Zimbabwean celebrities and social media 

It was a live Facebook video that sparked a frenzy of tweets, speculation and subsequently, a live interview between Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa and musician Stunner. The issue in question was certainly not something new to society: infidelity is a problem as old as time itself. What made it different this time was a combination of accessibility to social media and a heightened interest in the private lives of celebrities and public figures.

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Is there Unity in our languages?

Dating back from 1987, Zimbabwe’s Unity Day celebrates the coming together of the country’s two political parties (Zanu PF and PF Zapu) into a mega political force. Almost 30 years on and 22 December is now a public holiday with all the rituals and fanfare synonymous with Zimbabwean national events -cue obligatory national holiday theme song:

Unity Day is a political occasion.  However, this is not a political post.  Rather, it’s about another aspect that’s not often publicised but is nevertheless crucial to discourse on Zimbabwean current affairs. The Shona/Ndebele language struggle is one that many Zimbabweans face and have to deal with.  Shona is the language of power in the country’s landscape.  It’s possible to go your whole life without learning Ndebele – to be honest, there isn’t a drive or push that encourages people to learn the language.  However, the reality for those not born into the Shona language group is different.  Two young Zimbabwean adults share their personal experiences of negotiating their language identity in a country where one language is treated as superior to others.

What are they saying?

By Makabongwe Ngulube.

“I laugh so hard when I remember the first day of preschool. My parents, in all their goodness, forgot to mention that I did not speak Shona. I went to Ascot Garden nursery school in Harare at the age of 4. I remember during our first playtime one of the kids shouting ‘Iwe huya, huya kuno!’ (Hey you come here!) I just stared blankly. If it were not for how pushy kids get I would have just stood there. One of them ran to me and just dragged me to the sand pit. I was still wondering what they were saying as we threw around sand making castles. I soon learnt that ‘huya’ meant ‘come’ and thus began my journey to learning Shona in addition to the English and Ndebele I knew.

I must say, though I was confused back then, I am very grateful that I am multi-lingual. Throughout primary school I had very helpful next door neighbors who helped me with my homework. In grade seven I had a Zezuru Shona teacher who made sure I passed that ZIMSEC grade 7 final. I wanted to drop Shona for high school and my mom told me, ‘it is part of your heritage and since you are not in Bulawayo to write Ndebele, you need something that shows your heritage and language is one of those things.’

It is a great feeling to have a piece of paper that says I wrote Shona at O Level and I got a C – way better than some of my Shona friends. I have a point of reference. My experience growing up Ndebele and learning Shona has allowed me to transcend between both cultures. Staying in Harare may have estranged me a little from my extended family but I am very well able to hold a good Ndebele conversation. I value my knowledge of the two and more than anything, I understood that learning both was to my advantage especially in a country where being Ndebele could be a curse. I think learning the different languages is the first step in eliminating the discrimination that minority tribes face in Zimbabwe.”

The power struggle between Zimbabwe’s two main languages is just a chapter in the story of language dynamics in our country.  The addition of minority groups to our list of official languages (jumping from four to 16 official languages) was mocked and ridiculed by many. “We are not South Africa,” most people argued. However, ignoring smaller less powerful languages doesn’t mean that they will simply disappear. In fact, it could breed resentment.

The Shona/Ndebele Dichotomy

By Mholiwethu Nyathi

“Just like most African countries, Zimbabwe has multiple languages: Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sign Language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa. The most widely used are English ,Shona and Ndebele. The interactions between the two main languages, Ndebele and Shona, is quite complicated and this is mostly because of the rocky relations between the two ethnic groups. The majority speaks the Shona language while a minority speaks Ndebele.

Though the constitution recognizes other languages as official languages the  governmental policies and the Zimbabwean attitude towards other languages other than Shona portrays a different attitude towards the minority languages. I am Ndebele by birth and was born in Bulawayo. I have spent all my life living in Bulawayo and as a result was brought up in a Ndebele setting. However I still have the ability to hear and understand the Shona language fully and I can have a decent conversation in Shona. This is typical of most Zimbabwean citizens who are not Shona by birth but can converse in Shona.

