Botswana: Language: genuine or token?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Oct 23 20:41:12 UTC 2008

Language: genuine or token?

The International Day Of Languages has come and gone. It was this year
celebrated in Francistown.  The city was perhaps the right location
for such an event given that this is where one of the most widely
spoken minority languages, Ikalanga, is spoken. In the lead-up to the
day, RB1 produced jingles which, not surprisingly, featured a line or
two of some of these minority languages. They were interesting
jingles, though they ultimately showed the cynicism with which the
mainstream of Botswana society views serious issues like the languages
of the vast majority of our people.

The mainstream, in this case represented by RB1, shows interest in
languages as an exercise in exoticism or subjects of curiosity for
their own exoticness and not serious matters that require attention by
way of national policy development. These languages, as if they are
not an ingrained part of our national make-up, have been relegated to
an occasional radio jingle, or an advert.

On that day, Minister Gladys Kokorwe made a speech in which she
indicated that government is in the process of considering inclusion
of these languages in our education system.

Kokorwe further celebrated the efforts of non-governmental
organisations in maintaining the integrity of indigenous languages
which government has not been interested in.

Kokorwe's promise that government is looking into introducing
indigenous languages in our school curriculum should be taken with a
pinch of salt given that she is not the first minister to make a
pronouncement to that effect.

Government's dedication to the archaic ethos of mono-culturalism
continues to dominate public policy where minority issues are
involved. It is a retrogressive position, which, despite the fact that
our country is in its fifth decade of existence, still holds sway.

The leaders of this country, unable to see beyond their narrow fears
of the potentially excitable 'Other', as Malcom X called it, has kept
this country in a time-warp of cultural stagnation.

Botswana's neighbouring countries have made un-paralleled progress in
recognising their multicultural make-up. In Namibia, Setswana, a
minority language, is spoken and taught in schools. It is used in
community radio stations.

If the government leadership is really willing to change the current
state, it should move on with it instead of making promises.
Otherwise, just like in the past, many might be forgiven for taking
this statement only as speechmaking at one ceremony.
That is tokenism.

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