Zambian press fails to publish in local languages

Thu, 02 Mar 2017 14:14:13 +0000


By Agustine Phiri

‘Dog eat Dog’ is a phrase which, in its literal sense, points at cannibalism when the canine animal feeds on its own kind.

This term may also apply in scenarios involving other creatures like when a snake swallows whole another snake, lion feasts on another or when a hyena devours another even though these animals are not dogs.

It is definitely ‘Dog eat Dog’ when a spouse kills own spouse because this act is barbaric which could be likened to dog action.

Figuratively, ‘Dog eat Dog’ could be applied in an encounter where both animal and death may be absent, for instance, when a professional publicly criticizes a fellow practitioner of the same discipline.

This squabble between the two ‘birds of a feather’ could be deemed as being inappropriate.

This is what has transpired this week when the Total-sponsored African Cup of Nations (AfCON) 2017 Under-20 football tournament kicked off on Sunday, February 26.

The Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) has attracted a barrage of criticism from the public on its failure to beam live football matches including those involving Chipolopolo boys.

Caller after caller participating in a call-in live programme on Radio Phoenix on the morning of Tuesday, February 28, expressed indignation at ZNBC’s inability to beam the matches live on television citing lack of funds.

Although, the views expressed by the callers were not necessarily those of the management and staff at radio Phoenix, the transmission of these sentiments, seemingly negative to ZNBC, fit the  ‘Dog eat Dog’ description.

Refusing to be eaten up, ZNBC Public Relations Manager, Masuzyo Njobvu chipped in and called Radio Phoenix during its call-in programme and offered an explanation.

According to Njobvu, ZNBC needed to raise and pay the Confederation of African Football (CAF) some US$700,000 in arrears accrued from previous tournaments for broadcasting rights.  An addition of some US$400,000 has to be paid to cover the current tournament being held in our own backyard.

But this did not quell the anger in the callers who wondered how ZNBC failed to settle the two bills when, through the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO), Zambians pay TV levy in which ZNBC raises some K1.5 million per month.

However, it is not the purpose of this write-up to interrogate ZNBC on this matter, therefore, I rest this matter forthwith.

Talking about Radio Phoenix, I pause and offer my heartfelt condolences to the family, management and staff on the passing on of Mr Errol Hickey, founder of this pioneering private broadcasting house in Zambia.

Now, let me offer my own brand of ‘Dog eat Dog’.

You see, on February 21, Zambia joined fellow citizens of the world in observing the “International Mother Language Day” which was declared in 1999 at the General Assembly of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Events, conferences and seminars were held globally under the theme:”Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.”

The International Mother Language Day is observed to protect the languages facing the threat of extinction and a reminder to everyone to feel the diversity of their language, to be proud of their language and to have the right to develop it.

As expected, Zambians observed this annual global event with functions held in Lusaka led by the UNESCO Zambia office.

But as the festivities were going on, one wonders as to how the Zambian press commemorated this event when it is doing nothing at all to promote and protect indigenous local languages in this former British colony.

Evidence is there: there is no newspaper in this country published in a vernacular language.

As such, the Zambian press behaved like an ostrich and buried its head in the sand on the day the International Mother Language Day was being commemorated. Indeed, how can one celebrate a cause he or she is aloof to?

In fact, it may not be far from the truth to state that this copper-rich southern African country is the only one in this region and perhaps in the whole of the African continent without a newspaper published in a local language.

Those of you with the privilege to travel abroad have noticed newspapers some of them published daily and in vernacular being sold on the street in those countries. But this is not the case in Zambia.

Even when the government is currently promoting the teaching of local languages in lower primary school grades, the Zambian press remains undaunted; all its newspapers selling on the street are written in the British Queen’s language – English.

it is imperative that the press participate actively in this crusade by providing supplementary reading material of news and current affairs written in vernacular.

Arguments that he or she who can read in vernacular can also read and understand news read in English may not be entirely true. Some people understand the Gospel better when they read the Holy Bible in their mother longue.

Incidentally, Ichengelo (light/salt) printed by the Mission Press in Ndola ranks itself as the only popular monthly magazine published in a local language – Bemba. Essentially an in-house monthly journal for the Catholic Church, Ichengelo Magazine carries church material and some juicy secular stories including the comical ‘KaTona’ cartoon strip.

The seven local language newspapers, among them, Imbila (Bemba), Ngoma (Nyanja) and Liseli (Lozi) published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (MIBS) are on-and -off and are currently on recess sine die.

However, it is not only the responsibility of government and churches to publish newspapers and magazines in Zambian vernacular but the duty of all citizens including the private sector.

In recent years, MIBS has been pre-occupied with the task of migrating ZNBC to digital broadcasting, a project which required colossal sums of money to implement.

As such, in an effort to mop up finances for use to purchase appropriate and modern equipment such as antennas, receivers, transmitters and decoders to improve broadcasting reception countrywide, continued publication of local language newspapers suffered.

Like using a short blanket in which the feet remain uncovered when one wants to cover the head and vice versa, provincial newspapers were forced to go to the real bed and not to the printing bed as a newspaper is referred to when in print.

In a ‘Dog eat Dog’ fashion, one can safely conclude that the Zambian press has failed lamentably to publish in local languages. But in sharp contrast, the situation is not the same in its sister, or is it its brother – the electronic media.

For, ZNBC and most of the more than 110 private radio and television stations across the country air some programs in Zambian vernacular.

That said, all is not lost for the Zambian press as there is beam of light at the end of the tunnel, as it is commonly said.

You see, MIBS is installing printing machines in all the provincial centres starting with Kasama in the north and the already Great New City of Chipata in the east. These printing plants would produce the dormant mother language newspapers.

In addition, the machines would be at the service of those wishing to start publishing newspapers in languages spoken in their respective localities but at a fee, of course.

It would not be a bad idea for existing newspapers to start reserving a page or two to news, features and cartoons written in local languages.

Although this undertaking would require additional translation staff, the languages to feature in these pages could be allocated week days in the case of daily publications.

Once this is implemented, the press in Zambia would commemorate the next International Mother Language Day slated for 21st February 2018 with the head high.

Literature on the origin of this day says on 21 March 1948, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the then Governor-General of Pakistan, declared that Urdu would be the only official language for both West and East Pakistan.

But the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), whose main language is Bangla, protested against this and on 21 February 1952, (8th Falgun 1358 in the Bangla calendar), students in the present day capital city of  Dhaka called for a provincial strike.

The government responded by imposing a limited curfew to crush the protests but failed to stop the learners voicing out their complaint. In the ensuing events, Pakistani police fired on the students despite the protests being peaceful and a number of students were killed.

Zambian languages may appear safe and free from extinction but the dominance of English in homes and schools should be cause for worry.

Let us do something and let God help us save our indigenous languages from extermination through publication of newspapers in local languages.


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