Preserving culture, breaking language barriers through radio

Tanaka Mahanya Features Writer
Government’s move to licence 40 community radio stations will go a long way in enhancing a total broadcasting coverage and easy access to information.

Community radio stations promote provision of local content to society. The information issued is largely popular and relevant to a specific audience, which may be ignored or overlooked by mainstream media. This is made possible because they are made, owned, controlled and managed by the societies which they serve.

A type of service that offers a model of radio beyond commercial and public service, community broadcasting, serves geographic communities and the interests of a people. Localised radio stations help the community or society in that they create a sense of belonging through use of local languages and discuss stories affecting the community at large.

It is important that these radio stations focus on promoting the use of indigenous languages, thereby making sure that citizens are well versed with their culture and origins. Indigenous languages are at the heart of cultural identities shared by a particular group of people. Meanings and understandings in indigenous languages are likely to lose originality if translated to other languages.

Once a language has vanished, the traditional and psychological meanings that it carries are lost as well, hence, it is important to brace our indigenous tongues in order to stand true to our cultural belonging.

Language is a powerful force that informs the identity of a group of people and contributes towards national unity. It is a part of culture that explains abstracts through figures of speech. These figures of speech mostly make sense when they are derived from an indigenous language point of view.

Culture and language are intertwined in such a way that they influence each other. It is, thus, not surprising that language has been a key element in contributing to a sense of national identity.

Mother tongues are the first and therefore, our main forms of contact and interaction with our environment. The use of shared symbols preserve stories, traditions, cultures and identities. Moreover, indigenous languages involve assessment of a world of cultures and a different conception of the world.

The treasure of indigenous languages is a heritage that should not be lost. For example, a community radio station in the rural areas would be useful in communicating to local people the advancements, developments and threats in agriculture, social and economic issues.

Commercial radio stations in Zimbabwe tend to be limited language-wise, which makes people in rural areas fail to understand information disseminated, especially so when they are only well-versed in their own languages, hence, community radio will help listeners to understand ideas in vernacular.

They improve awareness and knowledge of solutions to community issues ranging from culture, rural development, education, hygiene and sanitation to agriculture and local governance. Again, a community radio service facilitates awareness promotion on community groups and opportunities in the area as well as providing avenues for empowerment. Radio is used to promote societies and to speak directly to the community.

It is a mechanism for facilitating individuals, groups and communities to tell their own diverse stories, to share experiences and in a media rich world to become active creators and contributors.

What makes a community radio powerful is its ability to reach out to people with little or no access to information, especially in rural areas, by providing them with facts about elections, education and nutrition.

Chapman et al (2003) reported that the growth of rural radio stations reflects both improvements in information technologies and the shifting of development paradigms towards a more participatory style of knowledge transfer through use of local languages.

In many parts of the world today, community radio acts as a vehicle for development through partnerships between society and civil organisations.

Community radio can play a significant role at the grassroots level for rural development. For instance, issues of poverty, agriculture, gender inequality, education, social problems among others, could be the focus for programming.

In exploring the importance of sharing ideas locally, and the opening up of wider networks for farmers in northern Ghana with reference to vernacular radio programmes, Chapman et al (2003) noted that community radio is effective in improving the sharing of agricultural information by remote rural farming communities.

Radio in this regard provides a set of participatory communication techniques that support agricultural extension efforts by using local languages to communicate directly with farmers and listeners’ groups.

South Africa has more than 165 community stations, broadcast in a number of languages with content as diverse as the country itself, for example, Overvaal Stereo in the farming communities of the Free State province is used to communicate with local farmers on any advances in agriculture, leading to development.

Walters et al (2011) assessed the impact of community radio in Indonesia and concluded that effective radio activities can make a significant change in a community’s life. Local radio is accessible to the community in terms of ownership, decision making and programme output. In majority of cases, programming is produced by the community, with focus on local concerns and issues.

Unlike in the case of mainstream media, rather than merely talking about the community, the people themselves make the programmes. This strengthens local culture with the recognition that this is their station; it becomes a forum for a wide diversity of local opinions and views.

In Bandafassi, Senegal for example, the community radio broadcasts stories and proverbs, traditional music and the history of the various villages. It reaches out to traditional singers and local villagers with knowledge of medicinal plants, thereby promoting their culture.

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