During my years at a government girls’ school in Zimbabwe, it was a punishable offense to speak Shona. We were to speak English at all times, ‘the Queen’s English’, preferably. Our headmistress at the time explained this school rule by quoting the famous phrase: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. This, we found unintentionally amusing, as our school was more than 90% Shona-speaking, the teachers were all Shona-speaking (bar three) and our school was located in the centre of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, a country with a majority Shona-speaking population.
And this was in the 1990s.
So, whose Rome were we in? And which Romans were we meant to be imitating? For this was not an example of the cultural imperialism that was characteristic of colonial rule; this was an example of Shona-speaking Africans relegating their own language to second class status within their own school. Continue reading