The strategic importance of Silozi in the Caprivi Region: By Matongela Roberts Tapiso
Please allow me some space in your esteemed newspaper to air my views regarding the so-called debate on the discontinuation of Silozi as a language of tuition and cross-cultural medium of communication in the Caprivi Region.
Following the debate that has been raging like wild fire regarding the alleged demise of Silozi in the Caprivi Region, I for one stand aloof in pronouncing that such notions lack academic relish and socio-political backing. The move sends a signal of how little some people regard multi-dimensional interactions to take a steady foothold in the region. Such ideas are worth discarding and are unthinkable in this era as we grapple and brace ourselves up with ideals towards realizing meaningful and peaceful Vision 2030. The attainment of this vision requires of us to live in a stable environment in which citizens intermingle without creating hurdles and cultural barricades.
I was born in the Caprivi region in 1957 and have seen Silozi being used in homes, offices and schools. In some instances of time, Southern Sotho was taught in schools more so at Saint Kizito College. My cohort and I have during those dark years learnt Sesotho at the said school. This never made us to forget our languages. The reader should take heed of the fact that once a language has been internalized and made part of our mental processes, it cannot easily be filtered away regardless of where one finds himself or herself.
I do not believe in the idea that the issue of Silozi be debated outside the region. This idea puts the residents of the Caprivi in an awkward situation. The proponents of this idea should have known that the Caprivi is not a one man issue. Because of that it is indeed not a monolingual society. We have elders who can manage issues of this nature. Doing away with Silozi will mean that a certain language will be imposed on people. This is not acceptable in a democratic country like ours. For those who do not know The Caprivi region, it appears that this could be the right platform to educate the Namibian citizens. The Caprivi region like many others is composed of people who speak different languages. Few years ago I worked in Owamboland and have come to understand how diverse the Oshiwambo speaking people are. Although they speak a seemingly similar language to a layman, these brothers and sisters have allegiances to different language groups. One finds tribes like the Kwanyama, Ndonga, Mbandja, Kwambi, Nganjera, Mbalanhu, Kwaludhi and Sans. Although there is such a myriad of languages that make the ‘Great Four O regions’, only two of them are used in schools and offices such as Oshikwanyama and Oshindonga. This is true of the Kavango region where not all languages spoken in the region are used in schools and other media of communication. The scramble for Africa did not spare The Caprivi. Tribes were cut in between during those years. That is why we get Subia in Namibia and Botswana, Mbukushu in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia and Angola, Mayeyi in Namibia and Botswana, Mafwe in Namibia and Zambia, Totela in Namibia and Zambia, Silozi speakers in Namibia and Zambia, and the Mighty Sans who are the aborigines of every sect in Africa. The groups I have enumerated above excluding the Sans, have different languages and are partially similar by virtue of being under the Bantu Cluster of languages.
The only language that has been in use and is abound in sufficient literature for use in schools and is a means towards inter/intra-cultural intercourse is Silozi. A lot of people do not speak and understand English. The only language they can express themselves in so that they can easily be understood is Silozi. Many people in Namibia are given untrue information regarding Silozi usage in the region. There are those people who think that Silozi is exclusively Zambian. That is entirely peripheral and an argument without substance. When the Kololo invaded Western Zambia, the Sesotho language did not disappear completely, but was gradually transformed into Sikololo and later Silozi. Initially as it was in the Caprivi the Sesotho language was taught in schools in Western Zambia. This coincidence was possible because Western Zambia and Caprivi was one mass of land that formed Barotseland. That is why today we have speakers of this language in such areas respectively. Botswana, an immediate neighbour, has many language groups such as the Batsarwa, Barolong, Subia, Mayeyi, Mbukushu, Bakoena etc but only Setswana is used in schools and offices. In Western Province of Zambia many languages such as Silozi, Sifwe, Totela, Mbukushu, Sikwamashi, Sikwamulonga and others form Bulozi. But Silozi is widely used in schools and as a means of communications throughout the province. It also serves as a language spoken by different language groups so that they can understand each other and have a nationally unified culture blended in diversity. No wonder Botswana has outsmarted many emerging democracies in terms of its unmatched stability that has stood the test of time!