In my own experience I have noted that most  Shona people learn other minority languages cause they want to while most people learn Shona out of necessity. The correct attitude of the government towards minority languages is firstly found in House Parliament itself. While one would expect the government to have a translator to help facilitate proper communication between members of parliament this is not case. In the parliament the languages spoken are mostly Shona and English. Some members don’t take into account that some members of the parliament can’t understand Shona, and when they address the parliament with their own language they are shot down. This clearly goes to show the real attitude they have towards other languages: while they expect every parliament member to learn  Shona they themselves are not wiling to take time and learn minority languages. Furthermore, in most governmental offices citizens are expected to converse or address their problems in Shona. These expectations are found even in Matebeleland which is a predominately Ndebele area. This goes to shows a lack of respect towards the Ndebele and other minority languages in Zimbabwe.

The problem is also in the schooling system. In the years before former Minister David Coltart started a  program which  involved the printing of textbooks in the Tonga language, most pupils in the Binga region were either taught in Ndebele or Shona at a lower grade. This was problematic as it promotes the death of the Tonga language at a primary level. Though the state recognizes the presence of other languages Shona remains the dominant language. In my opinion this attitude towards other languages stems from the sense of entitlement which most Shona people have of Zimbabwe. According to them Zimbabwe belongs to Shona people only and thus they have no obligation to learn other minority languages but the minority groups have an obligation to learn Shona.

It has really become a case of adapt to survive for most people because if you can’t converse in Shona you won’t be able to enjoy full governmental services. This kind of attitude has a negative impact on Ndebele and Shona relations because as soon as the Ndebele feel as though their language is not respected, they take it as disrespect to the whole tribe and that could fuel hatred. After so many years of independence one would expect these language problems to have been solved so as to further facilitate national unity but that’s not the case. We still have incidents where minority languages are not being respected and recognized .Firstly we still have a national passport which spells basic ndebele words like  ‘akuvunyelwa’ as  ‘akuvhunyelwa’ and ‘epejini’ instead of  ‘ephjini’. One would expect such mistakes to have been sorted out on the new passports but the government still hasn’t done much about it. We also still have companies like Chicken Slice and Econet using the wrong Ndebele grammar in their advertisements.”

Not everyone will share these opinions and sentiments. Some people don’t see language as an issue. Others might feel that such conversations do more harm than good. However it can’t be denied that the scales in Zimbabwe’s language system aren’t equally balanced.  So as 22 December 2015 marks the 28th anniversary of the Unity Accords, it’s time to question whether this unity has extended to the many language groups that colour our country’s landscape.

About Africa Day…

The 25th of May is here again, and for these precious 24 hours, Africans across the globe come together to celebrate what really makes this continent great.  Some countries – like Zimbabwe and Ghana – are lucky enough to have the 25th as a public holiday.  Most of Africa does not.

Whilst it’s important to have the usual festivities, whipping out the traditional clothes and revelling in some African culture, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what this day is really about.  25 May is essentially the anniversary of the ratification of the OAU charter, which was passed all the way back in 1963.  It was an exciting time for Africa.  The Winds of Change were blowing, and the tide of liberation was coming in.  It was in this atmosphere of positivity that the Organisation of African Unity was formed, it’s main purpose being:

To promote the unity and solidarity of African States; to coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa.”

Lofty goals, and sadly, more than 50 years on, have not been achieved.  In the years since the OAU’s inception, there have been at least 35 officially recorded wars in Africa, and this figure only takes into consideration official wars with militias and armies.  Xenophobia, genocide, juntas, tribalism, corruption, extremism: the list of Africa’s ailments is as long as it is depressing.  What is evident is that, in 2015, the feel-good attitude that led to the creation of an organisation for African Unity, has largely failed to unite a fractured continent plagued with problems.

