Will minority languages get due recognition?

Updated: September 30, 2013

by Divine Dube, Southern Eye

CIVIC groups have warned that the incoming government might not have the political will to promote and advance minority languages as enshrined in the new Constitution.

Zimbabwe Indigenous Languages Promotion Association (Zilpa), an independent association that promotes ethnic languages rights, has been clamouring for the recognition of local languages through their inclusion in the education curricula.

The 2001 Education Act saw some of the languages being introduced in primary schools.
The new Constitution compels the government to advance and promote local languages, but civic activists are sceptical that the new government may not be too keen to advance the languages.

Thomas Sithole, a civic activist with Plumtree Development Trust, said the government will likely ignore the constitutional provision which binds it to promote local languages.

“This will be a difficult call for government to do anything to promote minority languages, as they know that promotion of one’s language cannot be divorced from real empowerment, as these communities have been marginalised since independence,” he said.

“The government will most likely cite financial constraints and just pay lip service for political expediency.”

However, Sithole maintained that local groups should lobby for government intervention in their bid to fight their cause.

Cultural activist and author Ndzimu-unami Emmanuel Moyo weighed in, saying he doubted whether there was political will to advance minority languages.

“People must bear in mind that there were some elements within political parties that were against the promotion of minority languages during the constitution-making process, hence I don’t see any political will in the new government to promote minority languages,” he said.

During the Copac programme Zanu PF strongly resisted having local languages being granted official language status in the new Constitution.

Zilpa secretary Tshidzanani Malaba, however, remained hopeful that the government will work to promote local languages.

“We hope that the new government will do something to promote and advance minority languages rights as provided for in the constitution,” he said.

Outgoing Education minister David Coltart said any incoming minister will have to honour the language policies in place, adding the Constitution mandated the State and all other government agencies to promote and advance minority languages.

“It’s too early to say whether the new government will have the political will to promote minority languages, but I think the new government will have to honour language policies in place and the new Constitution that places an obligation on government to promote local languages,” he said.

Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa were accorded official status in the new Constitution, alongside Ndebele, English and Shona.

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