Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
HOME Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe has said he is learning Ndebele and being conversant in the language is his priority at the moment.
Since the adoption of the 2013 Constitution, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, namely Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa.
On Thursday, while answering questions in the senate, the minister said he was learning Ndebele when asked a question by Zanu-PF senator Molly Ndlovu.
“My sincere apologies — I am still taking my Ndebele lessons. I am not there yet but I will get there,” he said.
Chronicle followed up with Minister Kazembe on the subject and he said he wants to learn as many of the official languages and has started with Ndebele.
He said he wants to speak in Ndebele whenever he is in Matabeleland region.
“I started Ndebele lessons out of the realisation that I need to be conversant in the language as and when I meet my fellow brothers and sisters who speak in the language.
“I was tired of having someone translate for me when my fellow brothers and sisters speak in Ndebele. Remember we are all Zimbabweans. There are 16 official languages and therefore the need to understand the other languages which are not one’s mother language. We are a united people and we cement that when we all speak in other languages since we are all equal.”
He said the development of the country is possible when people are united and can speak and understand each other.
Minister Kazembe said the dedication and commitment towards the attainment of the objectives of Vision 2030 to contribute towards the development of a prosperous, knowledge and technology-driven upper middle-income society also lies on peace and tranquillity enjoyed by Zimbabweans who are able to communicate and understand each other.
“I’m reminded of the late Father Zimbabwe, the late former Vice-President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo who was always advocating for the spirit of Ubuntu. That is only possible if one is able to consider other people’s languages. Language is a tool for community development and we are one family. As I have started with Ndebele I will then go to other languages,” he said.
Minister Kazembe said he has a lot of Ndebele friends and relatives too who he said are assisting him also in learning the language.
“I have always wanted to speak Ndebele and now I can speak a few lines. I can greet salibonani, I can converse but not that much. I have a lot of friends and relatives who speak in Ndebele and I always insist that when they speak to me, they must speak in Ndebele. I want to learn as many official local languages as possible but Ndebele is at the top of my list. I want to be able to converse freely and comfortably when I am in the Southern Region,” he said.
Midlands State University’s Language Institute (MSULI) executive director, Professor Wiseman Magwa said it was sad that the country hasn’t realised the importance of being multilingual as a tool for peace and nation building.
He said failure to appreciate other people’s languages and culture is retrogressive.
Prof Magwa said when one goes to other communities and starts speaking in a foreign language, there is evidence that the two parties will be suspicious of each other because of a language barrier.
“In other words, there is no trust when you speak to people in languages they don’t understand. There is no unity to talk about. So being multilingual is more effective in nation building, it is more effective in peace building. When we go and speak in English in another area while speaking of peace, that doesn’t have much impact. So, there is the need for us as Zimbabweans to study other languages in relation to social factors, including differences of regional, class, and occupational dialect, gender differences, and bilingualism,” said Prof Magwa.
He said the nation should embrace a multilingual education policy.
“My proposal for the nation in terms of policy is that this nation should embrace a multilingual policy for education. For a start, we start with learning an international language, a national language and a local language so that every school leaver will leave school with a minimum of at least three languages. That way Zimbabwe will change for the better,” said Prof Magwa.