The History of Promoting Kalanga in Zimbabwe

Updated: December 11, 2015

[N.B.: this article only addresses the work done in Zimbabwe. In Botswana, the Society for the Promotion of Ikalanga Language (SPIL) and its literacy division the Mukani Action Campaign have also done heroic work.]

by T.T. Malaba

The earliest written effort to introduce Kalanga into formal schooling and documentation was done by the London Missionary Society based at Dombodema Mission about 24km northwest of Plumtree town. This was done through the translation of the New Testament Gospels and the book of Acts in 1929.  Further literature for primary school such as Maswiswina Gonde, Tjipeletana were introduced.

Masola Kumile is credited for single-handedly making efforts from the 1920s until his death in 1960 to collect oral history of Bakalanga with little resources at his disposal since he was a shopkeeper in rural Bulilima. His collection (the Nhau Dzebakalanga volumes) are the single largest known collection of history, idioms, praises and proverbs in Kalanga ever collected by a native Nkalanga. Political activists and national heroes such as J.Z. Moyo are known to have carried over the spirit of language, cultural and basic rights to sovereignty and revival of Kalanga through the liberation struggle.

The Kalanga Promotion Society was started in 1980 under the chairmanship of Million Nsala Malaba. There were other follow up organizations such as BUDA and umbrella body attempt of VETOKA. While all these organizations played a major role in the revival of the language in the 1980s, they faced many challenges of legal and policy rigidity and lack of will by implementing ministries. They however managed to get the language to be taught in select schools up to grade 3 and the introduction of the language in National FM (Radio 4) for broadcasting. Towards the end of 1980s and throughout the 1990s the teaching of Kalanga language almost reduced to zero.

The most recent efforts started in year 2000 through the formation of the Zimbabwe Indigenous Languages Promotion Association (ZILPA) which was led by some key activists of the 1980s, among them Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu, Butsilo Dabudabu and Raphael Butshe. ZILPA was pivotal in organizing cultural festivals in 2004/5. This helped to sensitize the local communities on the need to revive the language and on the new government policy which allowed the teaching of the language up to form 2. The policy was a result of years of lobby by ZILPA.

With a policy in our favor and a minor amendment to the Education Act, we found ourselves with no practical tools to implement the newly found treasure. Meanwhile various individuals had been making uncoordinated efforts to revive the language and preserve their history. This was being done by various people scattered around the country and the globe. A historian Phathisa Nyathi had also dedicated a column in the local Sunday News Paper to write the pre-colonial history of BuKalanga.

In February 2005 a general meeting was organized in Plumtree following the 2004 cultural festival where guest of Honor, Tapson E. Moyo, had strongly suggested the formation of an association to look into organized literature development, publicity and fundraising for the revival of the language and culture in line with the promulgated policy. 14 people were selected to form an interim committee to prepare a governing constitution and work on a model of a functional organization. Anderson Sole Moyo was the first Chairman of this partially organized association with Clement Majahana being the Vice Chairman, while Tshidzanani T. Malaba became the Secretary. The new committee decided on the name and the constitution to govern the newly founded organization. However the economic downturn caused major challenges in organizing meetings, and most members went to diaspora. This left a core of 6 people (A.S. Moyo, C. Majahana, T.T. Malaba, and Dr. M. J. Bhala, Pax Nkomo and Tshonono Tshuma) who still had difficulties in meeting. Email communications were pivotal to finalizing the constitution which was mainly done by 3 people being Dr. Maclean Bhala, Tshidzanani T. Malaba and Pax Nkomo.

The wholesale installation of Kalanga chiefs such as chief Masendu, Madlambudzi, Tjankuluba and Hobhodo in 2007 came as a major morale booster. The 2007 cultural festival was held at Luswingo Ruins in Tokwana area, 40km North of Plumtree and it was for the first time attended by substantive chiefs of BuKalanga who were dethroned by the Rhodesian government in the 1940/50s.

With the Association constitution now complete and the economic pressures at their peak in 2008, the hope of organizing a meeting was unimaginable, let alone the hope of fundraising to organize for literature development.  Fortunately in the same year in 2008, Culture Fund, a local based newly founded organization called for funding applications with emphasis on culture and literature. KLCDA submitted an application and it was accepted with an offer of hyper inflation driven ZW$43 trillion and was published in the local press. This was to be the beginning of major literature development for grade 1 to 3. We applied for authority from the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture to write and publish books in Kalanga. We were given the go ahead and guidelines to follow in writing our books. Meanwhile the combined efforts through ZILPA lobby had resulted in the Ministry agreeing to engage special monitors within the Ministry at District Level to monitor the teaching and learning of marginalized languages.

In October 2008 at the peak of the economic decline of the country, a workshop was organized at Figtree Hotel and the first scripts of grade were written by a select group of Kalanga primary school teachers drawn from Bulilima, Mangwe, Matobo and Bulawayo. Elderly veteran language activists were in attendance to give guidance and help solve vocabulary challenges. A new orthography was adopted following the rejection in October 2007of the CASAS (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Societies) harmonized orthography which was attemptedly smuggled into BuKalanga without consultation or research, despite being a well bankrolled program to create what they termed language blocks. In May 2009 a second writers’ workshop was held to polish the scripts of grades 1 to 3. This led to the engagement of a typist and the opening of a coordinating office in Bulawayo to speed up the organization of the Association, which was then legally registered in 2010.

Silveira House assisted in capacitating for the grades 4 to 7 workshop in July 2009 which resulted in the complete scripts in all grades.  This was also made possible by sacrifices by the organizing committee members and contributing writers who heeded the call to revive the language through literature writing. In January 2010, five active members of the interim committee decided to rejuvenate the organization through restructuring and co-option of more people into the leadership in line with the constitution. This resulted in the appointment of Trustees, Board and Executive Committee to work as a model and organize an AGM by January 2011. This was meant to culminate into a democratic and systematic organization with clear leadership renewal and succession plan in line with the registered constitution of KLCDA.

An internal fundraising system called SEME was implemented in April 2010 and it sought to raise funds from BaKalanga and well wishers for the CDU evaluation of books, engagement of artists and typesetting of scripts. This came after the committee’s rejection of the biased publishing offers that were made by publishers who had decided to commandeer us to surrender our scripts to them on false pretence that they had been instructed by the Ministry of Education to become our publishers.

KLCDA registered a publishing house called Kwalani to publish our books and any other material in Kalanga as a way of preserving our culture and to guard against possible editorial distortions that normally result from uncoordinated write-ups of a developing language. In September 2010, CDU approved our scripts as suitable for use by children in public schools and formal education. Meanwhile a lobby effort in 2009 had seen the Minister of Education agreeing to take on board marginalized languages in the newly set up Education Transition Fund which sought to have a textbook per child per subject. In April 2011, our grades 1 to 7 books were ready to print and dummy copies and camera ready soft copies was availed to UNICEF, the managers of ETF for printing and subsequent distribution to the Ministry of Education. To date, August 2012 the books are waiting to be printed and distributed.