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‘This is not good journalism’ – ED chides newspaper over Tonga language

By Mutsa Makuvaza

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has responded to a tweet by an online publication which said he was speaking in “a different language” when he spoke at an event in Victoria Falls City.

When the President was in Victoria Falls this week after he had officially decreed the resort town a city, he addressed officials and the media in Tonga language, an indigenous and official language of Zimbabwe which is commonly spoken in Matebeleland North area including Victoria Falls.

Updating its readers on the occasion, a recently launched online publication called The News Hawks said: “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.”

But the President, responding on his official Twitter handle, chided the publication.

“I’m speaking Tonga – an official language of Zimbabwe and commonly spoken in Vic Falls.

“We should all be proud of the diversity of Zimbabwe’s languages. This is not good journalism,” said the President.

The publication dug in: “Thanks so much Cde President for embracing diversity in languages by speaking Tonga; Zim has 16 official languages.

“Your government must go further and reflect Zim’s political, ethnic and cultural diversity in its policies, state institutions and appointments. Thanks in advance,” said The News Hawks.

Responding to the tweet, international trade lawyer and celebrated author Petina Gappah said the tweet by the publication was an embarrassment.

“One of the great achievements of GNU was introducing Tonga in schools. My Tonga friends in Vic Falls often tell me of how they were forced to learn Ndebele, a language that’s not theirs. This tweet is embarrassing. Language tyranny must end. Zimbabwe is bigger than Shona and Ndebele,” she said.

She added: “The intention is clear, to make ED appear somehow foreign and other. But in the process, @NewsHawksLive is in effect saying those who speak a “different language” that’s not Shona or Ndebele are also “other” and not Zimbabwean. NB: the constitution recognizes 16 languages!”

However, presidential spokesperson George Charamba “corrected” Gappah: “This is factually incorrect. Tonga had been introduced in late 1980s well before GNU yazuro iyo.

“What happened was late President MUGABE approached President Kaunda for reading material in Tonga for primary school. That was provided until first crop of Tonga teachers graduated.”

Charamba added that once the pioneering crop of young learners reached Grade 7, they sat exams in Tonga.

Some Zimbabweans felt the publication was supposed to apologise for “looking down on one of Zimbabwe’s most beautiful languages, Tonga”, while others felt the President was better off ignoring the tweet.

Since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, Tonga, alongside a host of other previously designated minority languages has endured marginalisation in terms of use in public and official spaces, leading to language shift.

Observers felt the President was doing well to address the local Victoria Falls folks in a language they proudly speak. They further said the President was embracing the diverse cultures of Zimbabwe which everyone else must appreciate.

In the presence of dominant endoglossic languages, Shona and Ndebele, within Tonga communities, Tonga speakers have found it difficult to maintain their language. – Zimbabwe Voice

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