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Trouble with language tolerance

by Edward Ncube

schoolFor many people in the country, the subject of language disparity instantaneously calls up the issue of “tribe.”

I came to this conclusion after a revelation I witnessed at my favourite drinking spot recently. There were five Shona speaking men and one Ndebele speaking man playing pool. What drew my attention was the manner in which the five guys cussed at this one fellow for failing to pronounce a Shona word.

“Sei usinganyarari urikuuraya rurimi rwedu (why don’t you shut up because you are killing our language),” said one of the guys. If I were the five guys, I was going to at least give the guy deserved credit to trying to accommodate the fellow, but alas! Pride came in the way. Then I ask myself why can’t we tolerate each other? It begins with language before it can get any deeper to the level of tribalism.

The term “tribe” has no consistent meaning. It carries misleading historical and cultural assumptions. It blocks accurate views of African realities. Tribe promotes a myth of primitive African timelessness.

The general sense of tribe as most people understand it is associated with primitiveness. To be in a tribal state is to live in an uncomplicated, traditional condition.

With that said I don’t think people should continue to let language disparities define their relationships with fellow Zimbabweans who might happen to belong to certain tribes. There is a need for us to at least tolerate each other and complete the communication process.

After all for communication to be complete, it has to be two way.

However, the trend in the country whenever and inter tribal conversation ensues is a response “Angizwa ukuthi uthini? or Handinzwi kuti urikuti chii?”  (I can’t understand what you are saying?).

Tribalism in Zimbabwe is a very sensitive topic which needs to be handled with care. We need to be aware of the fact that what’s done is done and we can never ever change it.

However, tragedy in most cases is that we blame each other on who sold the country to the whites. All of us right now were not here when the whites first came to the country and colonised us and there is nothing we can do to change that part of our history.

As a subscriber of socialist realism I prescribe two solutions, the broader remedy and the narrow one. In the narrower one I propose that language tolerance should begin from as low as an individual. Individuals should be accommodating and open themselves to learning all languages and assisting each other to at least learn our local languages.

In the broader sense, I throw the ball in the court of Government and its policymakers to craft and frame requisite guidelines that must and should foster inter-language and inter-tribal tolerance. A long term solution maybe to teach three dominant languages, Ndebele, Shona and English, from Early Childhood Development (ECD) level and primary education, to ensure that everyone is conversant in these languages.

However, the draft constitution can be cited as a step to the positive, as it has a provision for 16 official languages, and this is likely to compel some changes in the education sector, if the blueprint is adopted.

In the past, there has been an outcry that the so-called “minority” languages were not recognised and were playing second fiddle to English, Ndebele and Shona languages, which are Zimbabwe’s official languages.

Last year, the Ministry of Education introduced the teaching of Tonga in Binga and pupils sat for their first ever examination in the language in Grade 7.

According to the draft constitution, Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa will be recognised as official languages in Zimbabwe.

Parting shot: “Tribe is to tribalism as nation is to nationalism: both are socially constructed, but take on unsavory connotations; they can be exclusionary as they are inclusionary.” – Anonymous.

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