Ndebele gains popularity in Mashonaland
By Edwin Mwase
‘Salibonani,” the children bellow in unison as we enter a Grade 5 class at Umvukwesi Primary School in Mvurwi. “Sikhona, linjani bantwana?” we answered. “Thina siyaphila,” they replied, before sitting down.
One could have been forgiven for thinking that we were in the heart of Matabeleland, but, alas, it’s actually in Mashonaland Central where Ndebele has been introduced as part of the school curriculum.
Whilst some Western-sponsored political groups like the Mthwakazi Liberation Front have been busy fomenting disunity by calling for the autonomy of Matabeleland region, pupils at Umvukwesi are slowly working at unifying the people of Zimbabwe by making sure that isiNdebele is spoken all over the nation.
The idea of introducing national languages across the board was first mooted by the Mashonaland provincial office before being put on the debate table by the parent Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture. Umvukwesi Primary School has set the ball rolling as a pilot project.
“We found it rational to introduce it as a communicable language first in 2001. The emphasis was placed on the national spectrum in that communication would be made easier,” said the headmaster of Umvukwesi, Mr Andrew Taruvinga.
“We thought that the language might be of use, in case the children might find themselves in Ndebele-speaking regions, thus they will be able to apply the basics of the language,” he added. Mr Taruvinga said the whole school, which comprises more than 450 pupils, was now able to read and write isiNdebele.
This reporter can attest to the above-stated fact as our news crew employed stealth manoeuvres on the school to verify the headmaster’s assertion that pupils in the heart of Mashonaland were now eloquent Ndebele speakers.
“These guys standing in front of you are from The Sunday Mail In-Depth, they want to ascertain whether what I have told them that you are fluent Ndebele speakers and writers is true,” said the headmaster as he addressed the Grade One class.
“Igama lami nguRopafadzo Mukwati, ngivela emaphandleni eShamva,” (My name is Ropafadzo Mukwati, I come from Shamva) said a seven-year-old Grade One girl.
“Namhla kuyatshisa, engxenye izulu lingana,” (Today it is hot, maybe it will rain) added another seven-year-old boy who wanted to show his proficiency in the language. Satisfied with the finesse exhibited by the toddlers, the headmaster took us on a long journey the school has travelled since the introduction of the language.
“Mesmerised by the enthusiasm displayed by the kids, the Ndebele community in the surrounding areas have come en masse to help in the setting and moderation of the subject.
“The problem was that supervisors from the district and the province are Shona speakers who were hitting a brick wall inasfar as supervision of the subject is concerned viz-a-vis the curricula and the syllabi,” explained the headmaster.
Mr Taruvinga said they had now set their target on grasping the concept before the first class can sit the Grade Seven national examinations in the not-too-distant future. Mr Taruvinga said the other major obstacle they were facing was the shortage of Ndebele teaching resources.
“The whole school of more than 12 classes is being catered for by only two teachers who are finding it hard to cope with the increasing demands of the subject,” he said. Mr Taruvinga added that the children are showing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about the subject.
“It’s amazing that you find the pupils using the Ndebele language everywhere, whether it’s on the playing fields or in the school corridors. They are now just proud of the language,” he said. The District Education Officer for the Mvurwi area, Mrs Nancy Mudiwa, concurred with the headmaster on the need to augment the available resources.
“Emphasis should be put on widening the obtaining resource base like increasing Ndebele teaching staff and buying more textbooks before the subject can be transformed from being communicable to examinable,” she said. Mrs Mudiwa said more schools in the region were now clamouring for the subject after witnessing the successful Umvukwesi Primary School pilot project.
“Issues pertaining to the sound administration of the subject must first be addressed before the subject can be offered to other schools,” she said. Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Mr Raymond Majongwe said the idea was a brilliant move which must be applauded by all.
“I would want to believe that pupils must be able to converse in all the recognised languages in this country so that we may become one. We should not become foreign in our land and I would want to pray for a situation where Tonga is taught in Manicaland, Kalanga in Masvingo and Venda in Mashonaland,” said Mr Majongwe.
A linguistics expert formerly with the Midlands State University, Dr Walter Vengesai, said students from Mashonaland Central should be applauded for piloting the Ndebele project as language plays a significant role in unifying a nation.
“Language is a major vehicle for fomenting conflicts or uniting people all over the world. A considerable number of tribal and genocidal conflicts have been caused by differences mainly in language, so the universality of language plays a significant role in uniting people.
“Language difference has been used by merchants of tribalism as a means of identifying the perceived enemy, so the future generation has actually shamed those who harboured fuelling tribal conflicts in future as it will be difficult to identify enemies or foes through the use of language,” said Dr Vengesai.
In a bid to quell the myths peddled by advocates of tribalism through language differences, the late Father Zimbabwe, Vice-President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, is on record as saying:
“Akula m’Shona, akula m’Ndebele. Sonke singabantwana beZimbabwe.” (There is no Shona, there is no Ndebele. We are all children of Zimbabwe), he said while addressing a rally at Bulawayo’s Pelandaba Stadium.
Several schools in Mashonaland Central are of the view that the envisaged introduction of the Ndebele language as part of the curriculum will go a long way, not only in harmonising relations among the children of Zimbabwe, but also by empowering the children with broader career opportunities. The Sunday Mail