Zimbabwe: Let Us Promote Our Mother Languages

African Languages
African languages must never take a backseat to foreign languages in African countries

AFRICANGLOBE – Shona and Ndebele are the two languages spoken by the majority of Zimbabweans – from the Limpopo to the Zambezi, with a few pockets here and there of minority languages.

These two languages identify the Zimbabweans as a people. They are the heart beat of the Zimbabwean culture.

It therefore  baffles the mind, I dare say it is preposterous, that a full cabinet minister has the temerity to declare that Shona and Ndebele will no longer be compulsory subjects at Grade Seven. It’s simply outrageous.

If the government allows that, then by Jove, it will forever be held responsible for destroying our true Zimbabwean culture. I can’t imagine a nation without a culture.

I attended a press conference in Munich, Germany, more than 20 years ago, given by one of Africa’s notable authors, Ngugi wa Thiongo from Kenya. He is well known for his powerful books in English about contemporary Kenya. Among them are Weep not Child,The Trial of Dedan KimathiA Grain of Wheat and The River Between. He told journalists then that he took great umbrage at the fact that few Kenyans wrote in their mother languages, preferring to use English, the former colonial aggressor’s language.

He announced that he had taken the decision then, to write in Swahili, his native language as a way of promoting the African culture personified by Kenyans. It was a commendable decision. Since then, several of his hard hitting plays in Swahili have been staged throughout Kenya.

According to Ngugi, if Africans don’t write in their mother languages, they stand accused of destroying their culture through what he termed, “neo colonialism.”

If African children are not exposed to their mother languages, they will be ignorant of and will never cherish their African values as they will have been weaned from their culture and indoctrinated into foreign ones that look down on Africa.

A local daily newspaper in Harare carried a letter recently by one reader, Thomas Murisa who bemoaned: “This is what you get when you forgive a bank robber then employ him as a teller in the same bank.” The simile is very appropriate. Murisa, no doubt, was referring to the decision by our own cabinet minister, to downgrade Shona and Ndebele behind English.

I challenge all our legislators, present and prospective, to visit this matter as soon as Parliament resumes business and make sure that we don’t pass legislation that tramples our culture under the guise of the so-called democracy and human rights.

Our brothers in Tanzania have consistently preserved their culture more than most Africans through the promotion of their local languages. This is evident in the media where there are more weekly and daily newspapers in Swahili than in English.

This is highly commendable and Zimbabweans should take a leaf from this nation that took its humility from its founding president, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, of the Ujamaha philosophy.

As Africans, we must move away from that retrogressive mindset that deems anything indigenous as inferior to everything alien. We must be proud of our Africanness.

But for Africa, the so –called industrialised nations would never have developed to what they are. Think of the slave trade; the Berlin conference; the first and second world wars and the plundering of Africa’s resources, from Tunis to Cape Town, from Walvis Bay to Maputo.

In Zimbabwe, the pillaging of our land and minerals began with the “Pioneers” under genocidal maniac Cecil Rhodes in 1890. Now we are being persecuted for being a “bloody” diamond-rich country. This is the democracy that some people preach.

The one thing that we, as Africans must never ever lose is our culture. If we downplay Shona and Ndebele, God forbid, the spirits of  Lobengula, Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi and the warrior Mapondera will rise and turn against us.


By: John Gambanga