JOHN CHIRWA engaged, Voice of Livingstonia (VoL) Radio Tumbuka language broadcasters Manjawira Msowoya and Mzondi Banda on the evolution of Tumbuka broadcasting from the 1960s to this day.
Q: Briefly, explain the background of Chitumbuka broadcasting. Tumbuka language broadcasting started in 1960 at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). The first broadcasters of the language were Mjura Mkandawire, Nyokase Madise, Zaniwe Katumbi, Job Silo, Chifwepo Chawinga and Joyce Ng’oma.
A: Manjawira: When I joined MBC in 1966, I found these people already there. At that time, Tuesdays and Thursdays were reserved for the language. In September 1968, Chitumbuka was removed out of the radio. Chichewa was, then, enjoying prominence over all other languages. But we, Tumbuka broadcasters, didn’t lose our jobs. We were incorporated into other desks. When Bakili Muluzi came into power as the first multi-party president, he re-introduced the language on full time basis just as was the case in the early 1960s. However, an official I can’t mention blocked the idea to have Chitumbuka days. That is why today, Tumbuka language broadcasting is still at large at the State Broadcaster. You hardly hear real Tumbuka programmes.
Q: Why was the language introduced on radio?
A: Chitumbuka is widespread in the Northern Region, although there are other famous languages like Kyangonde and Chitonga. So, the idea was to reach out to this wider community. And the response was very good. As announcers, could receive letters not from the Northern Region only. We used to receive letters from all over Malawi. Listeners were interested to learn the language. We had a lot of programmes and documentaries in Chitumbuka that commanded a lot of listenership.
Q: What was the pre-requisite for one to join the Tumbuka desk?
A: Manjawira: During our time, those who were teachers were the ones who were first allowed to join MBC. This is why I joined MBC because I was a teacher at Kanjedza Primary School. Before going to Kanjedza, I was a teacher in Blantyre rural where I prepared a Christmas play and we went to MBC to present it for broadcasting. It was recorded and broadcast on the radio. The programme manager, who was a white, asked me to join MBC. That’s how I joined.
Q: As broadcasters at VoL, how are you promoting Chitumbuka?
A: Chitumbuka is being drowned, although Bakili Muluzi made efforts in re-introducing the language on radio and in schools. As broadcasters, there are some programmes we are using to promote the language. The programmes are cultural and traditional in nature like folktales. These programmes are bringing back the language slowly. And listeners are very interested in the language. For example, we are usually invited in Mzimba to give talks on the language. We also have programmes that are teaching listeners real Chitumbuka. These days, Chitumbuka has been diluted, and we want to preserve this precious language. We are doing this through a programme called Chitumbuka Chenecho.
Q: Has the advent of several radio stations helped promote the language?
A:We must admit that the coming in of several radio stations has also led to the drop in quality of the language. The radios are trying their best to have programmes in Chitumbuka, but its quality leaves a lot to be desired. But if we have a few trying to preserve the language we need to encourage them on how best we can preserve the language. We need to have a language that is free from contamination with other languages.
Q: What are the challenges in Tumbuka language broadcasting?
A: The major challenge is that there is no formal training in Chitumbuka. It’s just the way you appreciate the language, mostly because of your upbrining. If you come from an area where your parents were speaking Chitumbuka from morning to sunset then you are lucky. Otherwise, we have a challenge because there are no grammar books for referencing.
These days, it is even more difficult for children to learn the language. There is an inferiority complex where people feel that English is the best. Children born in a Tumbuka family are learning English as their first language. We have demonised our local languages. But we need to promote both languages at the same time.
Q: What is the future of the language?
A: We should encourage our young broadcasters that Chitumbuka is as good as any other language where they can express themselves and put across a message for communication.
Q: Any last words?
A: Government or chiefs should start documenting our local languages and folktales. Otherwise, our languages are going to die.