Migrants must learn languages of their domicile

Op3Opinion Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
THE South African campaign against foreign black Africans is now over, and that country’s social and political atmosphere has returned to normal.
The campaign caused a great deal of emotional outbursts in neighbouring countries as well as in South Africa itself. Some of the published comments were based on purely moral considerations rather than on the geo-political and economic factors obtaining in the southern African region in particular, and throughout the African continent in general.

Assuming that those factors are known and understood by most of the people of Zimbabwe, let us look at how Zimbabweans living in South Africa can make themselves more acceptable to the majority of the indigenous people of South Africa.

We are referring here to Zimbabweans who are lawfully living in South Africa. It would be unlawful to advise illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa to adapt themselves to that country’s social or any other environment because they are in that country illegally in the very first place.
Zimbabweans who would like to be socially and culturally acceptable to South Africa should remember that amicable human relations are based on sound communication, in fact, that means understanding and using the language or languages of the indigenous people among whom immigrants have decided to live.

It is socially unacceptable, actually it is culturally offensive, to try to impose one’s language on any indigenous community.

We should remember that those who emigrate do so because they have either been attracted by the respective countries of their choice, or because they could not afford or tolerate to live or work in their respective countries of domicile or origin.

One of the attractions of any country is its culture, and the basic means of communication of every culture is language. It would be worse than silly for one to wish to live in a community whose language one does not want to learn, let alone to speak. Why go and live there?

In east Africa, Arabic traders tried to adopt the various local Bantu dialects over a long period, and so did the dialect speakers, and, eventually, ended up with the Kiswahili language. In South Africa, Afrikaans came about through a similar linguistic evolution which began in 1652 and bore national fruits in 1934 when it was recognised as one of South Africa’s official languages.

That country’s other languages are Zulu, Xhosa, seSotho, Tswana, Venda, siNdebele, Tsonga, Pedi, siSwati, English and Koikoi. It would be in their best interest for Zimbabweans living in South Africa to adopt and learn the language spoken in their area of domicile.

Another important thing to remember and practise is to behave in a morally acceptable manner. It is not culturally acceptable anywhere in the world to impregnate more women than one is prepared to marry. An immigrant who does that paints the whole immigrant community with a “black” brush because “ziwonelwa mvu inye” as they say in siNdebele.

Similarly, immigrants should avoid adulterous behaviour as that results in the destruction at most or destabilisation at least of affected families. It is important to remember that an immigrant is regarded as a stranger (foreigner) for at least 30 to 35 years.

That period is a whole generation. In fact, people who have lived for less than a generation in a particular place are usually blamed for various social misfortunes or occurrences such as an outbreak of mumps, measles, chicken pox, malaria, the perceived increase in crime or unemployment and, by the way, even immoral behavior, particularly prostitution.

It was, incidentally, for a purpose that President Jacob Zuma revealed that there, were currently about 4,000 Zimbabweans in South African prisons. That alarming figure does not endear us (Zimbabweans) to South Africans at all.

If every Zimbabwean in South Africa were to become a peacemaker, their number in that country’s jails could be reduced tremendously. They should remember that Jesus Christ taught us that “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

If they promote and protect peace in the communities in which they live, their presence in South Africa would be regarded as a blessing. But if they promote violence and crime, their presence in that country will be treated as a curse.

Zimbabweans employed in South Africa are trade union members, and are bound to uphold their respective trade union’s decisions. If the trade union has decided to stage a strike, every member is obliged to abide by that resolution, whatever their country of origin.

Unemployed Zimbabweans should not stab their brothers in the back by getting the jobs of those who are on strike. That would be treacherous, and would completely alienate them from the (South African) communities in which they live.

There are certain cultural aspects in which Zimbabweans could meet or group separately from their host communities. Churches and burial societies are two such cultural aspects or organisations.

It is understandable why churches group people of particular language communities, and so do burial societies. However, in cases where people from Zimbabwe are too few to form a viable congregation, they would be well advised to join the nearest and most convenient church.

That would make them a cultural part of their various residential communities, rendering them less of targets to be attacked or vilified.

We now look at a rather controversial aspect of the lives of Zimbabweans in South Africa particularly, and in the diaspora generally. People’s constitutionally entrenched freedom of association is usually given more sensitivity in the political arena than in any other. Why is that so? Because politics involves power and power leads to opportunities and privileges.

Should immigrants be entitled to vote, the party in power at that time would certainly want or expect them to vote for it, and to be seen to be in sympathy with it.

If they show the opposite, they may be victimised by the government, which means in effect, that the party in power would be implying that they are living in that country on sufferance rather than by right.

Immigrant workers entitled to vote are advised to act discreetly lest they are victimised by either the opposition parties or the government. That is particularly so in countries that show one — party state tendencies.

In situations where émigrés have branches of their home – based parties, they can make their own political decisions on the relation between the government of the host country and their own government.

We should learn from history some of whose occurrences recur although with some variations and in different parts of the world.

In the first quarter of 1977, some European mercenaries took off from Gabon and landed in Benin (formally called Dahomey) where they raided parts of that country’s capital Cotonou. In 1978 the Gabonese President, Albert Bernard Bongo, was accused of the incident when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) held a summit in Khartoum, Sudan.

A day after the matter was placed before the OAU, Benin nationals living in Gabon were rounded up by the police and were literary harassed, briefly detained and arbitrarily deported en masse.

President Bongo, who had changed his name to Omar following his conversion from Christianity to Islam, described all those obviously innocent Beninese, including diplomats, as spies for their country.

Benin had at that time a socialist government following a coup d’état a year or so earlier. The Gabonese regime was very much western’ oriented and was particularly pro — France. The OAU had held its 1977 summit in Gabon and Benin’s leftist head of state, Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu Kerekou attended it.

Finally, some Zimbabweans living in South Africa are bound to have accommodation problems and, as a result, live in slums. They should not start their own informal settlements, however, but should join those already in existence.

It would be most unfortunate if the current massive drift of Zimbabweans to South Africa ended up the same way as when thousands of Zimbabwean apostolic sect members were deported from an informal settlement called Korsten near Port Elizabeth in 1962.

Known as the Korsten basket makers, some of those deportees opted to be settled in the then British colonies of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Kenya. Many of those people’s descendants have become citizens of those African countries which are now independent.

It could help a great deal if the government of Zimbabwe were to encourage, quite actively, all those who are willing to return home and be resettled while they are still physically strong to till the land. A great deal of land lies idle between Gweru and Kadoma, especially from about 30km south of Kwekwe right up to a few kilometres south of Ngezi.

The xenophobic campaign will occur again sooner or later as unemployment rises in South Africa, just as it happened a couple of times in the Cote d’Ivoire in the 1970s and 1980s when Ghanaians were violently kicked out of that country.

Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0773 428 443.

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