YESTERDAY we carried a story celebrating one of the greatest achievements that came with self-rule in Zimbabwe — the recognition of 16 official languages.
Unlike during the colonial era when only three languages — IsiNdebele, Shona and English were prioritised — now even sign language is Constitutionally recognised.
Some of the languages have even made it to Grade Seven examinations and can be studied up to degree level at tertiary institutions.
Since the adoption of the 2013 Constitution, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, namely Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, iSiNdebele, Shangani, Xhosa, sign language, SeSotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Shona.
The supreme law of the land has also been translated to some of these official languages to ensure communities have access to the Constitution, while Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube recently launched translated versions of the country’s key economic blueprint, the National Development Strategy 1.
While this is a notable development that will give impetus to the broader devolution strategy, we must not forget the wise teachings of the founding father of the revolution that led to our independence, Father Zimbabwe, the late Vice-President Dr Joshua Nkomo, who said our languages must not divide us.
The colonialists used differences in language to create hate among our people. In order for the strategy to fully work, they went as far as naming provinces according to tribes — Manicaland, Mashonaland and Matabeleland.
Unfortunately, Dr Nkomo died before he could fulfil his dream of renaming of provinces.
The very state of being organised according to tribe is tribalism. That is where all our problems started. Each tribe believed it was superior to the other.
We can still be proud of our languages, culture and religion without being tribal. We can be proud as Zimbabweans.
Dr Nkomo successfully led the initiative to rename Matabeleland Highlanders (now Highlanders) and Mashonaland United (now Zimbabwe Saints), two football teams that had divided people along tribal lines in Bulawayo.
Likewise, his dream to rename provinces must never die. Our provinces can be given authentic names in Ndebele, Shona, Sotho, Tonga, or any of the official languages. Names that speak to who we really are, where we come from and where we are going.
The current names belong to a dark past, a colonial past that was hell-bent on the subjugation of the black majority.
Now under the Second Republic which has made significant strides in nation-building, it is time to move on.
Zimbabwe’s Independence Day celebrations need to be marked by the debate around names that promote tribalism and everything else that divides us.
Unless we change our mindset and overcome the colonial mentality that haunts us until this day, we have not fully gained independence.
No doubt, all our languages are special. They carry our culture, values, wisdom and religion. They must all be celebrated and preserved.
All our languages must be taught at school and heard on radio and TV. Our national anthem must be sung in all. Important messages must be communicated in all.
But as Father Zimbabwe said, they must never divide us. Our languages must, instead, unite us.