|Book Fair blitz on local languages|
|Monday, 01 August 2011 02:00|
ANGELINE KAMBA has had to speak six languages to a man in the street to prove that she knows her mother tongue. The chair of the Harare International Festival of the Arts revealed this during the Book Fair workshop on society and development.
"When I went to park at my usual bay in Borrowdale," said Kamba, "I asked the man of the place to check pressure in the tyres of my car.
"A man who happened to have heard me said to the attendant that I had spoken to him in English when I could have done so in the mother tongue.
"I felt blood rushing to my head and spoke to this other man in six languages - in one breathe - to prove that I know my mother tongue very well.
"That man ended up looking very foolish in front of the crowd that had gathered to find out why I was speaking to him like that."
The need to promote local languages was the main focus of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair that ended in Harare at the weekend.
A book rights activist described how audiences in the United States asked her several times to expand on the aspects of the culture of the people of Zimbabwe.
"They had read about that in the books of Yvonne Vera and Tsitsi Dangarembwa," said the activist. "I had to do my homework in order to have confidence in what I was telling these people."
Public orator Milton Kamwendo was concerned about people of Zimbabwe who pretended to know the Queen's language better than English people themselves.
"I wish somebody who knows how the Literature Bureau used to operate can come forward and start another publishing house like that one," he said.
"There is a dire need in Zimbabwe to have some sort of a national translation agency so that all books in the mother tongue can be available to all people of this country.
"I'm distressed to see that people in Mashonaland hardly know the works of Sigogo - the writer that we grew up reading in Matabeleland. He was a man among men."
Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Deputy Minister Lazarus Dokora, opened the Book Fair, whose theme was books for the development of Africa.
He was aware that different associations on languages were working on ways of coming up with relevant publications for reading.
"I am sure that different associations are working on this aspect," said Dokora. "They may be inhibited by lack of finance.
"It is, therefore, necessary that we engage our all-weather friends and other agencies to assist with funding.
"The projects that language associations may be embarking on will provide reading materials in those languages.
"It is incumbent upon language associations, book publishers and writers to work hard to provide reading materials in these languages."
Dokora said the Curriculum Development Unit was working hard in the areas of Nambya, Tonga, Shangaan and others to make them user friendly in schools.
The students who were at the Book Fair wanted to know more about this aspect. They asked the author of Mapenzi, Ignatius Mabasa, whether people were buying books that were written in the mother tongue for reading as a hobby.
"A good book will be able to stand on its on in spite of the language in which it is written," said Mabasa.
"I'm at home when I'm writing in the mother tongue. You write your best when you're using the language in which you'll be at home.
"You can't write smoothly when you struggle to find the word expressing precisely that which you want to say. Many of us want to use English when we're speaking on certain occasions.
"But we use our mother tongue most of the time, such as when we want our change from the conductor in the commuter omnibus."
Mabasa said that for most of the people who were living in Mashonaland, Shona was their mother tongue which they could not wish away.
"If you want to be original when you're writing," he said, "you should write in the language that you know best."
Mabasa received a standing ovation when he read excerpts from the upcoming book which has taken him seven years to write.
He revealed that Mapenzi had been translated into English and was being translated into German.
Zimcopy executive director Greenfield Chilongo said that there was need for people of Zimbabwe to appreciate their mother tongue.
"Langauge is part of our culture which we can't run away from," said Chilongo. "When we speak English, we're forced to use phrases of Shona to finish what we want to say.
"When we went overseas, they wouldn't understand our English because we were translating it from our thought process in Shona. We constructed our English from the ideas that we were thinking in Shona.
"Our thought process will always be in the mother tongue. It is important to preserve our mother tongue so that our culture will grow. Our culture dies when we don't use our mother tongue regularly."
Last week Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart unveiled Government efforts to bring in school languages that had been neglected.
He told Parliament that by 2013 students would be able to write exams in their local languages that were not on stream.
The Government had tasked the Great University of Zimbabwe to train teachers for all indigenous languages. They would be taught in schools up to Form Two.
So far 80 089 textbooks had been printed in Shangaan, 56 900 in Tonga, 34 000 in Nambya and 35 000 in Venda.
Kalanga textbooks were being printed and 3 200 Braille books had been distributed to 60 special schools.
Dokora said development of Zimbabwe would depend on the kind of literature on local and foreign research that would be available.
The book policy of the Government was aimed at bringing reading material to all people.
"A policy should not simply allow a blanket import platform," he said. "The interests of local production and local writers and the chain of livelihoods in this business will be taken into account."
Dokora said that tuition grants in Government schools and per capita grants in non-government schools were meant to support purchases of reading materials.
"Our printers are expected to compete with printers who have capitalised as a matter of new capital infusions.
"You may not get donors for recapitalisation process. But they should find business partnerships that foster this development.
"The book policy should address these after consulting with relevant ministries and Treasury. These issues should be thrashed to come up with a policy that is easy to implement. "It is my hope that follow-ups should not wait for another International Book Fair to take place next year."
The key speaker for the indaba was Professor Helge Ronning. He is with the department of media and communication at the University of Oslo.
"Reading literature and books is essential for development," said Ronning. "It has to do with understanding of society.
"Reading is both an individual and a social activity. The knowledge from books enables people who are living together to respect each other.
"The people who have a reading culture are better placed to tolerate each other's points of view. Without books there would be no development that would be worth talking about." He said that conditions that were needed to drive development would depend on how a given society would have come about.
For instance, the struggle that Zimbabwe had to wage so as to attain independence would chart the way the country would go.
It was the right of people to strive to improve their standard of living, he said. The ease with which people were able to get books for reading would have a lot to do with their ability to read and write and count.
Dokora said Zimbabwe ranked high in the world among countries that had a 92 percent literacy rate. He attributed this in part to the availability of books and other factors such as the culture of learning.
"This achievement should either be maintained or improved on," said Dokora.
He noted that the people of Zimbabwe were reading newspapers and listening to radio and watching television with passion. This was not apparent in the way they read books.
He said the Zimbabwe International Book Fair had reached the status of Africa's premier literacy event. The stakeholders were succeeding step by step to restore the culture of reading among local people.
"It is noteworthy," said the Deputy Minister, "that the number of foreign exhibitors at the Book Fair has more than doubled this year.
"It is expected that this rate of increase will be sustained next year and in subsequent years."
He noted that there had been a substantial increase in donor support for the Book Fair. This was a reflection of renewed confidence that was being shown in the management of the Book Fair.
"We must be mindful that we need to develop local stakeholder interest in the Book Fair," he said. "It is the imperative of our being ourselves."
Book of the week
The book of the week is the Lonely Tiger, which Tatiana Sharpe from Harare wrote in 2005 when she was seven. She wrote the book for children who are between four and seven years so that she would give all the money from the sales to the poor.
Strand Multiprint published the book on ISBN 0-7974-3012-1. Tatiana painted her own pictures that are in the Lonely Tiger.
The author, through Tiger who is dying to have many friends, addresses the universal issue of the fear of the unknown.
You know that you were born with a shadow, but if your friend asks you to describe it, you can't do this because you don't know its colour.
That is what happens to you when you fear what you don't know. You may think that, though you have been reading your books, you will fail the test when it comes. If your friends ask you what you are afraid of, you can only tell them what you think.
The book says: "Would you like to be my friend?" asked Tiger. And it goes on to say: "Everyone needs a friend. The Lonely Tiger is looking for a friend. Who will be his friend?
"Will it be the pig, the snake or the skunk? Read and feel the magic in The Lonely Tiger."
Tatiana signed the copies that she gave away to students who attended the young writers' workshop during the Book Fair.