This generation should help steer the ship of nationhood and fraternity in a more becoming way so as to preserve our democracy and prevent posterity from sinking like a giant titanic. The fact that tribes were divided by colonial boundaries makes it unthinkable to harbour notions of doing away with Silozi in our region. Which language is in the mind of those who expounded this idea? Ego-centricism in handling issues of this nature is dangerous as I am afraid that immediately when one of the languages is chosen, division will ensue, tribalism will heighten and instability will be the rule of day. To tell the truth, I have known the Caprivians as individuals who are not keen to learn each other’s languages. This idea is honestly impractical and can surely bring strings of blunders in this ‘Garden of Eden’. It should be stressed that Silozi is not foreign in the Caprivi. As I have alluded earlier, it is one of the local languages whose presence is indispensable to the stability of this region. As a humane and selfless person, I for one would without utter reservations maintain that the use of Silozi should ceaselessly go on as before. This is because when a Yeyi speaks all language groups in the Caprivi cannot understand. This is also the case with Thimbukushu and the San languages. People that can understand themselves are the Subia, Totela Mafwe and Mbalangwe to a meager extent when jargons are not used. We want each and everybody to deliver messages to a target group that can hear them. The corollary also holds that if the receiver can be able to hear, the sender too should be heard. Resources that are already there should be used. We should not grapple with the language question while other regions are advancing because of their respective stable environments.
We have been using the language since time immemorial. This language has created a homogeneous culture through diversity throughout all ages. It has been the pivotal instrument for the maintenance of peace and tranquility in this region for all ages. Like English at National level, the position of Silozi in the contemporary Caprivi traverses all linguistic barriers thus forming a people that observe a common culture for the common good. Silozi should not be seen as dominating other languages but as a means that eases and facilitates education and communication in the Caprivi. Stop for a while and cogitate as to what could happen if such a maze of languages could be used in our schools! Like English, the language under discussion prevents sectarian inclinations that harbour divisions, tribalism, nepotism, chauvinism e.t.c. Are we thinking of going back into history to re-scramble Africa in an African way? That would rather appear to be a big haul and would be rather tedious an undertaking to venture into. It should be noted that the dawn of independence did not guarantee the use of futile if not bogus experiments to be carried out on the Caprivian platform. This language which tends to be shunned today has been the hinge around which tranquility and protracted regional stability revolved.
In trying to reconstruct and restructure our rather young and fragile democracy, I plead with the government of the day to nurture and jealously guard this young democracy from being manipulated and swayed away at random. I also would like to use this platform to plead with the people of the Caprivi to digest and solve their problems first before involving outside mediators who do not know what is happening on the ground. I also would like to plead with the UNAM authorities to make sure that the learning of Silozi at their institution be expedited so that our learners can be motivated to learn it. I for one would like to see the Caprivi advance towards development and progress through regional integration rather than watch ourselves dwindle into incessant feuds. Let me also at this juncture plead with the Caprivian intellectuals to be humanists, progressivists and peace lovers. As it was before I would like to encourage the usage of Silozi in offices and diverse media. I also wish to plead with parents and guardians to encourage their kids to use the language in their homes so as to improve their performance in the language in school.
Let us not hurt the past because by so doing we may not know where we are and where we intend going. Let us think outwardly not inwardly.
What do we learn from maintaining the use of Silozi in the region? The following can be noteworthy:
o Unity in diversity is cultivated in the region
o Social cohesion is strengthened and enforced
o Unnecessary feuds could be obliterated from the face of the region
o Common aims and goals could be attained
o Tribalism, chauvinism, nepotism and all discriminatory masquerades could be rooted out for good
o Scarce resources could be used to uplift the social, economic, intellectual, spiritual and physical dimensions of all the region’s inhabitants
o The amicable present could steer the terrain of worthwhile living free from animosity and anti-social infringements.
o The stability of the entire Namibia, Africa and that of the Global Community ensemble could be established, nurtured and preserved to posterity.
Next: On peace and tranquility in the Caprivi Region