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A BRIEF HISTORY OF SHONA IN SOUTH AFRICA
PROF DE MUTASA
Shona is one of the major languages of Zimbabwe, a country situated north of South Africa. The term Shona is a conglomeration of dialects and as language it is national and official in Zimbabwe. Like with other indigenous African languages of Southern Africa, it was reduced to writing by missionaries. Being a dominant language it has over the years spread in all directions. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Focus on Africa (1996), the spread of Shona in different directions was instigated by various factors, among them, employment prospects, refugee status and trade.
Fig 1: The spread of Shona
Mbanje, Lazarus: BBC. Focus on Africa, April - June 1996.
Shona migrated to South Africa owing to migrant workers who worked in South Africa in mines, on farms and as teachers from the 1900s through to the present day. As a corollary of this migration, the Roman Catholic Church conducted mass in Shona in Sophiatown in the early 1950s. Incidentally, in 1951, about the same time that Shona was introduced in church, Prof Kriel introduced Shona as one of the subjects at the University of South Africa when Unisa was still in Cape Town. Unfortunately, Shona was phased out when Prof Kriel left Unisa to occupy the post of Dean at Fort Hare. When Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, Shona was introduced at Unisa again, this time in Pretoria, with the blessing of the then Minister of Education in Zimbabwe and the management at Unisa. The lecturers then were Prof G Fortune, Prof Kriel and Prof Wentzel. At the beginning of its peak, in 1992, the Shona Language Section had four lecturers, operating among eight South African languages with a total of 100 lecturers and administrative staff. The lecturers for Shona at the time were Prof P Wentzel, Prof N Dembetembe, Prof Kriel and Prof DE Mutasa. Shona at undergraduate level was phased out in 2008 and is now offered at postgraduate level. Through its fecund postgraduate programme it has produced more than 50 masters and doctoral students. Some of the doctoral students serve as research fellows, co-promoters, external markers and e-tutors for the Department of African Languages at Unisa.
Mbanje, L. 1996. BBC Focus on Africa, April – June 1996.
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