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On ‘Decolonising the mind’

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Dear Cliff,

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I entirely agree with what you wrote in your article entitled ‘Decolonising the mind’. And you rightly described us Malawians as stupid because we think knowledge of the English language is equal to intelligence.

We think that anyone who does not speak English is not intelligent or civilised. Some observers have even lamented that Malawians tend to be more English than the English themselves in many aspects of life like dressing, food, among others. This mentality is really ruining us and, in my view, I usually say that we are not developing in reality, but we are just becoming westernised day-in, day-out.

Just analyse this: “How eloquent are our members of Parliament when it comes to campaigning in local languages?” Yet, the same eloquent MPs fail to contribute vigilantly in Parliament because they are restricted to contributing their views in a colonial language. This is really foolish; a sign that we are still colonised in the mind.

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It does not only end in parliament, but also in other sectors like education. Many intelligent students who score distinctions in sciences or humanities in our national examinations — but do not do well in English — are denied access to higher education in our public universities due to a useless rule which says English is a key subject.

In your article, you mentioned of other foreign languages like French, Arabic and Portuguese which many Malawians do not recognize as international languages despite the United Nations (UN) recognising them as such. As a result, many Malawians graduating from local colleges fail to secure UN jobs because of our [obsession] with English, which leaves us disadvantaged because many graduates from Malawi have only one international language against graduates from elsewhere who are literate in several international languages.

This reminds me of a friend in college who was lamenting that he lost an opportunity when he went for a peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast. This friend, a Malawian army officer, told me that, when they arrived in Ivory Coast, they met soldiers from different African Union countries like Egypt and, because of their illiteracy in other international languages like French and Arabic, the Malawian soldiers were disadvantaged as compared to counterparts from elsewhere.

Disgusted with this, on return, the friend insisted that during our free time in college, I should be teaching him Arabic because I know the basics. Koma zikanapindulanji popeza anali atabwerako ku peacekeeping?

I admire you when you say that despite your son having a German name, he can speak basic Lomwe and Yao. People like you remind me of another friend I left in college. He wants to ‘go back to his roots’ by learning the Ngoni language. This friend was born from a Ngoni father, and grew up in the cities and, as such, he does not have any vocabulary of Ngoni.

Realising now his inadequacy as a Bantu, he has embarked on an initiative to learn Ngoni. He even told me that he may migrate to South Africa for a year just to learn Zulu which is similar to Ngoni because in Malawi the Ngoni language is almost extinct.

To be concise, language is a vital component of any culture because it is a means of communication, and a transmitter of written or oral aspects of that culture from one generation to the next. As you mentioned, our stupidity of scorning our languages and embracing colonial languages will one day lead us into a people without a mother tongue, consequently a people without a culture, hence without a soul. Mark my words, this is where Malawi is fast heading to. Look around, [and] you will see that the Bantu values are steadily fading away. It’s absurd!

Yours,

Ismail Kazembe,

Mangochi.

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