Revisiting our political history: Mwalimu Nyerere’s major contribution to the development of Kiswahili

AS this is the opening article of the new calendar year, I wish to start by wishing all our esteemed readers, a happy and prosperous new year 2019, the fourth year of President John Magufuli’s Administration.

I am hopeful that we will all continue praying for our dear President, beseeching the Almighty God to continue granting him abundant physical and mental health throughout this new year, and through all the remaining years of his constitutional mandate; so that (in the words of the British national anthem) he may “continue to reign over us”.

God save President Magufuli In connection therewith, I must also express my personal gratitude to President Magufuli, for having enabled me to start the New Y ear wearing a new academic gown of “Chancellor of the Mbeya University of Science and Technology (MUST)”. On appointment, University Chancellors are not required to swear the statutory oaths that are applicable to other, full time appointments.

But still, in dedicated silence, I vowed to deliver faithfully and with due diligence, what is expected of me in that high level Public Service position.

Wosia wa Baba wa Taifa After those preliminary remarks, let me now come back to the intended purpose and objective of today’s article; which is a presentation in memory and sincere appreciation, of Mwalimu Nyerere’s major contributions to the development of the Kiswahili language.

The Tanganyika Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) features a permanent programme titled “WOSIA WA BABA”, which is aired daily in the early morning and late evening; in the form of a captivating stanza which always opens as follows:

“Kama siyo juhudi zako Nyerere, na Uhuru tungepata wapi? It is a history oriented educational programme, which constantly reminds us of certain selected speeches which were delivered by Mwalimu Nyerere in the course of his long distinguished service to our nation.

Being a student of Mwalimu Nyerere myself, I always listen to this programme and that is what led me to choose, as my subject for today’s article, this discussion regarding Mwalimu Nyerere’s huge contribution to the development of the Kiswahili language, which is, fortunately, now being rapidly adopted as a working language by many other countries and International institutions, such as the prestigious African Union.

I have also had the opportunity of reading an informative book titled “Remembering Mwalimu in Tanzania: History, Memory, Legacy” (Mkuki and Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam, 2015); which is a collection of contributions from a variety of Tanzanian scholars.

Its editor informs us that, “this book is about how Nyerere is remembered by Tanzanians from all levels of society, in what ways, on which occasions and for what purpose . . . It is about what Julius Nyerere stands for today, as well as about his legacy.”

I was not invited to contribute to that book; but it is what encouraged me to make this presentation today, in which I will focus on Mwalimu Nyerere’s legacy in relation to the development of the Kiswahili language and in particular, his amazing feat in translating into Kiswahili, two of Shakespeare’s famous plays, namely “Julus Caesar” and “The Merchant of Venice”.

I have described his achievement in this scholarly venture as an ‘amazing feat’. And indeed it was.

The dictionary definition of the word ‘feat’ is that it is ‘an action or piece of work that needs skill, strength or courage to perform”.

There is no disputing the fact that Mwalimu Nyerere’s success in rendering more than 500 lines of dense Shakespearian verse into Kiswahili, was no mean feat! The intriguing questions In my opinion, there are three intriguing questions which appear to need answers.

These are: - (i) Why did Mwalimu Nyerere choose to undertake this task at all? (ii) Why did he specifically choose these two Shakespeare’s tragedies? And (iii) how did he find enough time for these scholarly undertakings? (i) Why did he undertake this task at all? He must obviously have had his own reasons and motives for doing so.

But, presumably, one of them must have been his ‘desire and determination’ to show-case Kiswahili as being both capable and fit for use as a literally language.

Just imagine, for example, that by using Kiswahili, Mwalimu Nyerere was able to render successfully all those pages of Shakespeare’s old English verse into their Kiswahili equivalent! Mwalimu Nyerere was teaching at Pugu Secondary School at the time when I was a student there and I can remember that ‘English Literature’ was not one of his teaching subjects.

But still, he must surely have had somehow acquired very thorough knowledge of the two Shakespeare’s plays which he chose to translate, the kind of knowledge which enabled him to preserve the true meaning of each Shakespearian verse, as he delicately transferred them to the Kiswahili language.

(ii) H ow did he find enough time? Considering the fact that Mwalimu Nyerere undertook this task during the same busy years when he had to invest most of his prime time working hours to the urgent tasks of building the firm foundations for the economic and socio-political development of the new Tanzania nation, it becomes quite obvious that he could only have done these extra tasks during his spare evening or other appropriate times, prudently squeezed out of his unavoidable daily busy schedules.

This is absolutely astonishing, given the fact that he was, at the same time, fully engaged in the more pressing day-to-day tasks of building the foundations of a new nation, as well as spearheading the pan-African efforts to eliminate colonialism from the African continent, including the undertaking to drive out the obnoxious apartheid regime from South Africa.

