The Binga Rural District Council (BRDC) pulled a shocker last Friday after passing a resolution banning the teaching of Ndebele in council schools in a move it said was aimed at promoting the Tonga language and preserving traditional values.
Binga is predominantly inhabited by the Tonga ethnic group and Friday’s decision was taken after the community allegedly raised concerns about the death of the Tonga language and values in the district as some primary schools were said to be teaching five subjects to accommodate Ndebele.
The matter was brought before a full council on Friday and it was resolved that teaching of Ndebele should totally be barred from the Binga primary school curriculum.
Councillors reportedly asked why Binga district was teaching two local languages while schools in areas such as Kamativi were teaching Nambya and those in Lupane teaching Ndebele only.
Council chairperson Dube Munkombwe yesterday confirmed the banning of Ndebele saying the decision was made to fulfil the provisions of the new Constitution that Tonga was an official language.
“That’s very true; it’s confirmed. As you know, Binga is in Zimbabwe, not Zimbabwe in Binga. We are governed by the Constitution,” he said.
“You are fully aware that the new Constitution assented to by President Robert Mugabe last year made Tonga an official language.”
“The reason why we voted yes for the draft constitution in Binga was because Copac (Constitution Select Committee) had said that Tonga was going to be an official language.
That’s the only reason why we voted yes. We had been fighting for that even before the Ian Smith regime (colonial government) was in power.”
Copac was charged with the drawing up of a new constitution for Zimbabwe by the government in 2009. The full council meeting was attended by Binga senator Chief Siansali and his counterpart Chief Sikalenge as observers.
Binga Ward 4 councillor Elmon Mudenda said the full council meeting resolved that those who wanted their children to learn Ndebele should transfer them to Nkayi or Lupane districts.
“Most schools teach Tonga but the problem is with schools in Binga South, but not all of them. We don’t want to lose our cultural values. Councillor (Antony) Sibanda of Sinamagonde, who is Ndebele speaking, tried to convince council that it should be optional in terms of language, but council agreed that only Tonga should be taught,” Mudenda said.
He said although the move would make them sound tribalist, the issue was that Binga had been marginalised for a very long time with pupils being forced to learn other languages while neglecting their native Tonga.
“We were about to lose our culture. Our children could not write or read Tonga. When we spoke, it was in Ndebele. Next year our children will write Tonga at ‘O’ Level,” he said.
Binga South encompasses Sinamagonde, Kabuba (Lusulu) Chinonge, Pashu, Kariangwe, Lubanda, Saba, Dobola, Lubimbi and Tinde wards.
Areas like Sinamagonde, Kabuba, Tinde, Lubimbi and Pashu have a lot of Ndebele speaking people while Shona speaking people can be found in Sinamagonde.
In 2011, a major milestone was achieved when Tonga was officially tested in the Grade 7 exams for the very first time.
Tonga is widely spoken in the Zambezi Valley covering Binga and Hwange districts in Matabeleland North province, Gokwe North in the Midlands and parts of Nyaminyami district in Mashonaland West.
Tonga language and culture have over the years been marginalised in Zimbabwe with the two dominant national languages, Ndebele and Shona, being recognised as official forcing Tonga children to learn the two languages at the expense of their own.