By Kudakwashe Marazanye
“WE are not English, we are not Europeans … We are Zimbabweans, we are Africans…” thundered President Mugabe at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, Sout
h Africa. But are Zimbabweans not English – or aspiring Englishmen?
It is my considered opinion that, Zimbabweans are English through and through. Clearly President Mugabe’s assertions fly in the face of reality on the ground.
Zimbabweans fancy themselves as the most cultivated of Englishmen in Africa, and want the world to consider them as such.
Rhodesia had two nations – one of settlers largely of British extraction who had unwavering loyalty to the Queen, and the other consisting of black Africans. The sophisticated blacks also wanted to be considered British citizens. The settlers made it clear that while the blacks could have been British subjects, they were not part of the most polished species of the human race – the English. Once a kaffir always a kaffir they reasoned.
However, the black man did not give up his quest for an English identity.
On assuming the reins of power, the sophisticated blacks set about proving their credentials as veritable Englishmen. While they changed the country’s name and the names of other cities, they retained the culture, policies and practices that were the mark of the very British Rhodesians.
English was retained as the sole official language. Whereas various settler governments had made efforts to promote African customs and languages, our new government’s policies encouraged every black person to strive to be English.
Because English is the sole official language, all business in government and the private sector is transacted in English. The medium of instruction in schools and tertiary institutions is English.
The courts of law conduct their business in English, complete with interpreters. All the country’s roads and public facilities are sign-posted in English. The documentation of all public utilities is in English. When the president, or any government official for that matter, addresses the nation, he uses English.
The media use English as the means of communication. The only state broadcaster gives a lot of resources to broadcasts in English. Of the four radio stations, two broadcast in English. The station with the largest following, Radio Zimbabwe (formerly Radio 2), started broadcasting 24 hours a day almost two years after Radio 3 (now known as 3FM) had started going live on air for 24 hours. The only TV station in the country has 80% of its programmes in English.
The main TV news is in English. About 90% of the adverts on TV are in English, even though 95% of the market is Shona and Ndebele speaking.
ZTV’s Kidznet programmes are almost exclusively in English. ZTV continues to give priority to English programmes even though evidence points to the fact that the most popular programmes on TV are those in local languages.
Media survey results have consistently shown that local dramas and Mutinhimira Wemimhanzi are the most popular TV programmes.
The country’s national soccer team has an English nickname – the Warriors. Newspapers exhort the nation to support its Warriors in English.
“Go Warriors go,” urges the Herald. While the singing and drum beating in support of the Warriors is in Shona, that is never acknowledged.
Taking a cue from this official promotion of white (English) supremacy, the citizens style themselves as consummate Englishmen. The social mannerisms of Zimbabweans reflect those of white English people. They flight newspaper adverts in English in memory of a late illiterate grandmother who knew not a word of English.
In Zimbabwe, it is every black parent’s dream to have their children well spoken in English and behaving like true English men. So parents send their children to schools where English is the lingua franca. Blacks disdainfully shun their languages, preferring to give their children English names and using English in public and in their homes – sister yangu, daddy etc.
The result is the high failure rate in Shona and Ndebele in schools. Black Zimbabweans raised an outcry when Minister Chigwedere sought to change the names of schools, suburbs and streets from English to Shona and Ndebele ones. Shona-speaking congregations in urban areas are preached to in English.
All products locally manufactured are labelled in English. This includes pharmaceuticals used by grannies that do not understand English. In contrast, all products coming from South Africa are labelled in both English and Afrikaans.
Even as the Third Chimurenga rages on, English continues to enjoy supremacy in the lives of Zimbabweans. To support the Third Chimurenga, ZTV gave us Talking Farming – a TV programme in English, meant for the resettled farmers who barely understand the language. Not to be outdone, Zimpapers launched The New Farmer magazine aimed at the newly resettled farmers, who hardly have a working knowledge of English.
It appears even the president himself cannot resist the lure of English traditions and the trappings of imperial Britain, as seen by his annual ride in a Rolls Royce on his way to open parliament and his passion for cricket.
Hardly the picture of a caring and principled revolutionary who wants to identify with his poor subjects.
In a democracy, the right to use your own language in your day-to-day transactions in banks, pharmacies and government departments is taken for granted. But in a free Zimbabwe, most blacks cannot freely enjoy these rights because they cannot speak the Queen’s language.
It is very saddening to see black men and women pleading with imperious government functionaries at the Registrar-General’s offices, border posts and other government offices to help them fill in official forms as the same are in English, a language they do not understand.
This is the same way they were treated by successive white governments prior to Independence. These “uncivilised” black simpletons are the self same people who sent their sons and daughters to the liberation struggle and have been consistently voting the Zanu PF government back into power.
But their government treats them contemptuously because they are backward (they cannot ape the language and culture of the English). Talk of vaya vataitururira mavonde, nhasi votiseka maparapadzwa!
These government policies are informed by the essentially racist Rhodesian Front argument that natives have the quantity and not quality. Now it is today’s black nouveaux riches and white settlers who have the quality.
If a language is shunned and despised, speakers of that language will also be shunned and despised. This is what is happening to speakers of contemptible native languages in Zimbabwe.
Sadly, our country is run by snobbish, dyed in the wool Uncle Toms who imagine that civilisation consists of slavishly aping the Englishman.
From the foregoing, it is clear that non-English speaking Zimbabweans do not enjoy the full rights entitled to citizens in their own country. Clearly an Englishman from Britain – including the much-maligned Tony Blair – would feel more at home in Zimbabwe than a villager from Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe, Binga or Tsholothso.
Kudakwashe Marazanye writes from Harare.