Why media must promote cultural cohesion…national identity has no region

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DURING the colonial era, Zimbabwe was ruled on tribal lines.
However, the scenario changed soon after independence in 1980 when people of all tribes united and stood together as one people, one nation.
One of the key uniting forces has been the media.
Newspapers, television and radio stations have embraced the cultural values of all Zimbabweans.
All fair-minded and forward-thinking organisations and individuals have crucially become sensitive to the use of language of different ethnic groups in Zimbabwe.
Now that the country has 16 official languages, all groups should feel that their language is being respected and not deliberately ignored.
However, there has been a developing trend in private and public organisations, even newspapers and radio stations to divide a united people along regional boundaries and their culture.
The racist regime of Rhodesia was very notorious for mutilating African languages to the extent that wholesale changes and renaming of towns, cities and streets was done.
It was a form of subjugation of one race by another and the war of liberation was meant to correct this.
It is therefore unfortunate that in an independent Zimbabwe, some radio stations and groups of people still carry on with such arrogance and disregard of other people’s cultures and languages.
I am an avid listener of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)’s National FM, and the radio station has done its part in ensuring that regional and cultural boundaries are non-existent in Zimbabwe.
Their array of programmes touches almost every language spoken in Zimbabwe from Mt Darwin to Plumtree and Binga, Hwange and other remote areas whose languages were not heard on radio are well represented in the station’s programming.
The young presenters have made sure that despite the polarisation of the airwaves and media at large, they represent Zimbabwe making the station a wholesome package which every Zimbabwean from their cultural divide identifies with.
The recent launch of the ZBC’s Khulumani FM in Bulawayo to cater for other minority languages was expected to be fair and balanced in the representation of all the 16 languages, but it seems the station is still to find its balance as one can mistake it for a South African radio station.
The language, the music and everything else is purely biased towards South Africa.
The argument from one of the young presenters at the station was people from Matabeleland related more with the Mzansi or South African way of life, therefore it was imperative to play South African music so that they identify more with their listeners.
It is important to unite the people through music despite regional and cultural boundaries.
Another argument was the station is meant to cater for mainly Ndebele speakers. However, dividing people using language was used by former colonialists and should not be used to separate people.
Other radio stations like Skies FM, are also struggling to find and unite Zimbabweans through the representation of all aspects of our culture and language.
They have become more of regional stations than national stations, and what does that say about our national aspirations as a united people?
Historically, it should be borne in mind that all the national languages, with the exception of the official language, English, are Bantu, a branch of the Niger-Congo language family.
Shona and Ndebele are the most widely spoken languages in Zimbabwe.
The four main dialects of Shona – zezuru, kalanga, manyika, and ndau have a common vocabulary and similar tonal and grammatical features.
The Ndebele in the 19th Century were the first to use the name ‘Shona’ to refer to the peoples they conquered; although the exact meaning of the term is unclear, it was probably derogatory.
Later, white colonialists extended the term to refer to all groups that spoke dialects officially recognised as Shona.
One view of the dialects is that they resulted from differing missionary education policies in the 19th Century.
Ndebele is a click language of the Nguni group of Bantu languages.
Other members of this language group are Zulu and Xhosa, which are spoken mainly in South Africa; siSwati (Swaziland); and siTswana (Botswana).
Therefore, using a wider medium of communication in separating people along tribal, regional, cultural and boundary lines in Zimbabwe should not be encouraged.
The national flag and the Zimbabwe Bird are the most important symbolic representations of the nation.
The Zimbabwe Bird is superimposed on the flag.
The flag symbolises independence, the Zimbabwe Bird represents continuity with the pre-colonial past.
When Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from the north at the end of the second century, the San were absorbed rapidly into the farming and cattle-herding culture of the Bantu groups.
Little is known about those early Bantu groups, but the present-day Shona can be traced to a group that moved into the area around 1200 C.E.
Its political and religious centre was Great Zimbabwe, a city of 10 000-to-20 000 people built between the 12th and 14th centuries by the Rozvi Dynasty.
By independence in 1980, colonial explanations of the city’s origins failed to consider that it could be of Bantu origin.
The importance of Great Zimbabwe to the colonialists, who referred to it as the ‘Zimbabwe Ruins’, was also the basis of its importance in the nationalist struggle for majority rule.
According to Shona religion, the ancestors who built Great Zimbabwe still live there and it therefore is a sacred site.
Today, Great Zimbabwe is one of the most potent symbols of the nation and the Zimbabwe Bird on the flag depicts one of the excavated soapstone sculptures of the fish eagle found at the site.
Pre-colonial African societies had unique sets of rules, laws and traditions suitable for particular contexts and historical realities.
These rules, laws and traditions, formed the basis of how people would live together peacefully as part of a community, state and nation.
Earlier African formations like those of Egypt in North Africa, Nubia and Axum in North East Africa, Ghana and Mali in West Africa, Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe in southern Africa, produced different political and economic systems of governance relative to their environment of operation as well as historical circumstances of formation.
These were also guided by robust means of communication without boundaries.
The First Chimurenga occurred in 1896 when the Shona were joined by the Ndebele.
The war was led by two spirit mediums, Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, who were eventually caught and executed.
Subsequently, they became powerful symbols in the Second Chimurenga, which started in the mid-1960s; again communication was vital in this war.
Organised resistance to white supremacy started in the 1940s.
By the early 1960s the two groups that were to lead the country to independence, ZAPU and ZANU had been established.
A guerilla war followed.
It was also characterised by a close relationship between the guerillas and spirit mediums.
Embodying the ancestors, the spirit mediums represented a common past, untainted by colonialism.
They shaped and legitimised a new national identity, not divided by regions and language.

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