The state of the indigenous language press in Zimbabwe: a synopsis
Sixteen indigenous languages are recognised in the Zimbabwe Constitution (2013). Among these are Shona, Ndebele, Ndau, Venda, Tswana and Kalanga. In spite of the existence of these indigenous languages and their different dialects, the indigenous language media terrain is dominated by two newspapers - Kwayedza and uMthunywa - published in Shona and Ndebele, respectively. Recently, a major indigenous language newspaper outlet published in isiNdebele, Indosakusa, closed up shop, citing viability concerns. The remaining indigenous language newspapers
Indigenous language press in Zimbabwe 59 are state-owned; at the moment, there is no private media provider in the country that carries an indigenous language newspaper.
It has been the traditional practice of the state-controlled Community Newspaper Group (CNG) to produce indigenous language newspaper inserts and pull-outs within their main provincial English language newspapers. GNG produces ten weekly newspapers, one in each of the ten provinces of Zimbabwe. Historically, indigenous language newspaper inserts were included within these provincial publications. For example, in the eastern province of Manicaland, there is The PungweNews newspaper. It is published in English, but before 2014, it carried a Shona language insert. In Mashonaland East, there is Chaminuka News, which also had a Shona language insert.
There are contradictions in this approach. The most prominent of these contradictions is that some indigenous languages and dialects within the same geographical location were ignored. For example, Pungwe News had a supplement in Manyika, ignoring the Ndau of the eastern Shona groups popular in Chimanimani and Chipinge. Therefore, elements of bias in this policy are visible. Thus, the attempt by the state to promote indigenous language media in this respect was likely mere tokenism. It was a perfunctory performance and window-dressing meant to hoodwink the public into believing that the government was serious about promoting an indigenous language press. There was not much thought applied to this policy. Bamgbose (1987) noted this years ago and declared, quite correctly, that ‘African language policies are characterised by avoidance, arbitrariness, fluctuations and declarations without implementation’ (9).
On the other hand, uMthunywa carries an occasional insert in the Tonga and Kalanga languages (Maseko and Ndlovu 2013). This means that other languages, such as Nambya and Chewa, have no medium of their own. The dominance of uMthunywa and Kwayedza means indigenous languages in Zimbabwe are not treated equally. Even the distribution of these newspapers reflects this bias and dominance. Kwayedza and uMthunywa are largely confined to Harare and Bulawayo, respectively. The Masvingo Star used to have a Xichangana/Xitsonga section, but it is no longer produced because they do not have reporters who speak the language.
This raises a number of questions critical to this chapter. Amongst these are: why is it that, 39 years after independence, some languages still have to rely on inserts and pull-outs as sources of news and information in their indigenous languages? Why did the CNG discontinue the policy of producing these indigenous efforts when the effort - albeit inadequate - was still better than none at all? There are four manifestations that underline the crisis of the indigenous language press in Zimbabwe. These are: (a) there are no fully-fledged newspapers in indigenous languages like Tonga, Nambya, etc.; (b) the remaining big newspapers, like Kwayedza and uMthunywa, are largely confined to Harare and Bulawayo, respectively; (c) other once-thriving indigenous language newspapers, like Indosakusa, have folded; and (d) even the inadequate approach of publishing small indigenous language sections within relatively large newspapers and including indigenous language inserts has been abandoned. These observations signify a serious crisisafflicting the indigenous language press in Zimbabwe. How did we come to this? And how do we get out of this situation?
This chapter probes this decline through conversations with journalists, and suggests survival strategies. Prior to discussing this investigation, the theoretical underpinnings germane to this chapter are outlined.
Theoretical framework: conceptualising indigenous language newspapers as indigenous public spheres
The indigenous public sphere theory was coined by Hartley and McKee (2000) through their engagement with Habermas (Waller 2016). Hartley and McKee (2000) argue that indigenous communities actively produce their own spaces of self-representation and community building. Research into indigenous public spheres follow the Habermassian tradition (Avison and Meadows 2000; Meadows 2000). Scholars agree that indigenous public spheres create spaces that interact with the wider public sphere (Avison and Meadows 2000; Hartley and McKee 2000). This syncs with an earlier assertion by Fraser (1993) that there is no one, ‘totalising public sphere, there are parallel and overlapping public spheres where those with similar cultural backgrounds engage in activities that stem from their own issues and interests’ (5). Multiple and distinct public spheres enable people to ‘Interact across lines of cultural diversity'’ (Fraser 1993, 13). However, the original concept of the public sphere (Habermas 1989) is not rooted in ‘indigenous peoples’ understanding of their own deliberations’ (Waller 2016, 5). More so, the original public sphere theory does not examine the processes of public discussions and political action as they unfold in indigenous public spheres (Waller 2016). During colonial times, the indigenous language press was a vehicle through which the emerging class of political leaders were able to communicate the central issues of African grievances, such as land, poor wages for African workers and harassment by local authorities (Salawu and Chibita 2016). This means the indigenous press acted as a public sphere for the emerging class of pro-independent black politicians (Salawu and Chibita 2016).
Research suggests that some indigenous groups often find themselves excluded from the mainstream public spheres (Meadows 1999; Bullimore 1999). The indigenous press should be conceptualised as one of the many competing public spheres that have shifted Habermas’s public sphere from its elitist (bourgeois) classical formulations. The indigenous press attempts to accord spaces to minorities and excluded groups so that ‘their voices are heard and their interests represented’ (Burrows 2000, 358). Indigenous language media spaces should, therefore, be envisaged as spaces where participants with similar cultural backgrounds engage in activities concerning issues and interests of importance to them (Avison and Meadows 2000). Thus, ‘indigenous communities in some respects, have efficiently reconstructed the notion of the public sphere in accordance with their own community’s social relations’ (Avison and Meadows 2000, 2)
These are spaces of communication used by marginal, indigenous and competing publics within society to articulate issues affecting them. However, the
Indigenous language press in Zimbabwe 61 public sphere still remains relevant as a critical lens through which the indigenous language press, for example, can be understood. Jandt (2007) notes that a public sphere is better created if the language of communication is understood by that particular community. If the public sphere is to fully capture the range of experiences in society (Dahlgren 1991) it has to be structured in a language that is understood by the concerned community. In other words, the indigenous language public sphere can sufficiently capture these experiences.
The indigenous public sphere concept syncs neatly as a framework for this chapter in the sense that it provides a lens through which the indigenous language press - their creation, development and evolution - can potentially be understood. Secondly, it provides a rationale for why specific groups - indigenous groups included - participate, negotiate and interact on their media platforms. Furthermore, it provides lenses through which to see civilian-state interactions in media spaces.