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MPs protest ‘ban’ of isiNdebele in Parliament

By Nqobile Tshili

Members of Parliament from Matabeleland have protested the “ban” of isiNdebele in Parliament saying it is unacceptable for Ministers to claim they are not conversant with isiNdebelewhich is one of the country’s official languages.

Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga
Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga

On several occasions National Assembly Members and Senators who speak isiNdebele have been forced to make their contributions in English and they have since complained that this is unfair as their Shona-speaking counterparts are free to use their mother language.

Irked MPs said since they were being forced to use English, they were doing so in protest. Some MPs and Senators said it was unjust to be forced to articulate issues in English when Shona-speaking lawmakers were allowed to express themselves better in their own languages.

Recently, Bulawayo Senator Angelina Masuku (Zanu-PF) was forced by Deputy Senate President Chen Chimutengwende to speak in English while posing a question to the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Joram Gumbo.

Chimutengwende said it was improper for Masuku to ask questions in isiNdebele as the minister did not understand the language. Masuku protested at being forced not to use her preferred language.

“Mr President, I will do that in protest because this is a Zimbabwean Parliament and for us as legislators to come here and promote a foreign language and yet we have been voted in by Zimbabwean people phandle laphana besesikhangelana lama ministers (outside there, we would be staring at each saying our ministers) who are Zimbabwean who say they cannot communicate in a Zimbabwean language,” said Masuku.

“I will do that but in protest and I will request Mr President that our ministers make an effort to be truly Zimbabweans.” Matabeleland South proportional representation MP Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga has on several occasions been ordered to speak in English, the most recent time being last Wednesday.

During the National Assembly’s question and answer session, the legislator asked the Minister of Energy and Power Development Samuel Undenge a question, but the Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda ordered her to use English.

“I will just agree, however, it’s painful. I understand Mr Speaker but others speak in Shona and it’s never a problem,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.

Masuku could not be reached for comment yesterday but Misihairabwi-Mushonga said that that Parliament should employ translators if it wants to solve the issue of free language expression in the legislature. She said what was surprising was that some ministers who were saying they could not speak isiNdebele actually went to school in Matabeleland.

Mishairabwi-Mushonga said some Ministers were deliberately refusing to speak in isiNdebele because they did not want to accommodate other languages.

“I’ve insisted that I will speak in isiNdebele and I’ve realised that some of the Ministers now try responding in isiNdebele,” said Misihairabwi-Mushonga.

The legislator said as a matter of principle, ministers should be able to communicate in all indigenous languages. She cited Canadian system of governance saying ministers serving in the government speak French although English is the main language.

Mudenda watered down the issue saying parliament does not force isiNdebele-speaking legislators to present their questions in English.

“If they ask in Ndebele we only ask them to repeat the question in English. We don’t force them to speak in English and that is done for clarity purposes,” said Mudenda.

The country has 16 official languages.

In July, the former Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Obert Mpofu torched another language storm after responding to a question that was posed in Shona in isiNdebele.

Mpofu now the Minister of Macro-economic Planning and Investment Promotion had been quizzed in Shona by Zanu-PF legislator Monica Chigudu on what progress was being made regarding the dualisation of the Harare-Beitbridge Road.

Responding in isiNdebele Mpofu said: “Honourable Chigudu ubuze umbuzo oqakathekileyo. Kunzima ukulungisa imigwaqo yonke sikhathi sinye kodwa ngiyathemmbisa ukuthi iMasvingo iyabe siledual road ngesikhathi esifitshane.

(Honourable Chugudu you asked a very important question. It’s difficult to fix all roads at once but I promise Masvingo will have a dual carriageway soon).” After that, Mpofu was told to revert to English for the benefit of other lawmakers. The Chronicle