 

Celebrating the diverse and vibrant cultures that make up Africa is important in asserting and owning our identity as Africans, but once a year, when 25 May comes rolling again, it’s even more important to remember the goals that the original OAU wanted to achieve: African unity and cooperation.  As citizens of a continent that is growing in size and potential, keeping that goal in mind wherever we are in the world is vital to Africa’s survival.  Relying on bureaucracy to instill a sense of unity and pride in the 21st century simply isn’t going to cut it anymore.  African Unity starts with each individual African making a conscious to make the dream of African unity and cooperation a reality.

 

 

At the end of the day, after all the celebration and reflection, we should collectively, as Africans, always remember where we’ve come from, the progress we’ve made, and the road ahead.  Our continent has not had the smoothest journey post-Independence, but the bad days we’ve had must not overpower a bright future.  Because no matter what comes our way, our hearts will always beat for Africa.

 

1980 to 2015: Independence for young Zimbabweans

35 years ago, we collectively said goodbye to Rhodesia and introduced a new, independent country into the world – Zimbabwe.  The joy, hope and positivity of a peoples who finally had achieved majority rule was palpable.  From the stories I’ve heard from my parents and older relatives, it was the zenith of their national pride and patriotism.  For them, 1980 will forever remain a beautiful memory, that moment when we hoisted the Zimbabwe flag for the first time.  Bob Marley even celebrated with us – how many countries can say that the great reggae legend wrote a song for them?

 

More than three decades later, and that  flag is still up high.  However, with a large percentage of Zimbabweans under the age of 30, does Independence resonate with them?  Not having gone through the experience of the liberation wars, not witnessing the country transform into a republic, could colour their perceptions of Independence Day, and whether it’s really anything to celebrate.   For a young Zimbabwean living outside the country, what does Independence mean?

Tatenda

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As a Law student at Rhodes University, Tatenda feels now more than ever, Zimbabwe is a presence in Africa and the world.  “We’re everywhere”, she says, as Zimbabweans have spread all over the world, leaving their mark.  And it’s thanks to Independence that many people like her have the chance to pursue their dreams, get an education, and be proud of Zimbabwe’s history, resilience, and determination.

 

Sarah

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Half Ndebele and half Shona, Sarah has a deep connection to her country and its culture.  She is proud that 35 years on Zimbabwe is still independent, but that there hasn’t been much progress.  “I don’t know if we’re moving forward or backward.”  Sarah is fiercely patriotic, with a large Zimbabwe flag hanging over her bed, but is unsure as to what exactly victories gained in 1980 have improved life in 2015.

 

Richard

 

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Richard is currently studying for his third degree, a Masters degree in Business.  For him, he couldn’t be where he is now were it not for the sacrifices that people before him made.  He’s grateful for the men and women that decided to change an unjust system to provide equal opportunities for all, without discrimination.  “The life that I have now, the opportunities that I have now, have been secured for.”

 

Rangarirai

 

ranga

 

As a young Zimbabwean studying outside of the country, Rangarirai is well aware that were it not for Independence, he wouldn’t be where he is now.  He has nothing but absolute respect for the people that fought for liberation, and hopes that Independence Day is never devalued or unappreciated.  “We have been uplifted by our forefathers, and we’re really grateful for that.”

 

There are many other young Zimbabweans out there, with views, opinions and criticism of Independence.  Nonetheless, they are proud of their country, and proud to be called Zimbabwean.  So as we celebrate 35 years of Independence, let us recall what it took for us to get here, and what we can learn from Independence to shape our future.

Let’s Talk About Mr.Rhodes

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the protests at University of Cape Town, and followed #RhodesSoWhite and #RhodesMustFall.  Yes, the age-old problem of colonial legacy and heritage has reared its controversial head again.   Southern Africa has come alive on this touchy topic, and judging from the reactions and debates on social media, the region is far from reconciling with its colonial past.

