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Importance of communicating COVID-19 messages in indigenous languages

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In an effort to ensure that South Africans receive information from government about the COVID-19 pandemic in languages that they understand, the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) approved a R20 million emergency relief fund for community media.

Addressing a panel discussion on the importance of using indigenous languages to communicate public health messages relating to the pandemic, MDDA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Zukiswa Potye said the agency has focused on funding community media that broadcasts or publishes in indigenous languages.

“When the initial hard lockdown was announced, the MDDA board approved a R20 million emergency relief to ensure that the community media is able to discharge its mandate of collecting news and informing the communities about the pandemic. We approved money for content generation, telecommunications, transportation and personal protective equipment (PPE) purchases,” Potye said on Thursday.

In addition, the late Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu had provided information from the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to communities through community radio stations during the hard lockdown.

Information from the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) has also ben shared with community media.

Potye made these comments during a panel discussion with the GCIS in partnership with the National Press Club, Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) and the National Community Radio Forum.

PanSALB Acting CEO Xolisa Tshongolo emphasised the importance of conveying messages to people in languages that they understand.

“When it comes to these previously marginalised languages we are not doing enough to ensure these languages are used properly and to their fullest in order to serve our communities. This is one of the democratic gains that we are not fully exploring as the country,” Tshongolo said.

He said PanSALB has assisted government in translating information about COVID-19.

“Government must use the languages of our people to communicate with them especially during times of disaster like this,” Tshongolo said.

National Community Radio Forum Chairperson Xola Nozewu said simplifying COVID-19 messages in the languages that are used in communities can make a difference.

“Community radio stations is an essential part of the South African broadcasting landscape, it is a very pervasive media, despite the rise of social media. It provides diversity for listeners and caters information needs of people living in particular communities. It does this through languages that are spoken in those communities,” he said.

Nozewu said community radio stations have been able to simply information about COVID-19 in languages that are spoken in communities.

“Community radio stations have provided information on the effects of COVID-19 within our communities by giving stats in local communities. We involved local doctors and department officials to inform people about COVID-19 and the situation in hospitals,” he said.

Nozewu said community radio stations also have a role to play during the vaccine rollout.