By Field Ruwe
The overbearing Wynter Kabimba is about to press the red button and blow up the future of our children. He is taking them to the primordial era and turning them into dinosaurs. That’s the problem. When we entrust a few individuals with our lives they subject us to political oppression. This whole idea of replacing English with local languages in schools is preposterous.
Here is Kabimba verbatim: “As the PF, we are determined to see to it that we eliminate the use of English as a language of instruction in our schools and replace it with our own Zambian languages.”
First, which schools is he talking about? Certainly not the American International School, Nkwazi, Rhodes Park, Baobab, Lusaka International Community School, Mpelembe, Lechwe, Musukili, Banani, Chengelo, and Lake Road.
He will not let his children to learn Bemba, Nyanja, Lozi, or Tonga. They are the “digital babies” a.k.a. millennials or Generations Y and Z, growing up with technology. Technology has become part of their education and pass-time. A day can’t go by without the use of a computer or cellphone.
Social networking is their quotidian occupation—their daily life activity. It is the way they communicate, work, and play. They interconnect with their friends around the world by blogging, twitting, texting and via Facebook. They are also able to visually interact with their friends using webcam. I bet when they heard Kabimba’s dictum they texted “lol.” Some wrote “dude’s nuts.”
It is not them Kabimba is targeting. It is your children; children of you the PF cadre disrupting rallies organized by the opposition; Children of you the PF blogger hauling insults at me; children of you the vendor scotched by the sun because you don’t want your child to be like you; you the marketeer trying very hard to make enough for your child’s school fees and uniform. You are the ones he has in mind.
Kabimba is targeting the vulnerable—children of the middle and lower classes; children of miners, civil servants, rural dwellers, and anyone below tycoon status. They are the sacrificial lambs. He knows their parents will jump at anything uttered by a cabinet minister.
“What we have is a colonial hangover,” so Kabimba says.
Sounding like Ngugi wa Thiongo, he is telling middle and lower class parents that English is a relic of colonialism; that, it is, as Ngugi describes it, a “cultural bomb…that continues as a process of erasing memories of pre-colonial cultures and history as a way of installing the dominance of new, more insidious forms of colonialism.” And some believe him.
What Kabimba fails to understand is that English is not the same as it was in the 20th Century. It has gone beyond imperialism and ceased to be a language of identification. It has metamorphosed into an indispensable vernacular language of a highly-tech global village in which we all now live.
Zambian children are in a world far removed from Kabimba’s—a world in which children of the rich and the poor have to be active participants or remain forever ignorant. It’s a world in which our children have to join other children of the world to innovate, invent, and build. And to do that they have to learn at the same rate as their peers.
In other words, we have no choice but to make each and every child in Zambia digital savvy and for that we are going to need not Bemba, Nyanja, Lozi, or Tonga, but English to succeed.
It is English that has provided modern technology a conduit for consummate global interaction. English has emerged as the chief foreign language in Asia, the Middle East, East Europe, and South America. Young Chinese, Russians, Indonesians, are all learning English so they can communicate with others around the world.
Please someone tell Kabimba that the world of the Internet has become such an important aspect of our lives we cannot afford to backtrack. Our children need the English language more than before. Each Zambian child must have access to a computer and must learn to operate any new device without hesitation.
But Kabimba won’t budge. He is “concerned” that our languages are dying and our cultural traditions are diminishing; that the English language is producing a weakened social constituency that is resorting to speaking with an accent.
Here is Kabimba again: “Research undertaken has revealed that every minute a language dies. This is a deliberate effort by our colonial masters to kill our languages which [are] a vehicle for personal identity…if a language is killed, it’s as good as killing a human being.”
He sounds like the young Kenneth Kaunda in the 1950’s trying to stop the British from imposing English on us (which he did not). Kabimba’s facts are wrong. Ethnologue estimates 7,000 languages are spoken on Earth. If a language died every minute, it would take not more than 5 days to expunge them.
