LAUNCHING ZIMBABWE'S FOURTH CHIMURENGA:
IN STRUGGLE AGAINST LINGUISTIC IMPERIALISM
By Redgies Ziteya
The struggles waged in Africa are not about the past but they
contain the solutions to the ideology crises of the African
world. These struggles have been necessitated by the fact that
there is a scramble for Africa going on, not for material wealth
(though that still continues) but for the African culture, way of
life, spiritually and languages.
After the successful undertaking of the agrarian revolution in
Zimbabwe, the war is not over, there is need to restore the
languages to the people. Zimbabweans must at the deepest possible
level fight to curb linguistic imperialism and seek out to regain
and rejuvenate their languages in the same manner the late Julius
Mwalimu Nyerere launched a linguistic revolution in Tanzania.
KiSwahili became an official and national language ahead of
colonial languages. Colonialism was part of and a stage in, the
globalizing process of western expansion which started in the
15th century. Globalization, as the term is used today is, the
historical process of the emergence and rise of what has become
imperialism since the late 19th century.
It is a system, which is enabling groups in the west to siphon
off value and commodities from the wider world of enrichment.
While its foundations are preeminently economic, it is practice a
total system which affects all areas of the social life of the
colonized. When political independence came to Zimbabwe, the
structure of the relation between colony and metropole was
largely inherited, but an African elite was left in charge of the
system which has over the past two decades proved to be the
faithful guardian of Western interests.
This has been the basis of contemporary linguistic imperialism
in Zimbabwe. Ngugi Wa Thiongo had this to say "the economic and
political dependence of the African neo - colonial bourgeoisie is
reflected in its culture of apemanship enforced on a restive
population through police boots, barbed wire, a gowned clergy and
judiciary; their ideas are spread by a corpus of state
intellectual, the academic and journalistic laureates of neo -
It is from within mass society that effective resistance
against neo - colonial culture in Africa can be contested. There
is need for the launch of a fourth Chimurenga and an alternative
vision which intellectually and effectively contest and
contradicts the prevailing sorry language story on Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe appears to be caught between the reality of a social,
political and cultural legacy inherited from her former masters,
the British, and the visions and hopes for a new order are still
conceptually vague in the minds of those engaged in shaping her
future. With almost three decades of post - colonialism, there is
a loss of a convincing sense of direction, in most areas that
concern language usage.
English is the language of administration, science, education
and instruction despite the fact that it is spoken by less than
10% of the population. Indigenous languages such as Shona and
Ndebele are spoken by well over 90% of the population but
shamefully the black - led government of Zimbabwe is doing
nothing to alleviate such colonial legacies.
In most of Asia, post - colonial societies have more or less
moved towards the usage of their indigenous languages in
education and development while Africa in general and Zimbabwe in
particular continues to labour in languages of colonial powers,
which ruled and plundered Africa for almost a century.
In that regard the use of indigenous languages for education
and development is one of the most important factors for Asia's
rapid economic, scientific and social development. In Thailand,
the Thai use their own language, so do the Laotians, the Koreans,
the Chinese and the Japanese. Over the past two decades, the
Filipines have developed Togalog as a language of science,
education and technological development.
Local languages such as Shona and Ndebele should be made
languages of science and education. This is the reason why
Zimbabwe is lagging behind in matters of development and this is
the reason why Zimbabwean universities are producing useless
graduates. It has been observed that policy - makers in Zimbabwe
are neo - westerners who are there to preserve colonial legacies
whilst during the day they preach the gospel of "Zimbabwe to the
Kwesi Prah (2003) observes that linguistic neo - colonialism,
resting on the use of colonial languages for policy - making is
also favourable to top - down approaches to policy - making and
policy implementation. Because in Zimbabwe policy - making in
English is by its nature a privilege of a minority , it becomes a
socially lop - sided and skewed process, in which those who use
the colonial languages are the powerful, the movers and shakers
Under such circumstances, policy - making becomes part of the
arsenal for maintaining the neo - colonial order and its culture.
In his text From Empire to Nation, Rupert Emmerson argued that
all colonial peoples have been brought into the modern world
under the aegis of an imperialism, which superimposed a European
language on the native tongue.
In the Zimbabwean context, English, the imperial language
serves three principal purposes, which have an obvious bearing on
the effort to secure a concrete cultural identity. It is the
language of instruction up to tertiary level, it is the
instrument through which intercourse of all varieties can be
maintained with the advanced European descended peoples.
The imperial language, English, is tied to the prestige system
of the whites since the white man, with the partial exception of
missionary and scholar generally learn Shona and Ndebele only as
an act of grace of better to interact with the local people
whereas it is assumed that the locals who want to advance must
rise to the level of the foreign languages.
This is the reason why there was an uproar when Minister of
Education, Sport and Culture, Cde Aeneas Chigwedere called for
the replacement of colonial names with local names in schools,
why Jonathan Moyo's 75% local content was met with discomfort by
Zimbabwean "Euroclones" and the reason why Gwisai was laughed at
for taking his oath in Shona.
What this implies is the fact that the cultural hegemony of
colonial languages like English have come as part of colonial
conquest and the attendant cultural impositions. Antonio de
Nebrija, the 15th century Bishop of Avilla who in his Granitica
Castellona (Castillian Grammar) of 1492 suggested that "language
has always been the perfect instrument of empire making" this
view the blueprint of Spanish colonialism in the Americas, in the
centuries that followed.
The expansion of Arabic into North Africa came with the fire
and sword of imperialism and the cultural expansion which is
described as Arabinization in the Afro - Arab boarder lands is
premised more on the Arabic language than Islam. In contemporary
Zimbabwean society the fact that the cultures of the masses are
expected to thrive and flourish is in all senses most
National prestige demands that national languages take
priority. It is both proper and inevitable that the extension of
education on a mass scale should normally be conducted in the
language of the Shona people, the Ndebele people and other
indigenous linguistic circles. Declaring that English could not
continue to occupy the place of a state language, the Indian
Commission on universities once stated that "Use of English as
such divides the people into two nation, the few who govern and
the many who are governed."
This is what Zimbabweans have to do. They have to undertake
linguistic revolution. Mugabe and his government need to revise
the language system in Zimbabwe.