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Language and The Constitution: In Conversation with Kubatana

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." Ludwig Wittgenstein

Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa. These are the 16 recognised languages of Zimbabwe, as listed in Section 6 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Besides recognising our country’s rich linguistic diversity, the Constitution also indicates the different ways in which languages must be treated equitably; should be promoted and protected; and must be given space to develop. Without language, it is impossible to engage in community life and so, while perhaps one of the least talked about sections of the Constitution, we’d argue that it is one of the most important.

Kubatana, this year celebrating our 20th anniversary, is committed to providing reliable, relevant information to our community through our social media platforms, weekly newsletter and archive of publications from civil society. We also love the Constitution and want our community to know it and use it to help build a functional society in which we can all thrive.

Our #KnowYourConstitution campaign has so far spotlighted twenty different constitutional provisions that we believe are particularly relevant to our community - including the right to water; access to justice; the rights of children; equality and non-discrimination; and of course the recognition of language. To help promote our selected sections of the Constitution, Kubatana has partnered with dozens of organisations and individuals working to protect and defend the rights described in these sections. The campaign has also given citizens a chance to actively participate by telling us about their favourite section of the Constitution, or a section they think everyone else should know about, in exchange for one of our funky t-shirts. Through this active participation and inclusion, we’ve gained valuable insights on the things that matter most to the communities we serve.

Communication and community engagement are at the heart of all we do at Kubatana - so it’s no wonder really that we wanted to pom-pom Section 6 in our #KnowYourConstitution campaign. As one of our followers on Twitter pointed out, “All languages are equal. No language is better than the other.”

To spotlight this section, Kubatana partnered with several civil society organisations, including Zimbabwe Royal Arts and Culture Sanctuary (ZiRACDS), Matabeleland Human Rights Forum, Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers Network, Mosi oa Tunya Literary Review, Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust, Ntepe-Manama Community Radio, Hwange FM, and Deaf Zimbabwe Trust.

Zimbabwe is a multilingual and ethnically diverse country. The education system, justice system and mainstream media, however, favour the three most widely spoken languages (Shona, Ndebele and English) while minority languages are frequently neglected. In this way, thousands of people are excluded from accessing information and from full participation in life as a Zimbabwean resident.

One of our subscribers from Waterfalls in Harare also pointed out that, for the deaf and hard of hearing, the neglect of sign language in the health and justice sectors means that this population is often left vulnerable to “the violation of multiple human rights.”

Through featuring Section 6 in our campaign, Kubatana hopes that people will be inspired to celebrate their local languages and advocate for their broader use and development. As another of our subscribers from Masvingo says, if fully implemented, Section 6 is the vehicle through which, “the right to freedom of expression and communication should be enjoyed to full capacity.”

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