Professor Doke and the politics of language


IN 1931, British born linguistic professor and Baptist missionary, Clement Doke was tasked by the Rhodesian government to come up with a report on the unifications of local dialects into an official local language for the Africans.
“The fact that the people themselves do not acknowledge this name (Shona) is really immaterial, for no true name exists by which the cluster may be called, and the name is only classificatory convenience,” said Doke.
As he planned and crafted on behalf of the black population, it did not matter if decades later, ethnic tensions would arise.
Due to contact with different groups, the people of Zimbabwe had adopted sounds and vocabulary from other groups through trade, invasion and intermarriage.
The ‘Ndebele’ would borrow the ‘click’ from the bushman who originally inhabited the land and the ‘Shona’ would exchange the ‘L’ for the ‘R’ and sometimes even whole words like ‘sinyoro’ from the Portuguese ‘senor’ to indicate a male.
Today there are coincidences like the word ‘amai’, ‘tanaka’ in Japan, Asia which means something sweet.
Prior to Doke’s report, large groups of black people had been displaced by the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and taken to unfertile new territories.
This meant that those that spoke Zezuru in Chivhu could find themselves speaking Korekore in Mount Darwin or like the Zvobgo clan who ‘originally’ had settled in Manicaland could find themselves generations later as the Karanga’s of Masvingo.
Historian Terrence Ranger called this, the ‘invention of tradition’.
The missionaries with the blessing of the racist regime promoted only Shona and Ndebele thus the Bible was translated into these two languages in Zimbabwe.
This ‘Dokean legacy’ in all its ‘innocence’ would always divide the country forever in ethnic clashes of superiority and inferiority.
Over the next decades outside forces taking advantage of the ‘ethnic tensions’ rooted deep in colonial domination would exploit it to their advantage.
Doke’s legacy would see neo-colonial vultures send in their non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to descend on the ‘seemingly’ marginalised and nudge them to hate.
Exactly 82 years later from Doke’s proclamation that other groups’ were ‘immaterial’, the descdandts of those settlers would fund the Movement for Democratic Change and push for devolution of power amidst ethnic tensions.
This practice is not unique to Zimbabwe as it has been done all over Africa.
When the Germans assumed control of Rwanda and Burundi after the Berlin Conference of 1884, they applied their racist ideology and assumed that the generally taller, lighter-skinned Tutsis were the more ‘natural’ leaders, while the Hutus were destined to serve them.
Consequently, the Germans increased Tutsi influence while oppressing the Hutu’s.
In 1994 an ethnic genocide would occur and the world would agree that it was ancient ethnic hatred yet these two groups has traded, intermarried and coexisted since time immemorial.
In Sudan, the British would sponsor Islam as a culture, language and religion in one region of the country and encourage Christianity and English in the other half of the region while marginalising the traditional cultures.
And for over 50 years Sudan has only had little episodes of peace.
It must be for this reason the ‘Shona’ disregard their colonial identity but choose to identify themselves by the use of their totem.
This frequent reference of the totem knows no geographical ‘boundaries’ neither is it marred by politics.
If your mother is from the Vaera Moyo clan then all those that use the Moyo totem regardless of dialect, home town, ‘tribe’ instantly became your mother’s people.
Those who want to fan tribal hate like Ryton Dzimiri in a 2013 article titled, ‘Mzilikazi gave the Shona a name to be proud of’, in Bulawayo 24 wrote that the Karanga were cowards and only good at hiding during war.
It could be so as the Karanga were warned by their oracles not to spill the blood of another.
Dzimiri writes that this is where the term ‘tshona’ cropped up, meaning to hide.
According to Professor George Kahari from the African languages Department at the University of Zimbabwe, the term Shona is from the Indian Pali word ‘sona’. In Hindi, shona means gold.
According to Professor Kahari, the Indians were trading as early as 1400 AD with the Munhumutapa Empire and they saw gold mines in abundance.
Hence they called it the land of ‘sona’ or ‘shona’.
Doke recommended that Shona and Ndebele be the two African languages that were to be recognised officially in the areas in which they were predominant and that all the other languages be basically ignored.
The Korekore dialect was ignored in the unification as there was no missionary post hence it would remain marginalised, ‘kure kure’.
The demarcation of Rhodesia into provinces with the terms Matabeleland, Mashonaland and Midlands meant that in areas where the province was Matabeleland, the expectation was that it should be Ndebele that is used there.
Mashonaland meant that it is the Shona language that was expected to be used there and in the Midlands, it was both Shona and Ndebele languages that were expected to be used there.
In Matabeleland North, there were Tonga people in Binga, Nambya in Hwange and Kalanga in Tsholotsho.
In Matabeleland South, there were Kalanga in Plumtree and Kezi, Sotho in Gwanda as well as some parts of Beitbridge with Venda in Beitbridge.
Decades later after the 1931 language commission, Zimbabwe is battling with tribal issues when in fact as a people we are simply diverse, but one.


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