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[Opinion] A new Jabavu needed to launch Xhosa newspaper (by Mvusi Sicwetsha)

December 26, 2013

THE current Xhosa generation has failed to follow examples set by John Tengo Jabavu and his contemporaries to use their education to grow their language, cultural institutions to give meaning to cultural, liberation and democratic identities.

Following in such footsteps would mean launching vibrant newspapers published in isiXhosa and other indigenous languages committed to serving the needs of our society.

Jabavu, a Lovedale college graduate, a public servant and a founding newspaper editor carved a niche in the media ownership, control and distribution history of this country by starting a newspaper which became a platform for the colonised people to use in arguing for a better life and rights in their own language.

Subsequent to editorial independence disagreements with his employers, the owners of the first newspaper he edited, Jabavu later started his own newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu.

It is worth mentioning the steps leading to the launch of Imvo Zabantsundu saw Jabavu struggling to raise capital and that he was later aided by his white contemporaries.

Though his newspaper, like other titles of that era, started as a mouthpiece of organisations he associated with, it grew in influence and content to become an important shaper of public opinion in the then colonised country.

The paper, which was published in both IsiXhosa and English and distributed widely to the reading masses, carried political and social content relevant to the communities.

Decades after his death, Jabavu and his contemporaries remain the only Xhosa speaking Africans to have started a vibrant and influential newspaper.

The current generation appears to have deserted the dream of such an institution with its editorial firmly tied to advocating for the needs of its society.

It is my view that existing newspapers are not serving the market served by Jabavu and his contemporaries.

Their newspapers created space for other young Africans to pen their independent views, analysis and poems, published to attract a response from the newspaper-reading public.

The growth of these newspapers, especially those published in IsiXhosa and other African languages, meant these languages gained momentum with a sustained vibrancy in the public discourse.

It is congruent then to look at how the failure by the current generation to start such newspapers has contributed to the dearth of African language enthusiasm.

Ilanga lase Natal, one of the newspapers found in the same epoch as Izimvo Zabantsundu, is one of the leading newspapers in KwaZulu-Natal serving the growing Zulu speaking market. It has competition from Isolezwe, owned by Independent Newspapers and uKhasi, a read owned by erstwhile journalists of Ilanga.

Arguably, the growth of IsiZulu newspapers influenced the growth in numbers of people speaking the language with about 22.7% of the 50 million population choosing it as their mother tongue.

According to Census 2011, only 16% of this 50 million speak isiXhosa.

This is not surprising considering there is not a single vibrant commercial newspaper, except for a few community rags, published in IsiXhosa with editorial content meeting the needs of the newspaper reading public.

Years have passed since SABC TV and other local TV stations beamed an interesting mass attracting TV drama series in isiXhosa.

Xhosa-speaking Africans have themselves to blame because while we produce English drama series, Zulu, Venda and Afrikaans speaking Africans are busy producing drama series in their own languages.

Weighing in on the politics of language, Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe asked, “is it right that a man should abandon his mother tongue for someone else’s? It looks like a dreadful betrayal and produces a guilty feeling”.

What does this mean?

In his book, Decolonising the Mind, Ngugi Wa Thiongo argues that language has a dual character: it is both a means of communication and a carrier of culture.

So, the language we use defines our cultural outlook and paints our linguistic ideology.

In essence, the predicament of isiXhosa means the current generation has allowed the demise of its language with no intention of averting the situation for the sake of its growth. It is as if sustaining the dreams of our forefathers has been deserted.

It is no surprise then that even the Xhosa speaking musician, Simphiwe Dana argued that IsiZulu should be made a national language, owing to its popularity.

Far be it from you, dear reader, to assume that I am advocating Xhosa supremacy.

All I am arguing is that, the inability of the current generation to continue with the struggle of the Jabavu generation has shrunk, rather than grown our language and culture in society.

Certainly access to finance has shot down efforts by some in this generation to start such newspapers, but this alone is not the heart of the problem.

Through the media development and diversity agency, the government has started funding media products jointly with the four big commercial media groups. This is to allow communities in rural and township areas that would not have access to the mainstream media to have their news produced and distributed locally so that they have a voice in local matters.

This has also not yielded results.

Instead, a plethora of rags with no frequent publishing dates, unclear print runs, distribution and independently measured circulation continue to emerge with almost zero content relevant to the newspaper reading public.

IsiXhosa as a language has taken a dip and we continue to molest our own language by recklessly throwing English and Afrikaans words into our vocabulary.

Today Jabavu’s alma mater, Lovedale is a Further Education and Training College teaching students technical electrical engineering, carpentry and the other skills. Yet, their curriculum has no course on newspaper publishing, printing and management.

My view is, in honour of Jabavu, Lovedale should have an institute dedicated to such work and help to nurture the production of the next big national newspaper published in IsiXhosa.

An institution that produced the first newspaper in this country should have pioneered the first academic course on newspaper publishing, producing, printing and management to give its students the much-needed skills to enter the fickle news media industry.

Jabavu’s politics aside, there is no doubt that he created a platform for black people to engage on issues affecting their lives and if there was ever a time when we needed such platforms it is now.

Mvusi Sicwetsha is a public servant and a member of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity

Source: Dispatch Online

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From → Media, Opinion

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