Sometime last year I wrote an article titled All Malawian languages are equal. I argued that government should not discriminate or marginalize any language and should make an effort to promote all languages. I further argued that there was no basis for government to maintain a policy that learners in primary and secondary schools should be learning Chichewa at the expense of other languages. This move was introduced by Kamuzu Banda to suppress Tumbuka and other languages and that it should be discontinued in a democratic era. All languages are equal regardless of whether they are spoken by the majority or not.
It is a huge surprise that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced recently that it is making Chichewa a compulsory subject in the new secondary school curriculum. The Church of Central African Presbyterian Livingstonia Synod General Secretary Rev. Dr Levi Nyondo has condemned the move, saying no language was superior to the rest.
Nyondo has argued that there are a lot of languages and cultures in Malawi that need to be promoted and wondered why only Chichewa was being promoted. He has hit the nail on the head!
By making Chichewa a compulsory subject government is being insensitive and discriminatory to other language groups. There is no rationale or basis for choosing Chichewa to be a compulsory subject when there are more than 15 language in Malawi. This time around other language groups are not taking this issue of Chichewa as compulsory subject lightly. Other ethnic groups are tired of suppression of their languages. A language is a vehicle through which people promote and learn about their cultural heritage such as beliefs, traditions, practices, proverbs etc. By learning in another language people are not only deprived of learning about themselves, but also killing their language.
The suppression of other languages to promote Chichewa has been going on for so many decades. But this time around other ethnic groups will not take it lightly.
Government should expect a backlash as other groups seek recognition and resist domination of one language group at the expense of other languages which are spoken by millions of people. For example, Yao and Tumbuka are spoken by millions of people. One is bound to ask why government only promotes Chichewa as if it is the only language in Malawi. Suffice to say that oneness of a country is not built by promoting one language, but promoting all the languages. There has be unity in diversity. For example, learners in the north should be learning in their own mother tongue: Tumbuka, Ngoni, Ngonde, Lambya, Tonga etc. Of what value is Chichewa for a pupil in Embangweni in Mzimba or Kameme in Chitipa?
There has to be respect for other languages. Everyone should feel that they are part of Malawi and not to be treated like foreigners in their own country. The systematic suppression and discrimination of other languages should not be tolerated in a democratic Malawi. Kamuzu Banda deliberately promoted Chichewa and suppressed other languages because he was trying to build a Chewa empire. That time is gone. Government has an obligation to promote and recognize all languages.
Malawi need to borrow a leaf from other African countries where they have promoted all the languages equally. The best example is South Africa where all the languages are promoted. Learners learn in their own mother language. They have 11 official languages. Each ethnic group including the khoisan (bushmen) has its own radio station, 18 in all.
Unless the Ministry of Education removes Chichewa as a compulsory subject in the new syllabus, they should expect a backlash from other language groups. They should not be surprised if other language groups boycott Chichewa classes. People are saying enough to discrimination!