Languages have been disappearing from time immemorial and they continue to erode up to this day. English-American linguist and phonetician Peter Ladefoged argues that “language death is a natural part of the process of human cultural development, and that languages die because communities stop speaking them for their own reasons.”
I second that. Today the disappearance is not caused so much by warfare and genocide, or by epidemic diseases such as malaria and AIDS, but by the supercilious elitists like Kabimba who make English the only spoken language in the house to distance themselves from the middle and lower classes.
Zambia is multilingual with 73 languages. According to many linguistic books, the only extinct Zambian language is the Kxoe also known as Khoi or Khwedam and the only two that face obsolescence are Mbowe and Yauma. Records show Kxoe is spoken in Namibia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, and hardly in Zambia. So, we are not doing badly in this department.
Zambia has four major languages—Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, and Lozi. Bemba and Nyanja are the two official languages. Which one will supplant English?
Bemba is the most favored. Bemba belongs to the largest ethnic group in Zambia and therefore enjoys linguistic power. Although it is the most spoken, and the official language of the Copperbelt, it has never been given the status of a national language. But now with a Bemba president, it is highly possible. If Bemba replaces English it is likely that other tribes, especially those with opposition strongholds will oppose or shun the move. This could lead to violent protests.
Nyanja is next. But Nyanja is not authentic. It is a pidgin of the Eastern and Lusaka Provinces with strong roots in Malawi where it is known as Chewa and is a national language. In Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, Nyanja is a language for immigrants.
Although in Zambia, Nyanja is dominated by Nsenga and uses a plethora of English words, it is still “foreign,” and therefore must be removed from Kabimba’s “indigenous” list. The other two languages, Lozi and Tonga, face even greater challenges in that they are mainly provincial. I can’t envision Michael Sata making Tonga a language of instruction in schools.
What Kabimba and the PF are likely to do is to demarcate the country into four with Bemba catering to northern and north-western; Nyanja to the east; Tonga to the south; and Lozi to the west. The question is what happens when the kids in these regions go to the University of Zambia? What language will the university be using in their lectures and research?
Besides, for Kabimba and his PF cohorts to succeed they will have to start at the top. President Michael Sata and his vice should stop using English and engage the services of an interpreter at every ceremony. Sata must then spearhead a campaign to remove English as a national language from the Constitution and replace it with the chosen local language. This will mean that the use of English in Parliament will cease and all business will be conducted in the chosen local language. .
We, middle and low class parents, must tell Kabimba to keep away from our children. We must tell him and the PF government to instead concentrate on ensuring our children receive an education compatible with 21st Century standards. We must tell the president to electrify all schools no matter how rural. Where hydro power will not reach, he must use solar power. We must tell him to buy hundreds of computers and ensure each school has between 10 and 20. If the president cannot afford it, he must ask his first world allies to donate discarded but working computers.
Give all our children a chance to showcase their ingenuity.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012
Readers please note: Two weeks ago I bared my background for all to read. Since then friends, relatives, and some of the readers have asked why. Hackers have gained access to my computer and my files on the hard drive. They have stolen my personal information, research work, notes, compilations, bank accounts, passwords, manuscripts and drafts I use in the preparation of my scholarly work as well as my articles. They have collected the names of the sites I visit on the Internet and are monitoring my every move with a view to discredit my works and disrupt my “Hunt for Successor” series. One of the people involved in the campaign is using IP address 220.127.116.11. This number has been traced to a computer at Sun Hotel, Livingstone, Zambia and confirmation of location has been received. This person is the operative “Zimbwi.” He uses other aliases like “panono panono,” “democrat” “sichaamba” to threaten me and attack my personal integrity. He is a young man known to me. I have enough information and evidence to believe he is a mole. I want to assure readers that my articles are well researched, quoted and paraphrased. They are all my personal imagination, deduction, and surmise. In case of doubt or suspicion download them from the archives of UKZambians, Zambian Watchdog, or Lusaka Times.