The Death Of Shona in Zimbabwe, Save Yourself!

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Shona, like most local businesses and brands is dying, it’s a fact. I could give you 100 reasons, but they’d all be summed up in one word…relevance. Shona is just not relevant anymore and understanding why, might just save your business from the same fate.

Here’s why…


Being relevant means you matter.

When you don’t matter, you’re soon forgotten. And Shona, really…doesn’t matter much anymore. Now of course there are still a great deal many people who speak nothing but Shona, problem is, those sort of people (Zimbabwe’s rural citizens) are irrelevant too.

Sad but true.

I don’t mean they don’t matter as people, of course they do. I mean they have no influence, and influence has always determined who matters most. Besides their numbers come voting time, Zimbabwe’s rural folk exert very little, if any, influence in Zimbabwe and therefore they are often forgotten – always the followers, never leaders.

So why Is Shona not relevant anymore?

  1. The world is smaller than it used to be. To effectively communicate with others in this shrinking world, we need to speak languages that they understand…English being the most preferred, no one else speaks or even cares to learn Shona. If you’re still thinking that Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe are the only people you need to influence, your business is probably in trouble…but certainly destined only for small things.
  2. Even Among Shona People, Shona is not respected. Check for yourself and try writing your CV in Shona. No matter how impressive the Shona, and even if your potential employer understands the language, you’ve just disadvantaged yourself. In fact the more proficient you are seen to be in Shona, the less we trust your proficiency in English…and the less likely you’ll be to get the job, if it’s a good job.
  3. Nothing Important is written in Shona. Not really. EVERY national newspaper is in English, every company website or brochure, every business contract or document – everything, except for Health Education by some NGO’s, all English.

I could go on and on, Your favorite songs, TV shows and movies, Websites, books, the ‘best’ schools, the best jobs – all English based.

When I posted this thought on my Facebook wall, someone said “Rest In Peace Shona”, that was the general attitude. I was surprised that of the many comments, no one tried to present a case for preventing it. I guess, no one cares enough.

Is Your Business Like Shona?

Many businesses and local brands are dying for the same reasons Shona is. They are failing to be relevant

Using old technology, offering outdated solutions, thinking in old traditional ways, holding on to ideas that no longer work and of course, not marketing your business effectively…all these will lead to the death of your business.

Do you know what they market wants? Where it’s going? What forces are affecting the people you sell to? If you don’t, you may soon find yourself speaking a different language to the market you desperately need to influence. You’ll invest your time and money into things that don’t matter or won’t matter for long.

It reminds me of the money changes who, at one stage were making so much money on the street corners of Harare. Then, everything changed and instead of understanding the need to develop new skills and competencies, they kept doing the same thing until they just didn’t matter anymore. Until they were being completely ignored on the streets. They went from Heroes to Zeros because they didn’t understand the changes needed to remain relevant.

Stay smart. Be relevant.

14 Replies to “The Death Of Shona in Zimbabwe, Save Yourself!”

  1. Interesting article, as always Maxx. I’m young, not married yet. I’ve been receiving amazing job offers of late but i’ve accepted none. I feel i should be out there as an entrepreneur. What should i do? I’m working a job with a not-so-fitting salary, but the workload is equally as light so i have a bit of elbow-room. The other jobs i’m getting are way awesome. Help!

    1. Hi Mark, thanks mate, i appreciate your eyeballs! You’ve got a really general question there so i’ll say that the it depends. If you’re getting job offers that are ‘way awesome’ for reasons that are important to you, then that would seem better than to risk losing that on the vague notion of wanting to be an entrepreneur. If on the other hand you can identify an entrepreneurial path that has a good chance of delivering to you more than those jobs can offer, then i’d go with the Business thing. If your current job allows you enough flexibility to pursue that entrepreneurial path without losing the benefit of a minimal monthly salary, thus reducing your risk…even better!

  2. Well the above is interesting…everyone is entitled to their views and I respect yours. I do however disagree, yes when people present themselves in formal or specific social environments they do so in English. But why might I ask? Its to prove a point that they can fit into whatever that environment requires. But does it mean they cease to become who they are, is the distinction between keeping an image in business or in certain social circles and who they are when they go home blurred to such an extent as to make Shona relevant? Its all an act, do not be fooled…the most important decisions in Zimbabwe are made in Shona and then presented in English for the ‘globalized world’ to understand. In fact some things may not be understood at all unless you understand the Shona behind it. The people who matter, from the CEO of a mobile network, to the person in the rural area, all speak Shona and Ndebele at home. When an outsider comes into their midst, we are welcoming enough to let them feel right at home. Liberals do not matter in this world… That’s my view. Thanks for the article.

    1. Hey Gidza, i love your response mate, especially “the most important decisions in Zimbabwe are made in Shona and then presented in English for the ‘globalized world’ to understand.” I’d say that as globalization and other trends continue (which they will) Shona will become less and less necessary and powerful as common language – The more the world shrinks, the more you will be forced to interact much more regularly with a none Zimbabwe audience, where Shona will not be useful. We’re witnessing now, in many ways early stages of these trends in Zimbabwe – yet already you speak less Shona than your parents did, and your kids will speak the language less than you do. I’m not saying this is a good thing, not at all, but it is. Thanks for commenting mate!