Cecil John Rhodes

The now infamous Cecil John Rhodes Statue at UCT. Picture sourced from the Guardian website

Cecil John Rhodes was not a nice man.  That,  I’m sure, we can all agree on.  He lied, stole, cheated, and harassed his way to become filthy rich.  For the longest time, he was presented in the history books as a progressive forward-thinker, who almost single-handedly made Southern Africa what it is today.  Yes, he did shape Southern Africa.  And this region still bears the scars of his schemes and interference.

This is the heart of the issue now:  there’s a giant statue, in the heart of a campus in Southern Africa, of a man who deserves zero adoration, respect, or celebration.  Rhodes did donate the land for the UCT campus – but then again, it wasn’t really his land to  start with, was it?   People walk by that statue every day, a constant reminder of the ‘great’ man who deigned to donate ‘his’ land and money to the establishment of a university.  In a country that is  still negotiating a difficult and traumatic history, it’s understandable that some students at UCT would be hurt by constantly being exposed to a monument of a man who killed millions of natives and relocated thousands of others.  And when people feel like their voices are being shut out, when the Powers That Be refuse to even listen to your views and complaints, people get desperate.  People get angry.  People get drastic.  The poo being flung on that statue was a demonstration of that frustration, anger, and disgust.  It worked.  People started to listen to their grievances.

Then came an equally controversial subject: changing the name of Rhodes University.   This debate is not new; the proposal was first tabled all the way back in 1994, by the then Student Representative Council (SRC) President Vuyo Kahla.  Fast forward to 2015, and the debate rages on, but something has changed.  The warm, friendly atmosphere at Rhodes has often masked the underlying frustrations and tension that bubbled to the surface a few weeks ago.  If  an institution does not condone, nor associate ourselves with the views and morals of Rhodes, why do they insist on keeping the name?  Name changes are not new: after Independence, did Zimbabwe not change its name from Rhodesia?  If a university is so intent on preserving its brand, then surely its reputation should be based on the quality of its education, and not its name?  Ultimately, why, until now, have people been so dismissive about this issue, an issue that clearly affects ALL of us?

Photo sourced from Wikipedia

Photo sourced from Wikipedia

Colonial baggage and the legacy of Rhodes is a burden that every Southern African must bear.  History has not been kind to Africa, and as a Zimbabwean living in a foreign country, I can personally say that nothing is more aggravating than someone trivialising your distress and your history.  Living with colonial legacy is hard enough, do we really need to live with the monuments that glorify a man who represents a particularly  dark period in African history?  A man who said,

“Pure philanthropy is very well in its way but philanthropy plus five percent is a good deal better”

AND

“I prefer land to niggers.”

Removing such monuments, contrary to popular belief, is not “erasing history”.  Rather, it’s acknowledging that some of the men and women who were celebrated as heroes in their time do not deserve that honour today.  The statue of Cecil John Rhodes in Zimbabwe was taken down, yet we are still very much aware of his life and legacy.  Statues of Lenin, Stalin and Saddam Hussein have been torn down, but that was not followed by the world collectively hitting Delete on their histories.

A statue of Rhodes in formerly Southern Rhodesia

A statue of Rhodes in formerly Southern Rhodesia

The statue was taken down and relocated to a museum

The statue was taken down and relocated to a museum

At the end of the day, this is a discussion that’s not going to go away.  It shouldn’t go away.  The effects of colonisation are still strong today, and even though the Born Frees didn’t live through it, doesn’t mean we are not affected by it.  Telling someone to “get over it” is downright insensitive and ignorant.  All it comes down to is consideration.  For any progress to be made, and for Southern Africa to reconcile with its tumultuous past, each of us needs to be open to each other’s perspectives, distress and opinions.  To quote my Vice Chancellor, Dr. Sizwe Mabizela,

“When you walk in someone else’s shoes that is when you realise what it is like to be that other person.”