I therefore wish to submit, that this is one good and pertinent lesson for the current generation of leaders, many of whom tend to take refuge in the false claim of being “too busy” with their regular assignments and therefore have no spare time for even reading books, leave alone writing them! But if Mwalimu Nyerere himself, with all his extra heavy leadership responsibilities could still manage to find time, not only for reading, but also for writing translations of pretty heavy works like the Shakespeare’s books mentioned above, plus the ‘New Testament’ of the Holy Bible; why should other leaders, who carry a much lesser workload, fail to do so? and even succeed so easily in ‘getting away with it’, by avoiding censure or criticism from the public? I am of course aware of the many Tanzanian scholars, whose propensity to write books and other works, is apparently measureless.

This includes University lecturers, who are basically ‘compelled’ by the relevant rules, either “to publish, or perish”; which means that they cannot advance up the ladder of their teaching careers, unless they produce evidence of having published enough relevant material in their respective academic disciplines.

But there are also a few others, like one Nkwazi Mhango , a Tanzanian scholar based in Canada, who appears to have an insatiable appetite for writing and publishing, even though he is not bound by any such disciplinary rules.

Kudos to him and his likeminded comrades, for their productive endeavours in the advancement of knowledge. (iii) Why did Mwalimu Nyerere choose Shakespeare’s tragedies? This, indeed, is a most fascinating question.

Why did this brilliant man, who was placed in a unique position at a watershed moment in the country’s history, deliberately choose to translate these particular Shakespeare’s plays? More specifically, why did he select Julius Caesar for his first translation; and what actually determined the timing of its publication? It should be noted that his book ‘Julias Kaizari’, which is the Kiswahili version of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, was published by Oxford University Press (OUP) in 1963.

Thus, considering the huge amount of work involved in undertaking such a monumental task, it can only be assumed that he was actually working on this translation during the very pivotal years of 1961 and 1962; at the same time when he was extremely busy mobilizing the people of Tanganyika for independence and negotiating with the British Government for Tanganyika’s independence and the same time laying down the foundations for the new nation’s welfare and development.

Thus, how do we explain both the motive and the timing, of his undertaking this onerous task? I leave that as ‘food for thought’ for our keen readers.

In his recent book titled ‘Shakespeare in Swahili Land’ (William Collins, London, 2016); Edward Wilson-Lee submits that, “the key to understanding Nyerere’s choice of Julius Caesar lies in looking beyond the intrigue and assassination recorded in the first half of the play, to the conclusion which these events actually prepare.”

One major conclusion, or result thereof, is the loss of friendship among former ‘comrades’, which is depicted in the emotional climax when Brutus, the leader of the insurrection, accuses his friend and co-conspirator Cassius, of using his newly acquired power to enrich himself.

On his part, Cassius is astonished at being so turned upon by his closest friend.

Their friendship had in fact been irreparably polluted and damaged by the acquisition of power.

Edward Wlson-Lee submits that, “it is this ‘loss of friendship resulting from the acquisition of power’, which worried Mwalimu Nyerere; for he was apprehensive that a similar fate (of losing close political friends after independence), might befall him too.”

To support his assertion, he quotes reliable evidence from the records, which show that “in the course of his discussions with Governor Richard Turnbull (the last Governor of Tanganyika before independence), Mwalimu Nyerere, while talking about the challenges that he would be facing after the achievement of independence, also shared with him his premonitions that, “like Brutus, he will have to choose between his friendship with some of his closest colleagues and his honest dealing with some of the problems of the new country”.

Knowing Mwalimu Nyerere as well as I did, I am full persuaded by this line of reasoning. However, I will quickly dismiss the innocuous suggestion which was made by some callous observers at the material time, that Mwalimu Nyerere might have “been attracted by the similarity of names between his own Christian name Julius, and that of the play’s name Julius Caesar”!

No, the truth of the matter is that Nyerere was NOT named “Julius” after that Roman tyrant called Julius Caesar at all. It is in the catholic tradition and established baptismal ritual, that whenever ay person gets baptized, he or she is given what is commonly known as a “Christian name”, usually selected from a list of the names of catholic saints.

Thus, Mwalimu Nyerere was duly given the Christian name ‘Julius”, at the time he was baptized as a catholic faithful, with no reference or inference whatsoever to the said Roma tyrant.

In the same vein, I also happen to remember a few other occasions when Mwalimu Nyerere literally ‘went to great lengths’ to teach the use of correct Kiswahili to some members of the CCM National Executive Committee (NEC), who kept on using the word “masaa” as plural for the Kiswahili word “saa”.

On one occasion, he even brought with him a Kiswahili Dictionary to a meeting of NEC and read out loudly to all of us who were assembled thereat, the dictionary explanation that the word “saa” has no plural form.

Therefore, in mentioning the number of hours spent, say in travelling from one location to another, if it is incorrect to say ‘sixteen hours’, or whatever the actual number may be; and emphasized that the correct rendering is “saa kumi na sita” and NOT “masaa kumi na sita”.

That was Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, actively promoting the correct usage of the Kiswahili language. piomsek wa@ gmaik. com / 0754767576 .

Last Sunday, January 12th, 2019; was ...

Author: Pius Msekwa

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