Language, culture, media and development: A nexus of harmony (2)



Inaugural lecture presented by Prof. Abiodun Salawu at North-West University, Mafikeng Campus, South Africa.

It was posed against the background of the success of isiZulu newspapers like Ilanga which has existed for 139 years, UmAfrika, 105 years and Isolezwe which has been publishing since 2002 and remains the only daily local language newspaper in South Africa.

Furthermore, the Avusa Media, in November 2010, started publishing the isiZulu version of the highly successful Sunday Times. As a digression, the interesting irony is that the first local language newspapers in South Africa were isiXhosa newspapers, namely Umshumayeli Wendaba (1837), Ikwezi (1844), Isitunywa sennyanga (1850), Indaba (1862), Isigidimi samaXosa (1870) and Imvo Zabantsundu (1884) (See Switzer and Switzer 1979; Johnson 1988; CCSU 1996; Opland 1996). Writings actually started in isiXhosa and Sesotho before other languages in Southern Africa (Gerard 1971).

There are some other outstanding success stories in African language newspaper publishing. In Yorubaland (Nigeria) today, for instance, there are still some Yoruba newspapers serving the people. Among them, Alaroye is particularly a phenomenal success. Unlike what exists in most African nations, indigenous language press – and to be specific Amharic press – is in the mainstream in Ethiopia. Amharic is the dominant language in the domains of media, education, government, commerce etc. Bukedde, a Luganda language newspaper in Uganda is the most widely circulated daily in Uganda (Wikipedia, 2015).

At this juncture, it is important to point out that Setswana also has history of newspaper publishing. A prominent Tswana personality, late Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, popularly known as Sol Plaatje, was a pioneer of Black Press in South Africa. His journalism endeavours started here in Mafikeng and he edited/published a number of Setswana/English newspapers such as Koranta ea Becoana (Bechuana Gazette), Tsala ea Becoana (Bechuana Friend) which was later changed to Tsala ea Batho (Friend of the People) and Umteteli wa Bantu/Mouthpiece of the People. I am already embarking on a study of the journalism of Sol Plaatje, particularly in relation to his Setswana publications. My Faculty – the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences – has approved some funding for the purpose. In the same vein, I am in collaboration with the Kimberly-based Sol Plaatje Educational Trust and some colleagues on an extensive study of Sol Plaatje’s journalistic, literary and political activities.

Madam Rector, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I have pleasure to inform you that in order to have a focused and robust study of indigenous language media, the declaration of intent to establish a research entity for the purpose has been approved by the Mafikeng Campus. Full proposal has now gone to the institutional research support commission (of the North-West University) for further processing. Certain colleagues from Communication, Setswana and English are involved in this endeavour. I should also report that the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) is already giving us green light to provide funding for our study of indigenous language media. Through all these efforts, we hope to produce Honours, Master’s and Doctoral researches in the area.

Madam Rector, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, another new focus of my research in indigenous language media and communication will revolve around digitalisation. Regrettably, many African languages are not present in the cyberspace as many Africans are still not into using their languages for socialising online. It is then of little wonder that researches into the use of African languages in the social and digital media are a rarity. This, for instance is in contradistinction to what obtains for minority languages in Europe which already enjoy a considerable number of researches into their use in the social media (Cru, 2015; Johnson and Callahan, 2013; Jones, Cunliffe and Honeycutt, 2013; Cunliffe, Morris and Prys, 2013; Wagner, 2013; Johnson, 2013; Dolowy-Rybinska, 2013; and Cunliffe and ap Dyfrig, 2013). This, however, is without prejudice to the existence of Swahili (though not an indigenous African language) blogs in Tanzania.

Mabweazara (2014: 2) remarked that research into the impact of new digital technologies on African journalism is scarce. Here, Mabweazara is referring to the mainstream African journalism in the colonial languages of English, French and Portuguese. While it may be true that research into digital mainstream African journalism is scarce, it is non-existent for the media operating in indigenous African languages. One of the tasks I have thus assigned myself is to investigate African language press and their (in) ability to adopt digital technologies, as well as the impact of these technologies on their operations.

Rethinking development: Ethical paradigm of development and the correlate African oral ethics
Meanwhile, in my study of development communication, I have gone beyond looking at development at the social level. Rather, I have come up with an Ethical Paradigm of Development which I, otherwise, call Foundational Paradigm of Development (Salawu, 2004c). Significantly, my postulation for the diffusion of the ideals of this development praxis is the adoption of the African oral ethics, which are found in the continent’s folklores (Salawu, 2006d, 2006e, 2008b, 2012, 2015c). This paradigm takes a perspective of development that is akin to Civilisation, which is an advanced and organised state of human social development. This state of human development can only be made possible by Civilisation, which is the cultivation of mind for the higher ideals of society. The equation is: Civilisation = Civilisation. Contending that it is when we develop the mind and the man that we can talk of development in every sphere of the society, the paradigm believes that Civilisation is the foundation for meaningful development in Africa.

Frank Okwu Ugboajah was a major proponent of the “culturalist” paradigm (Bourgault, 1995: 251) for development which argues in favour of harnessing traditional culture in the service of development. For the purpose of spreading (development) information, Ugboajah (1985: 167 -175) pointed out that songs, dance, dramas, drumming, storytelling, and proverbs are useful. Essentially, he advocated for traditional communication processes and the social setting in which such communication takes place. This type of communication is what Ugboajah (1985, 1987) referred to as Oramedia. Oramedia which is interchangeable with folk media, traditional media or oral arts (Salawu, 2006c) are, according to Ugboajah (1985), grounded on indigenous culture produced and consumed by members of a group. They reinforce the values of the group. These oral arts or oramedia are also oral ethics because they speak ethics which is necessary to bring about the much needed Civilisation.
This is my story, this is my song.

Madam Rector, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, my story is that language is the most characteristic element of a people’s culture. Language is the repository of culture. My song is that if indigenous languages and our communities must survive and grow, the media, especially, the print media must be encouraged to use them. Print media aid literacy; therefore, the media operating in these languages must be encouraged for it is with these languages that our people can be effectively informed for development purposes.

In order to promote indigenous languages recognised by the South African Constitution as historically diminished in use and status, the South African government is according a growing importance to the learning of these languages. Prah (2003) raised a concern that the devaluation of African languages would result in the devaluation of much of the indigenous knowledge contained in those languages. This must also be part of the concern of the South African Department of Education when, on 27 November 2003, it set up a ministerial committee to advise on the development of African (indigenous) languages as mediums of instruction in higher education.

The report noted that the “Minister (of Education) called to mind the challenge facing higher education to ensure the simultaneous development of a multilingual environment in which all South African languages would be developed to their full capacity while at the same time ensuring that the existing languages of instruction did not form a barrier to access and success” (DOE, 2003: 3). Happily, in this regard, there are changes happening in some South African universities. The University of KwaZulu-Natal has made isiZulu a compulsory first-year subject. At Rhodes University, journalism students must pass an isiXhosa for journalism course at either mother tongue or second language level (Kaschulla, 2015).

My main concern here has to do with the role that the media can play in supporting a language and its culture. This is also tied to development as the right path to real development is for one to appreciate one’s own cultural heritage (Aligwekwe, 1986: 215). It is important to say that supporting and promoting African language media by directing academic focus on them has a significant role to play in the maintenance of the African languages. The governments of Africa, private initiatives, and especially the media, have an important role to play in this. The media, in turn, will be helped in this bid, if amongst other measures, our journalism and communication training institutions can through their curriculum designs, pay serious attention to our indigenous languages and the indigenous language media.


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