772880870.