Nation united through linguistic diversity …culture carrier in 16 languages


LAST weekend found me with my family in the Lower Gweru area, quite close to the Seventh Day Adventist Lower Gwelo Mission.
Having dispensed of my business there quite early, I decided to look for a long forgotten extended family in the neighbouring commercial farming district.
None of us had ever been to our relatives’ farm.
We did not have their phone contacts, but we still decided to give search a chance.
All we knew was the farm name from the early 1980s, Manu Farm.
Sekuru Muchoni, after retiring from years of service to Bulawayo Municipality, had bought a whiteman’s farm soon after independence.
During the few occasions he came to the village for funerals, he had morphed from Nyoni the Ndebele to Manu the white farmer. Apparently, the latter was with reference to his love for English language, moustache, ‘4 o’clock’ tea and pipe smoking.
In the village, they, however, continued to call him Muchoni, in reference to his long exile from the village and its ways.
Trusting the fame of Manu to guide us, we stopped to ask for directions from a couple coming from the local township.
The lady, speaking in Ndebele, was quite forthcoming with offer to assist.
My Ndebele, quite basic when I picked it in the late 1980s, had gone through almost three decades of rusting since then.
All the same, we had agreed broken Ndebele was better (politically correct) than fluent Shona here.
After a while of linguistic struggle, the lady asked her male companion to confirm the directions she was giving.
To our amazement, the two then engaged in a conversation, lady speaking in Ndebele and the companion in Shona!
We felt quite relieved and all of us then freely joined in the discussion.
With that help, we eventually located koManu but, it being a Sabbath, we missed our relatives; they had gone to church.
I had forgotten the bit about Sekuru Muchoni marrying into SDA royalty.
Long after the visit to koManu, I have been reflecting on the beauty of a Shona-Ndebele conversation as experienced in Lower Gweru.
According to the Constitution, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages namely; Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Khoisan, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani, Shona, Ndebele, Sign Language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa.
Imagine a Shangani-Nambya conversation or a Chewa-Ndebele dialogue; would that not be the perfect cementing of the Unity Accord?
Can we not come together as one, celebrating richness of our linguistic diversity?
Unfortunately through omissions and commissions, we have created monsters out of our linguistic diversity hence my initial discomfort in conversing in Shona in Lower Gweru.
Instead, we have inadvertently made language the bedrock upon which tribal conflicts have been built.
For those who have ignored counsel to celebrate our linguistic diversity, cases abound of ‘linguism’ becoming the basis for destructive neo-nationalism.
We need to guard against this creeping vice, already knocking loudly and incessantly on our body politic.
Shona should be part of the pride and national identity of a villager in Lupane in the same way Chewa should flourish in Zhombe and Ndebele in Buhera.
I want to experience Nyanja culture in Ndebele in Sizinda, in Nambya in Hwange, Shona in Zhombe and in Chewa in Rugare, much the same way as Nollywood has brought Yoruba culture into our homes in English.
For is that not the culture-carrier role of language?
We need a language policy that extends and integrates national identity.
2017 Unity Day, like many before it, will probably pass quietly. Yet the legacy crying loud for urgent restoration is national pride and identity nourished in rich language diversity.
That is what Section Six of the Constitution is compelling all of us to do.
Nyerere built a strong nation; perhaps one of Africa’s most stable, on Swahili.
With 16 languages with no tribal boundary, we can achieve 16 times more.


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