EDITORIAL COMMENT: ‘Knowledge of mother tongue is power, lack of is enslavement’

Mr Christopher Mushohwe

Mr Christopher Mushohwe

Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature by Kenyan novelist and post-colonial theorist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, is a collection of non-fiction essays about language and its constructive role in national culture, history, and identity.

The book, according to online sources, which advocates for linguistic decolonisation, is one of Ngugi’s best-known and most-cited non-fiction publications, helping to cement him as a preeminent voice theorising the “language debate” in post-colonial studies.

“The book offers a distinctly anti-imperialist perspective on the “continuing debate . . . about the destiny of Africa” and language’s role in both combatting and perpetrating imperialism and the conditions of neocolonialism in African nations. The book is also Ngugi’s “farewell to English,” and it addresses the “language problem” for African authors. Ngugi focuses on questions about the African writer’s linguistic medium (should one write in one’s indigenous language, or a hegemonic language like French or English?), the writer’s intended audience, and the writer’s purpose in writing.” The celebrated African writer also renounced the colonial name James for his traditional name Ngugi. He now writes primarily in his native Gikuyu and Swahili. He argues that decolonising the language of education is the contemporary form of pan-Africanism and the future relies on Africans empowering themselves with African culture, language and knowledge. Knowledge of mother tongue is power, the lack of is enslavement, he says.

The discourse of decoloniality and use of African languages has gained traction for a long time now, as scholars have argued that Europeans, when they colonised Africa, sought to suppress African languages so that they break the very spirit that keeps African cultures, identities and values strong.

The Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Dr Chris Mushohwe, last week said English is a colonial language that was used to undermine the country’s native languages and destroy the culture of Zimbabweans. He was speaking ahead of the launch of national languages bulletins by the national broadcaster, ZBC at Montrose Studios in Bulawayo.

We note that the strong sentiments by the minister dovetail with what many other scholars of African literature and history have always said, and the launch by ZBC therefore was a milestone in the history of broadcasting in the country. We say hats off to the national broadcaster, and the parent ministry led by Minister, Dr Mushohwe.

The launch also sits well with the country’s constitution, which says: “The State and all institutions and agencies of Government at every level must — a. ensure that all officially recognised languages are treated equitably; and b. take into account the language preferences of people affected by governmental measures or communications. The State must promote and advance the use of all languages used in Zimbabwe, including sign language, and must create conditions for the development of those languages.”

Moreover, the promotion of national languages by ZBC should also be supported by communities in various parts of the country through content creation, as having news bulletins in national languages alone would not be enough. People should take heed of calls by the ministry, through the digitalisation programme whereby content producers will be supported by the ministry in the form of resources, to come up with artistic projects in their own languages. Dr Mushohwe said that while the country attained independence in 1980, the minds of Zimbabweans were not yet psychologically free from colonial bondage.

“English is a colonial language. Foreign languages were the most useful weapons used to colonise African countries. Right from Algeria to South Africa, they were used in the destruction of native languages. We drank too much colonial poison and we must correct that. We want to clean that contamination in our mindset and have all languages being read in the news,” said Minister Mushohwe.

The minister said unless Zimbabweans restored their culture and languages, they will forever be slaves of colonisers. The digitalisation project, he added, and the Government’s 75 percent local content policy will help the nation rediscover itself.

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