President Manangagwa called on Zimbabweans to embrace the country’s cultural and linguistic diversity.
Historical factors such as colonialism have had a huge impact on language, leading to the marginalization and rapid decline of the use of indigenous and minority languages.
President Mnangagwa made a call on his official Twitter page and at the same time responded to a tweet from an online news site that criticized him for using Tongan to answer dignitaries and media during his visit to Victoria Falls last Wednesday, instead of using the “primary language” “.
The President had visited the no man’s land on the Victoria Falls Bridge to relive the day he was set free after 10 years of detention by the Rhodesian government before being deported to Zambia in 1972.
The President, who was in Victoria Falls to officially confer city status on the resort destination, displayed his multilingual skills when he spoke fluently in Tonga, much to the amusement of his audience.
Tonga is widely spoken in Binga and Hwange districts in Matabeleland North as well as in Zambia.
The publication had tweeted: “President Emmerson Mnangagwa speaking in a different language — which is not Shona or Ndebele, the two main indigenous mediums of communication — during his Victoria Falls freedom of the city event. Mnangagwa grew up in Zambia and speaks Zambian languages as well.”
President Mnangagwa chided the publication:
“I’m speaking Tonga — an official language of Zimbabwe and commonly spoken in Victoria Falls. We should all be proud of the diversity of Zimbabwe’s languages. This is not good journalism.”
In a humiliating climbdown, the publication thanked the President for embracing diversity in languages by speaking Tonga.
Twitter users enthusiastically rallied behind the President’s call while some strongly condemned the publication’s contentious tweet.
Lee Ann Bernard, who goes by the alias @Lee_Ann_Cara on the social network tweeted: “By supporting language diversity we are strengthening people’s cultural heritage and therefore their identity, some only know 1, the most just 2, Proudly Zimbabwean to see you engage in various languages. Well done Mr President.”
@DrMShahidAKhan tweeted: “All languages and cultures existing in country should be promoted, I appreciate the @edmnangagwa for promoting the culture diversity of languages. International Human Rights Commission #IHRC as intergovernmental organisation fully endorse your steps in this regards Mr President.”
@nkosana_malinga condemned the publication: “The President was speaking an official Zimbabwean language there is nothing wrong there. Stop tribalism.”
@tendaimanzvanz2 said: “Thank you Mr President. Zimbabwe’s Constitution says the country has 16 official languages. And none is greater than the other.” while @Tendayizinyama said: “Excellent now speak the people’s language for unity, growth, no corruption and ending silencing dissent.”
@mashoko11 tweeted: “You make me proud to be Zimbabwean and proud of our native languages. This is good.”
@AngelsMuzandaka tweeted: “Am very impressed, the President speaking another Zim language, just found myself smiling.”
@TINARWOJEVASI concurred: “Sure we should respect all the languages in Zimbabwe. Tonga is an official language in our country.”
In terms of the 2013 Constitution, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages namely Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa.
In the past, there has been an outcry that the so-called “minority” languages were not recognised and were playing second fiddle to English, Ndebele and Shona which were regarded as the country’s official languages by virtue of being the most widely spoken.
Copies of the Constitution of Zimbabwe are also available in all the country’s 16 official languages to ensure everyone understands and accesses the supreme law of the country without any barriers.
In the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission 2019 annual report, recently tabled before Parliament, Vice-President Kembo Mohadi urged Parliament to speed up the enactment of an enabling legislation to officialise languages in line with the Constitution.
VP Mohadi, who chairs the Cabinet Committee on National Peace and Reconciliation, said Government should promote the teaching of all indigenous languages in schools, including those spoken by minority groups.
Shona, English and Ndebele have for a long time been taught in schools up to university level.
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