The vanishing grammar and correct language in Tanzania

Friday September 03 2021
Grammar pic
By Freddy Macha

Each time I listen to the new generation of Swahili singers, broadcasters and self proposed orators I feel like someone suppressing a loud sneeze. Check the misuse of L, R, DH, TH and so on. Then “Kiswanglish”. For many years this column has insisted that for Tanzanians glorifying “Kiswanglish” is quite harmful to the growth and management of Kiswahili and English. Third is the rise (and rise) of KUWEZA which in English translates as ABILITY.

These three CREATURES have further been accentuated by some of our current political orators.

Two of our past leaders, were respected for their love of Kiswahili and English. Founder of the nation, Mwalimu Nyerere translated works by William Shakespeare, i.e. Julius Caesar and Merchants of Venice to Kiswahili. Mwalimu Nyerere’s mastery of both languages has no debate. It is historic. Majestic. Distinctive.

Six years ago Retired President Ali Hassan Mwinyi was interviewed by Mubelwa Bandio of Kwanza Channel in the USA. The drill specifically dedicated itself to Kiswahili. The second question that Bandio threw at the esteemed “Mzee Ruksa” was: “ Is Kiswahili falling or not?”

Without battling an eyelid, the former President immediately replied that the standards of Kiswahili are “disintegrating.”

Statistically, Kiswahili is listed as seventh in the world, taught in Universities across various continents and medium of the African Union; planned to be the official black people lingo by 2063. That is more than serious.


Alhaj Mwinyi told Kwanza:

“One of the chief reasons we spoil the language is by NOT making an effort to use it the way it should be. We are supposed to learn it properly, respect and value it.”

Mzee Mwinyi said at school he had a very good teacher who was an expert of the language.

It is all about schooling. Education. Most current broadcasters, social media pundits, politicians and singers cannot distinguish between DH, TH, Z, L and R. This means our education system is not teaching syllables properly. If the leading media and entertainment tools are leading in mispronunciation, then consequently , we cannot develop this major means of communication, properly.

Just like a car or phones, languages are tools. We have to learn their functionality, systematically. So when some argue that English is not our language, (foreign or colonial), we should then stop using phones and cars as they are also foreign! So before speaking any language, no matter what, learn the basics. That is the rule of the thumb.

Next is Swanglish.

A monster.

Number one there is a psychological twang. Most of us think when we speak Swahili and add an English word then we , subsequently, sound more intelligent. Wrong. Thinking if you chat in a foreign language you are cleverer. Just travel around the globe. Folks from other countries are proud of their mother tongues. They do not need to add another “alien” word to sound intelligent or superior. In-fact they belittle other languages. Decades back, when I was living and travelling around Latin America, I was impressed at how these folks wanted you, the foreigner, the gringo (or gringa, for female) to learn their idioms. They made you work harder to understand them. We do the REVERSE. We belittle our selves at the expense of our guests. A good , unnecessary, example of inferiority complex. Kiswahili is far superior , an established language and growing like trees in the lush Congo forest.


KUWEZA is the idiom or word that has taken over Swahili by storm. Lately broadcasters are using KUWEZA left, right, centre. Non stop.

WEZA is an infinitive of “being able.” It means to function. Ability. But how come kuweza (its verb) is substituting every single sentence?

Take a brief example:

“Leo wageni wameweza kula hadi wakaridhika.” (today the guests have been able to eat to satisfaction).

There is no need to use WAMEWEZA here because KULA (to eat) is self satisfactory.

The correct way should be.

“Leo wageni wamekula hadi wakaridhika.” (Today the guests ate to satisfaction).

The way KUWEZA is, trendily, used ...makes it a substitute for verbs. Whereas KUWEZA should be a verb. I can drive a car. “Ninaweza kuendesha gari.” NOT “ I drove a car.” (Nimeweza kuendesha gari) LOL!

But the ongoing trend is to make KUWEZA as a the main verb, i.e. function and ability for every single situation, sentence, action.

My fellow columnist, Abdi Sultan, who pens “Our Kind Of English”, which appears on the same page as this column, will have more to say on the matter. And his task is much tougher correcting every week.

That said, let us insist the aim of our chat today is not to chide anyone, but remind ourselves that as long as we embrace these two languages, we should learn them properly and correctly. Just like the phones and cars we hug, with passion.