TOWARD A ZAMBIAN GENRE
On developing the literary arts in Zambia-with a focus on fiction writing.
EXORCISING THE ‘DEMON’ OF ILLITERACY
I have attended a number of exorcism sessions and have had the opportunity to conduct a few- truth be told, it is just another realm that is beyond human understanding. Exorcisms vary from religion to religion; bottom line is there are some spiritual forces that live among us and in some cases in us. Superstitious? Well, here is the problem, a large percentage of Zambia’s population remains illiterate 50 years after independence. Want the facts and figures? Google it or simply look around in your extended family and count how many are literate- get the picture?
To exorcise is to evict the bad spirit, in this case a demon from the person or the area in the name of a higher power. In assessing the negative impact that demons have on the life of a human host, it is safe to say that illiteracy has gained itself this persona. The adverse effects of illiteracy are written all over the pages of this country; for instance, people talk about how maternal and child mortality could be reduced by fifty percent not just if services were improved but if the affected citizenry was literate. There is no telling the magnitude of the negative impact illiteracy has on our socio-economic development.
Where did this all begin, how and when did the ‘demon’ find its seat among us? Way back to the colonial era, we inherited a language that we have now made official and anyone who cannot read or write in this supreme dialect is rendered illiterate. Should English therefore be the yardstick for measuring literacy levels? Our minds have been so attuned to even look down on those who fail to converse in the ‘royal’ language. Drastic shift is required where this mindset is renewed into appreciating the mother tongue. Why is it a laughable offence for a Zambian to speak ‘broken English’ but acceptable for a French man or a Chinese to ‘break’ the ‘Queen’s language’?
Recently, local languages were made compulsory as medium of communication for the first years of primary school in Zambia. So the math, the science and so on will be taught in local languages. There was a lot of hype around this development and there still is as people in the education sector frantically begin to work backwards to smoothen the implementation of a political pronouncement. Nothing wrong with the pronouncement but were we prepared to take the national syllabus in this direction? Will this move eventually contribute to raising the literacy levels? Are all schools equipped with the resources to support this development? How does early childhood education link with the first years of primary education when the former is taught in English and vernacular has been introduced at the latter? All these questions need to be answered including on how the poor reading culture shall be tackled. There is need for commitment from government to make sure that they see this pronouncement through to the end.
I have always said that if someone can afford a beer then they can equally afford to buy a book to read. Our residential areas are littered with bars and pubs and whatever it is where alcohol is sold. This scenario does not encourage anyone to opt to go to a library that is miles away as opposed to a tavern which is within vicinity. Can the general populous be brought on board by taking literacy activities to them, within their reach?
Lastly, but not the least- this ‘demon’ of illiteracy needs concerted efforts; public and private, individuals and groups, religious and circular to promote the growth of what has been neglected for so long and yet is key to the development of this country.