Usuphupha Ngesikhiwa?

picture taken from

These words still resonate in my head each time I speak to my uncle. He asked me this question a while ago and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. For those who do not understand, the direct translation for my title is “you now dream in English?” My uncle is very passionate about maintaining our culture and importantly our “ndebeleness

As a kid I never understood or appreciated why he never wanted any other language but Ndebele to be spoken in his presence, in fact at times it enraged me. But as I grew, I began to learn about concepts like cultural imperialism and degradation, I began to understand that we ran the risk of completely embracing foreign cultures and languages (both English and Shona) and neglecting our own language. I am writing as a person who comes from a Ndebele speaking background and this is not an attack on the Shona or English languages.

I began to notice that I was part of the lost generation when I realized that I could hardly hold a decent conversation in Ndebele without stammering or pausing to translate words from English to Ndebele. How could I have allowed this foreign language to completely take over me, in terms of speech? I suppose attending school like Convent, where speaking English seemed to be the most important thing played a huge part in this. In most cases for one to fit in with most of the students you had to speak English impeccably was of utter importance. And as such this “English speaking only” culture gave rise to the “twang”. This is almost a nasal way of speaking English, it almost sounds like you are forcing yourself to speak. Now I am not judging anyone who speaks with a twang because I myself am guilty of having one at times.

We have become too worried about how people speak English and tend to laugh at how certain tribes pronounce certain words, e.g. how the Shona pronounce 12 (Tkwowf) or how Ndebele’s say Bokkle. Yes, granted its funny, but as people often say, it’s not my mother language so I can’t be blamed for not pronouncing all the words correctly.

We may laugh at how the South Africans and Batswana cannot speak English but I actually respect them, because they love and embrace their own languages more than their colonial languages. I suppose to them, there are far more important things in life than focusing on the shape of your lips so you pronounce an English word properly. And to them I say Bravo!

A lot of our “undoing” as Ndebele speakers, or whatever vernacular language, begins at home. I have noticed, with surprising dismay, that a lot of young parents prioritize teaching their children the English language over their mother tongue. I often find myself asking the parents of many children, “uyakhuluma isiNdebele?” And in most cases the answer is no or mbijana. When asked why, the most popular response is “ah uzasifunda esikolo!” Esikolo?? What kind? Why don’t we instill in “our” children a sense of self pride? Loving your own culture, heritage and history above that of the West?

Now I am not linguist, or an expert in all things culture, heritage or language related, but I have begun to read a lot on the subject. The fact of the matter is, in the words of Isaac Mpofu (UNYANDENI MPOFU), “English as a language is smothering Ndebele very fast.” It is up to us to decide whether we want to save it or not.

There are quite a few people out there who share the same concerns as I do. I would advise all of you to follow the links at the bottom, to read what other people are saying about this topic, you will find it quite thought-provoking. These links are far from exhaustive and you are not limited to just these, there is much more, these were the ones I read most recently.

Ndebele language is dying

Culture, customs, tradition of Ndebele nation

We Need New Pride: Zimbabwean Writers Putting Us On The Map



2 thoughts on “Usuphupha Ngesikhiwa?”

  1. Ntombi

    Read your well written piece with keen interest and I am greatly impressed by the way you have brought out how parents are literally sacrificing the ndebele language. Its sad and debilitating to say the least. There is a serious need for the preservation of african renaissance. Yes, English is an internation language, but how will you communicate internationally when you cant communicate locally? African languages are a pre-requisite to our children and must be ingrained in them at a very early stage. Isikhiwa ngeseskolweni, lasemsebenzini, endlini kukhulunya isintu. Thats my theory, and am sticking to it!

  2. I really LOVE THIS ARTICLE! I am going to repost it on my blogs Facebook page if you do not mind. I guess one of the reasons why I feel so passionately about culture is because I feel a bit cheated out of my own… my parents moved around a lot growing up so I never really knew what being a Zimbabwean was. Now I identify more with Kenya because I know more about their culture and to be honest I am more passionate about Kenyan issues (don’t slaughter me) and that is because I identify with them more. So I guess we are more sympathetic to causes our chosen cultures represent. So if we place value other cultures who is going to be concerned about our own issues?

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