Insulting to impose your language on others: Prof Moyo

Any worker deployed to any part of Zimbabwe must learn to speak the local language rather than impose their own, says Professor Jonathan Moyo, after observing how public discourse in the country is manipulated to disadvantage marginalised groups.

Prof Moyo said imposing one’s language on others is “improper, indefensible,” and believes it is one of the things that has gone wrong in Zimbabwe today.

His sentiments come after a toxic debate over language on social media where one user narrated her experience when she was greeted in Shona by a shop assistant in Tsholotsho.

This attracted a deluge of attacks from people who claimed it must not matter where one was in Zimbabwe but must be free to speak their preferred language.

Prof Moyo said this issue exposed the attitude of Zimbabwean leaders who ignored the matter and let people attack each other instead of seeking to unify them.

“It bothers me that when such incidents occur, the leadership keeps quiet. For me the purpose of leadership is to lead and remind society when it is going astray,” he said.

He pointed out that linguistic groups have rights that must be respected and imposing a language they are not used to is insensitive.

“It does not make sense for a police officer in Matabeleland to stop people and speak to them in Shona. It does not make sense for a police officer to ask people, ndiwe ani (who are you) in Matabeleland. It doesn’t not make sense for a shopkeeper in Tsholotsho to greet someone who is coming into that shop in Shona,” said Prof Moyo.

Prof Moyo stated that the Shona language was used by the Fifth Brigade army to terrorise Ndebele speaking people in Matabeleland, where thousands were killed during the Gukurahundi atrocities.

“It is insulting, it’s insensitive. No one normal does it. The last time, it was done by gukurahundists, who were provoking people, testing people, greeting people in Shona so that if you don’t answer in Shona you are in trouble,” he said.

He added that Zimbabwe’s constitution recognises the rights of ethnic, racial, cultural and linguistic groups.

“You don’t go to an area when you know that this is a community abcd and you start speaking in Greek yet you want to say if this community is national, they will speak Greek with me because Greek is also recognised. That is provocative and that is what is wrong with Zimbabwe.”

If you go to some other people’s community, you must learn the language of that community before you go there, Prof Moyo summed.

“If you are going to work there as a teacher, policeman, nurse, doctor, CIO, soldier, or whatever,  you yourself before you go there it must learn the language, especially the greeting language,” he said, adding it was the responsibility of the deploying entity, whether government or private to make sure their workers learn the dominant language of the area they would be deployed in.

“The entity that is deploying you to that community has an obligation to put you into a course to learn that language. You can’t go there and say, ‘I’m a Zimbabwean, the constitution of Zimbabwe recognises 16 languages, I will just go there and speak my language.’

“Somehow public discourse has been corrupted by half baked ideas that are not based on the constitution and on the rights of individuals, rights of communities and the obligation that we can live with one another as good neighbours.”

The former minister also explained that this was the case with devolution where the aggrieved are the ones who championed it more than those who privileged.

“Honestly speaking, I don’t know a single individual who comes from the majority groups, regional or ethnic groups, who sleeps worrying about devolution, is concerned about devolution or wants devolution in Zimbabwe yesterday. Invariably, it’s those who come from marginalised communities whose every breath they take exhales devolution because they are ones who feel a continuous sense of powerlessness and wherever they go, turn, whatever they do if you are a minority you are existentially surrounded,” Prof Moyo said.

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