Any language that is not taught in schools stands on a slippery precipice to atrophy and may eventually become extinct, Botswana’s former ambassador to Namibia and China Edwin Matenge has observed. Speaking at the 2017 Domboshaba Cultural Festival recently, Matenge said it has been asserted that Ikalanga language and other indigenous languages not taught in schools in Botswana are locked in a cocoon. Ikalanga language is predominantly spoken in the northeastern and certain central parts of the country. However, Ikalanga is no longer being taught in schools after it was stopped many years ago. “Indigenous languages not taught in schools in Botswana, especially Ikalanga, are locked in cocoon with no chance of expansion beyond the confines of the speakers of these languages and some are headed for extinction as a result,” said Matenge. According to Matenge, culture and language are regarded as two sides of the same coin, thus one feeds the other and they are inseparable. He said it is clear that the composition of Botswana by many different cultural and linguistic communities needs to be treated as a source of the country’s heritage strength. “Different cultural and linguistic communities need to be treated as a source of Botswana’s heritage strength rather than as a factor of disunity,” said Matenge, adding that some have rightly observed that different cultural and linguistic communities are a disaster for unity.
Matenge said language acts as a critical tool for self-identification and community identification and the roles it plays through the identification and the self-expression of the individual and the community. “Language acts as a carrier and propagator of cultural ideas and concepts and as a vehicle for communication in general are therefore of critical importance in development,” he said. He, therefore, urged the Domboshaba Cultural Trust (DCT) and the political leadership on behalf of BaKalanga (Ikalanga speaking Batswana) to continue to call upon the government to reintroduce Ikalanga and to permit the teaching of other non-Setswana languages in schools. “It should be borne in mind that the practical modalities of doing this are an implementation issue rather than a matter of principle and the details such as resources need not stand in the way since what is important is the principle of opening space for Ikalanga and those other languages,” he said. DCT chairperson Marobela Moetedi said the trust was initiated to develop a cultural village, as a vital means for the achievement of the Trust’s other objectives of reviving, preserving and promoting the heritage material of Kalanga language, history and culture. Historical studies have indicated that well before the colonial era between 500 – 1000AD, BaKalanga had crossed the Zambezi River probably from the Egyptian and Sudanese regions and occupied much of the vast regions covering present southwestern Zimbabwe and northeastern Botswana.