Civil Servants Must Be Forced To Speak At Least Both Ndebele And Shona – Opinion
20 October 2019
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RECENT concerns from some quarters that the recruitment of nurses, teachers and other civil servants in the Matabeleland region should be sensitive to the interests of the local population makes interesting reading. 

These concerns have been raised from time to time that most Government institutions in the region are reportedly staffed by people from other regions, notably the Mashonaland region, as such, these civil servants should be “deported” back to their regions of origin to make way for locals to take up the posts.  

Reasons cited for this argument are that these people are unable to speak local languages, among them, SiNdebele and TjiKalanga, and that they are occupying posts which should have otherwise been held by local people, thus reducing local unemployment levels. 

While the above arguments have some sound basis, there are better ways of resolving the concerns, rather than banishing these civil servants. There is a significant threat to national unity, tribal harmony and general peace if employment patterns are to be determined by tribal considerations in Zimbabwe. 

Zimbabwe’s Constitution states unequivocally that the country is a unitary State whose principles and values centre around equality, national unity, recognition of diverse cultural, religious and traditional values. Section 3 Sub-section 2 (h) enjoins State and other national institutions and agencies of Government to “foster national unity, peace and stability, with due regard to diversity of languages, customary practices and traditions.”

Section 6 (4) mandates the State to “promote and advance the use of all languages used in Zimbabwe, including sign language and must create conditions for the development of those languages.” 

To any proud and patriotic Zimbabwean, it would be a source of pride if their language spreads and is spoken by many other Zimbabweans. Restricting a language to a particular region does not promote or advance the use of these languages. 

A sound consideration would be making it mandatory for all those joining Government service to learn at least three or more of the languages spoken in various parts of the country as recognised by the Constitution. Zimbabwe’s Constitution recognises 16 languages, a feat which on its own is a significant milestone in Government’s attempts to strike tribal and linguistic equality among the country’s citizens. Further, the Public Service Act makes it clear that a civil servant may be deployed anywhere in or outside Zimbabwe in line with the employer’s discretion. Such discretion may take into account the employee’s skills, manpower development imperatives, and promoting social cohesion, among other considerations. 

It is not as simple as saying those who are able to speak a certain language are the only ones who can be deployed in certain areas. After all, most Zimbabweans staffing the civil service only learnt to speak and write English, in much the same way they can learn to speak other indigenous languages. It is a serious indictment on our education system that the country can become compartmentalised on tribal lines simply because people are not being taught to speak indigenous languages before deployment on State business. 

A look at the country’s recent history tells us that the pioneers of our nationalist politics, among them the late Vice-President Joseph Msika and the first black Commander of the post-Independence Zimbabwe National Army, Gen Solomon Mujuru, started their political activism while working in Bulawayo. These were people who hailed originally from Mashonaland regions. They settled in Bulawayo, learnt the local language and went to make significant contributions to national liberation from those bases. This simply reveals that one can still work and contribute to national development in any part of the country, irrespective of his or her tribal origin.

Another way to go around the concerns on recruitment and deployment of Government employees on tribal grounds is to introduce a quota system whereby quotas are reserved for people from a region to strike a national balance in the composition of the national civil service. Vice-President Kembo Mohadi recently touched on this idea. The Zimbabwe Defence Forces and Prisons and Correctional Services have successfully introduced such a system where, for example, if they want to recruit 1 000 employees, they ask each province to provide 100 potential employees for screening. 

Such a system has the advantage of blending all tribal, linguistic and other social segmentations into the national army, police or any other Government entity. This promotes peaceful interaction of various social groups and, ultimately, national cohesion. 

It, however, needs to be noted that such a quota system would not guarantee that those recruited from, say Matabeleland South province would be deployed in Matabeleland South. They may be deployed in other provinces for both strategic and other considerations. It would not be a good deployment to have a Police Officer born in Matabeleland North deployed to work in that province as well. That officer may be compromised in the discharge of his or her work. 

We have seen people from Matabeleland region working peacefully outside Matabeleland region, a situation through which they have learnt to speak local languages there. A Kalanga working for an NGO in Muzarabani eventually learns to speak the local language, in as much as a Zezuru deployed in Tsholotsho has to learn the local language. Such cross-tribal interactions weave unity. 

While the issue may be viewed as sensitive, Zimbabweans need to focus more on those issues that unite them, than those that  divide us. Our diversity is one source of unity as the various languages, dialects, traditions, customs and norms combine to make us a strong nation. 

Source: State Media