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Tonga community in language breakthrough

The Tonga community has scored a first for minority languages in Zimbabwe following the formalization of the Tonga language in schools in the Zambezi Valley basin that borders Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Tonga language was in October 2011 officially tested at Grade 7 level for the first time in the history of Zimbabwe.

During construction of the Kariba Dam in the 1950s the Tonga community was displaced cutting cultural ties with the other Tonga communities in Zambia. Successive governments have neglected development of these areas as reflected by poor quality education and health facilities resulting in cultural values and systems of the minority groups being eroded as children are groomed through alien languages. The introduction of the Tonga language in schools would help restore their cultural rights, pride and dignity of the Tonga community as equal citizens in Zimbabwe.

Tonga language is widely spoken in the  Zambezi Valley covering Binga and Hwange districts in Matabeleland North Province, Gokwe North and Nyaminyami districts in Mashonaland West Province. The Tonga language and culture has over the years been marginalized in Zimbabwe where two vernacular languages-Shona and Ndebele- were recognized as “national” and Tonga children have been taught in those languages.

ChiTonga” was examined at Grade 7 in Nyaminyami and  Binga districts in 2011. In Nyaminyami, 155 boys and 111 girls from 30 schools sat for “ChiTonga” examinations in 2011. In addition 10 127 children (5196 boys and 4931 girls) from Grade 1 to Grade 7 in Nyaminyami were exposed to Tonga teachings in 2011. At least 77% of pupils from 130 primary schools in Binga were tested for “ChiTonga” in 2011. A total of 20969 male and 20230 female pupils from Grade 1 to 7 primary schools in Binga were reported to be taking “Chitonga” lessons in 2011. A considerable number of girls have benefitted although there are more boys due to school enrolment status in the area. There are reports that a 74% pass rate was achieved in the two schools. Gokwe North and South Districts are also taking Tonga lessons while Hwange District schools intend to have Tonga lessons in near future.

AAI Zimbabwe partner in the Zambezi Valley, Basilwizi Trust, in conjunction with the Tonga Language and Culture Committee (TOLACCO), traditional chiefs, councils and Save the Children (UK) (which purchased Tonga text books), Rural District Councils and District Administration (DA) officers have since 2008 been working together in lobbying the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture to have the language officially recognized. Basilwizi has since 2008 supported TOLACCO with advocacy training. A total of 211 men and 205 women have benefitted from Basilwizi advocacy trainings in Binga and Nyaminyami. TOLACCO has facilitated the formation of a task force comprising traditional chiefs, local and district councils, school development committees, fishing cooperatives to have one on one meetings with Ministry at local, district, provincial and national levels. 

One of the TOLACCO members Pinos Buligwamanu said in an interview:  “Teaching of Tonga language and getting it examined  at Grade 7  is like a  dream come true for us the Tonga people after a long struggle that dates back to 1976 when the effort to get Tonga language taught in school began.”

“ Every Tonga person is happy about this achievement.  He however said the community had challenges procuring Tonga text books for secondary level. “Publishers want to be assured that the books will be bought at a profit but our communities cannot afford to buy the books. We also need to continue training more Tonga text book writers for use in future but we have financial constraints,” Pinos said. 

Pinos said TOLACCO and other stakeholders were working to facilitate formalization of Tonga at secondary level. However their biggest challenge was to take lobby efforts outside Binga where “ChiTonga” is not taught and not recognized.  “We have identified local authors to author Tonga secondary school text books and we are hoping by 2012 we will be having the Tonga secondary school syllabus in place. There however could be delays associated with printing of the books because of financial constraints,” he said. In the neighbouring Zambia, where Tonga is also spoken, the language is studied at PHD level.

Annacletta Muleya, a Grade 6 pupil (for 2011) at Binga Primary School said: “At home we speak Tonga and I like it. However I may not write the Tonga language at Grade 7 next year (2012) because I am afraid I won’t find a Form 1 place outside Binga district where “ChiTonga” is not formalized.” 

The dilemma that is facing Annacletta is also being experienced by many other children from the Tonga community.  This means that TOLACCO still has more work to do including raising awareness in schools in the community on the importance of using Tonga language. TOLACCO should also sensitize Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture district officers and schools outside the Zambezi valley (countrywide) and the rest of the Zimbabwe community to recognize  Tonga as one of the three optional languages  (in addition to Shona and Ndebele) which can be used for one to be accepted at secondary school level. This also means that secondary schools in Zimbabwe should therefore start enrolling the pupils with Tonga language other than Ndebele or Shona in line with a Ministry of Education Sport and Culture directive in 2011.

 TOLACCO have also been working with other marginalized languages- such as Nambya, Kalanga, Venda, Shangani and Sesotho to promote the recognition of their languages and together they have formed the Zimbabwe Indigenous Language Promotion Association (ZILPA) to lobby together for the effective teaching of their marginalized languages. AAI Zimbabwe has since 2007 build Basilwizi’s capacity in accountability, citizen empowerment, information, advocacy and financial management.