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San fight to save dying language

24 Sep 2013


The San community in Zimbabwe is pushing for the documentation of Tshwao language saying it faces extinction.

Tshwao, also known as Khoisan in the new Constitution, is currently spoken by less than a third of the estimated 2 000 San people residing in Matabeleland North’s Tsholotsho district.

The language is regarded as one of the endangered in Southern Africa as it does not have any significant documentation.

Research shows that the language is spoken only by the group’s elders of ages between 65 and 97 years and this could spell doom for it if nothing is done to preserve it.

Davy Ndlovu, the director of Creative Arts and Educational Development Association, an organisation promoting San language and culture, fears the language could be extinct soon if responsible authorities do not speedily help the San community preserve it.

He said the fact that the language was spoken by a paltry 14 people who have already reached old age, raised fears the language was in danger.

“There is an estimated population of 2 000 Khoisan and among them only 14 elders speak the language and this poses danger to the survival of the language if it is not preserved,” Ndlovu said.

The San community has its language taught orally under trees or at various homesteads and the community has set up plans to mobilise funds to build a descent shelter to conduct the informal lessons.

Other languages have since been written in textbooks inline with the new Constitution in a bid to have their languages taught at primary schools, but the San community does not have a single textbook, forcing the group to conduct lessons outside the formal education system.

“The language is not taught at schools because of lack of literature to facilitate its teaching,” Ndlovu said.

“We have elders who conduct informal lessons under a tree so that the language is preserved, but they are old now and the government should expedite its documentation.”

The San community speaks Ndebele and Kalanga because they have been living with the two groups for over a century.

Ndlovu said they will next month hold a charity walk in an effort to mobilise funds to construct proper facilities where informal lessons would be conducted.

The charity walk will start in Bulawayo and end at Tsholotsho business centre.

He also said they were yet to engage the new Education ministry on plans to document Tshwao.

“We look forward to meet the new Education minister (Lazarus Dokora) so that we present our plight, but the University of Zimbabwe’s department of languages has pledged to assist us to document the language,” Ndlovu said.