All languages are equal in Malawi: Tumbukas can fight to preserve their language

Desmond Dudwa Phiri has argued that if the Tumbukas want to preserve their language they should initiate action. He has further shifted the responsibility to Livingstonia Synod to preserve the language.

What action the Tumbukas should take to achieve that goal is unclear. Why the Livingstonia Synod should be singled out to preserve Tumbuka language as if other churches do not preach in Tumbuka is something that one cannot understand.

Preserving a language is not only the responsibility of the people who speak it, but, to a large extent, a deliberate government policy.

Malawi lacks a language policy that can guide the government on how other languages should be promoted and treated.

For example, the State broadcaster should have been opened up to all the ethnic groups to express themselves and not just Chichewa.

Besides, government should have been encouraging Malawians to use their mother language to communicate.

This is in line with Section 26 of the Constitution which says: “Every person shall have the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of his or her choice.”

Although the clause is vague, it is obviously referring to the right of everyone to use their mother language or language of their choice in public communication. But government has overlooked this important clause to promote Chichewa only. Why?

A government that is nondiscriminatory makes deliberate steps to promote all languages.

For example, the South African government promotes all the languages equally, including sign language, which is now recognised as part of language of communication.

All language groups are represented on the public broadcaster SABC (they have their own radio stations) and learners at both primary and high school are free to learn in their own language.

Since founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda banned Tumbuka in 1969 on MBC, there has not been any political will to accord Tumbuka, spoken by millions, its rightful place in Malawi.

All successive political parties that have been in power post 1994—United Democratic Front (UDF), People’s Party (PP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have failed to promote minority languages.

What we have seen is systematic suppression and discrimination of Tumbuka and other minority languages.

For how long should this continue?

Section 20 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination of persons in any form including language. The government should, therefore, be held accountable for discriminating Tumbuka and other minority languages in communication.

The Tumbukas and other minority groups have all the reason to demand that government take necessary steps to promote their languages. One such step is to have learners learn in their mother language in primary schools. Citizens should be free to be who they are.

Unfortunately, the government has maintained the policy that learners in primary and secondary school should be learning Chichewa throughout Malawi at the expense of other languages.

This policy was introduced by Kamuzu to suppress Tumbuka and other languages. 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 equally unfortunate that members of Parliament have not raised the issue of promoting all languages in Malawi in parliament.

The Tumbukas can fight to preserve their language, but if government closes space for that promotion it is a futile exercise.

Opening up MBC to diverse ethnic groups and changing the policy that says learners should learn in their own mother tongue will go a long way in preserving Tumbuka and other minority languages. The decision for such a radical change cannot come from the Tumbukas or Livingstonia Synod. It is the domain of Executive and Parliament

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4 years ago

Cultures and languages are evolving globally in response to the new world order. Malawian cultures and languages are no exception. Whilst we still need to recognise different tribes, cultures and languages we also need to remind ourselves about the thread that unites all of us (Malawians), than what separates us or our differences. We are more powerful when we unite than when we are divided. Of course all cultures and languages need to be acknowledged and preserved, but at the same time, we need to acknowledge that the world is swaying towards bridging our differences. The English have now introduced… Read more »

4 years ago

Please do not attempt to bring confusion amongst Malawians. No language is being suppressed in the country. Chichewa is a national language which is supposed to be understood by every Malawian. To me Chichewa is a unifying ingredient for malawians. That’s the only language that can bring us together as a nation. Let’s face the truth, if tumbuka language was banned in 1969 the language could have gone into extinction by now. One also wonders why is the language being spoken by those born in the post 1969 era? I support the idea of using Chichewa as a national language… Read more »

Wema wa Mungu
Wema wa Mungu
4 years ago
Reply to  Hatton

Thinking that Chichewa is a national language is wrong because it was imposed by the regime of Dr Hastings Kamuzu as our history can tell us. Second one must understand that Chichewa is a language for one among the ethic groups in the country and therefore it does not add up to a national language bearing in mind that other ethnic groups have their own too which are not given opportunity. From simple analysis the imposition of Chichewa causes confusion such that other proponents can hardly see the error because they are used to it. For instance, our neighbours in… Read more »

National Front for Protection of the Poor
National Front for Protection of the Poor
4 years ago

This issue is non starter. Tumbukas exercise their right to speak their language among themselves and among other tribes. No one prohibits them. They have Livingstonia radio that broadcasts in Tumbuka and they enjoy it. In Lilongwe, Livingstonia Synod preaches in Tumbuka. What else does DD Phiri wants. To force other tribes to start speaking/listening to Tumbuka on a national broadcaster (MBC) will be abuse of their rights. And it shouldnt be. When Livingstonia established a church in Lilongwe they expected all Tumbuka speaking people even those from other denominations to join them. It didnt work that way. People in… Read more »

Mtumbuka wa biii
4 years ago

Zozizila Za Ziiii ngati mkazi wachitumbuka. Dont pple from Hinyaland already speak tumbuka? You want them to be speaking it in our offices? Mxiieww

4 years ago

After all,anything in Chichewa is not appealing, from speaking the language to songs,and to the name of the country. In fact ,Malawi should have maintained the name Nyasaland or changed to Flameland Republic- Flameland means land of the flames which also means Malawi in Chichewa language. The name Malawi is associated with poverty,backwardness, and HIV. I remember when Kinnah Phiri took the Flames to Ghana for an Afcon qualifier,some Ghanaian fans were scorning the name Malawi as a useless name for a country. Kamuzu Banda sowed seeds of ridicule for the country. I would rather speak Tumbuka or Nyanja than… Read more »

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