    2. I like your comment. I think Shona will always to be relevant to some extent, but i cannot deny that it is losing ground, faster among many Zimbabweans than others. In the halls of power where political and even business decisions are made in Shona, lets not forget that these people who are in power are not from our generation, we are talking about 50 – 70, even 80 year-olds. They are not as exposed in many cases and come from a time when the attack against us as blacks was much more overt, no they naturally cling to all things Shona much more easily. These people are not watching MTV, they are not on Facebook or surfing the net, they are not going to ‘none-shona speaking schools’ overseas or even locally. That’s the only reason they may make their decisions in Shona. I am 28 now, i come from a different time. Think of the effect of all those children of Zimbabweans who have been born in the diaspora in the last 10 years – 10s of thousands, maybe even more. They are returning with their parents but they do not hold to any sentimental feelings about the local languages.

  3. nice article max… however to say the rural folks or even shona is not relavent at all i think you need to think again.. first of all the zimbabwe economy is largely driven by rural folks and decisions made in cities but money is made in those rural areas. as shona not being relavant 90% of zim populace speak their language shona/ndebele not english if its english its broken or not proper english

    1. Hey Patrick! Thanks mate. You’re right a large population speak Shona, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t losing relevance mate. Culture follows power. People want to progress in the direction that provides them with the most power/ options/ choices and although Many Zimbabweans speak the language, the rest of the world is much larger than Zimbabwe and as tech (particularly communication tech) advances the influence of global trends, mindsets and language tools will only increase. Consider for example how many of your status updates on Facebook are in English vs Shona. You’re world has become much bigger (and different) than Shona is relevant for – and that’s only just beginning.

  4. I find your claim misleading and your basis for it implausible.
    1.We can’t pronounce the death of Shona because of globalization because after the world has become a village, Shona is one of the few things that remain, defining our identity as the Shona, and I dare say Zimbabweans.

    2.We cannot claim that Shona is dying because people cannot write their C.V’s in Shona. They never did and there is really no need to start now. Show me people performing marriage rites in English or any other language in Zimbabwe, then I might consider agreeing that Shona is dying.

    3.Shona cannot be considered irrelevant because nothing important is written in Shona. Who says ? Even if it were true, is it necessarily true that the written is more important than the spoken. Now way, in fact, any linguists will tell you that language in its most natural form is oral. The writing symbols are artificially imposed on language. Thank goodness for technology, we need not write down everything anymore. Movies, skype, you name it.. technology is moving towards allowing us to preserve language in its natural form, the oral.

    1. Dude, the fact that nothing important is written in Shona is obvious. Which document, magazine or anything of national importance have you seen written in Shona? None. This is a very important point because it means 20 years from now, our children will learn about who they are, their culture, their history in English not Shona. If that’s not the major loss of relevance i don’t know what is.

  5. Thought provoking topic. Your point about relevance is well taken and I would not want to diminish that message in any way, shape or form (especially when it comes to our brands and products). I think you’re getting these kind of responses because of the emotional attachment we feel towards our languages. Shona and Ndebele will remain somewhat relevant to Shonas and Ndebeles. We feel a profound attachment to our languages and there are a lot of examples that demonstrate this … one being the fact that although we listen to music sung in English, the most popular ones (according to those who vote on radio) appear to be sung in our local languages, or the popularity of a “local drama” no matter how poor the production compared to international standards… or we can talk about all the slang Shona or Ndebele words we ALL seem to know and fall in love with.
    Our languages will remain relevant to us (Zimbabweans), but I think the point you’re trying to make is that, in the global village, that is not enough. Our language (the vehicle for our culture) has to reach beyond the confines of our borders and influence other nationalities, our business and social practices, etc, in order to make its mark on a shrinking world and indeed on future generations of Zimbabweans. In the past, Shona and Ndebele didn’t have to compete with other languages .. now like it or not, they do and if we aren’t careful, its a battle they may well lose!

  6. Max, brilliant! I am Shona and although i do not like it, i have to agree. Most of our so called ‘A -schools’ do not even take Shona seriously guys – especially high school. As Max says, even our own newspapers are not in the mother tongue so i agree, the language is losing prominence with each passing day. The more technologically advanced Zimbabwe becomes, the more we lose ourselves guys. Although i agree that Shona is becoming less relevant, i don’t think it’s too late to inject national pride into the Zimbabwean people.

  7. Max, if there’s one thing you know how to do, it’s to get people debating! I always enjoy your articles and i think there is a great point in there about remaining relevant in business. On the Shona side, i’m divided. I see what you mean about how it is being used less and less, but i cannot bring myself to admit that it is dying! Call me sentimental or emotional, but ya! To be honest, i notice how my wife and i speak much less shona, even to our daughter much less than my parents spoke to each other, but to say that it is irrelevant? That’s too much! Good article though, thought provoking.

  8. i agree with you reasons which are contributing to what you are saying death of shona .Remember that not everyone is competent to the extent of using English the whole day even those who are educated thats why people use codeswitching even those who are in urban areas. We may use English in certain places or functions but after that we start to speak in English like people who have been released from the prison. Teachers in other schools are explaining some academic concepts in Shona especially in Geography and history though it is not allowed . Shona might have die in the days where many whites were in Zimbabwe and some of the workers use Shona for communicating with their bosses yet they did not loose their Shona language . In short Shakespeare used English words like ”What thinkest thou” but in modern English they say ,”What do you think”. With this example i think the Shona language in the next genarations may be different from what is being spoken nowadays but it will never die . Listening to western music and writing CV’s in english does not make a person linguistically competent or communicative competence in English or any other mordern language .Thank you for the article but with technology we are also communicating with Shona on Facebook.

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