Can You Really Learn Chemistry In Zulu Or Tswana?

Siboniso Mawandla | The Republic Mail

Christianity is now probably the most important export out of Europe to date. Europeans managed to create subservient and tamed people who could be easily controlled. In this regard, examples of the conversion of the African population to Christianity ranks amongst the worst in the universe, writes Siyabonga Hadebe.

The domination of other people is achieved through war and ideas. 

All the time we are told that certain people like Ganges Khan, Christopher Columbus, Shaka Zulu, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolf Hitler conquered other nations using power and grit. However, there is generally less emphasis on ideas, culture and other “softer” issues, which also formed an integral part of their strategies and tactics. 

Unfortunately, almost all history books tend to dwell more on wars fought between nations using guns and spears. 

American author Jared Diamond in his 1997 book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” attempts to answer a complex question on how Europeans managed to dominate peoples of other continents. Diamond gives a glimpse of what made Eurasians dominant; he doesn’t just limit to war and weapons. 

Nonetheless, my interest is how ‘powerful’ states and other entities utilise ideas to subjugate or even kill the human spirit of other peoples. 

As it is known, European expedition abroad can be defined using five elements or 5Cs – colonialism, commercialism, civilization, Christianity and conquer. Taking just one element of Christianity, European settlers converted millions to their religion and left a thousand of nations empty, without soul.

But the European penetration to cover every inch of the African, and even the Americas, entailed propaganda and telling people wrong stories. This was necessary to maintain their dominance and to exercise power through conquering the mind.

As part of the big ‘onslaught’ on those who were colonised, amongst others, missionaries not only introduced the Bible but also translated it into different indigenous languages. 

The history of the Xhosa Bible began in 1833 when the first book of the Bible (Luke) was translated in Grahamstown. The first complete Bible followed in 1859 but was only published in one volume in 1864. The first complete Bible in the Zulu language was published in New York in 1883, and Southern Sotho Bible in 1878. 

Christianity is now probably the most important export out of Europe to date. Europeans managed to create subservient and tamed people who could be easily controlled. In this regard, examples of the conversion of the African population to Christianity ranks amongst the worst in the universe. 

The Pedi impis who fought the Portuguese, then the Boers and finally the English adopted the Bible to keep themselves entertained. Instead of fighting endlessly with white settlers, their energies were exhausted in dancing “mkuku” at the Zion Christian Church (ZCC). 

The same applies to all-conquering Zulu men who “accepted” Jesus by starting the Shembe congregation. Proud Zulu soldiers were turned into rickshaws in the streets of Durban. Pedi men were first mine workers in the 18700s.

Revolutionary spirit was gone just like that.

Europeans decided to only translate the Bible and not other great books in science, commerce and philosophy.

Religion is an old tested tool of mental oppression. There were options of delivering a number of books and knowledge in indigenous languages: Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”, works of philosophers like Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Karl Marx and Thomas Aquinas as well as great discoveries of Albert Einstein or Hans Tropsch.

This was not going to happen.

Europeans wanted to create people who were forever going to be dependent on them in terms of science, economics and other areas of human endeavour. Local populations were only good as cheap labour to service their industrial and commercial enterprises.

What was also unfortunate is that the oppressed and religious peoples were told that their languages were not suitable for scientific thought. Therefore, it would be impossible to teach science, mathematics, economics and technology in Venda, Nahuatl, Chichewa or Kikuyu.

To perpetuate stereotypes about blacks and knowledge, one silly person once said, “The best way to hide something from Black people is to put it in a book.” But how come a Black child is expected to learn in other people’s languages, be it English, French, Spanish or Portuguese?

Another imperialist decided to declare English an “international” language to discourage teaching in indigenous languages. We know that the French, Japanese, Chinese and Russians don’t even speak a single word of English.

Why bother about English when your mother tongue has carried you since birth?

Suspiciously, almost all European ethnic groups learn in their mother tongue. Swedish and Polish have fewer speakers than Zulu, Yoruba or Lingala. Yet their children are taught pythagoras theorem, chemistry and sociology as well as accounting in their own languages.

The truth is that the situation wasn’t always like this in Europe.

Ottoman Muslims were in eastern and southern Europe for almost 1,500 years (an area significantly larger than the British Empire at its peak). The imperial invaders brought with them science and technology as well as mathematics, astronomy and medicine. Europeans learnt from the Ottomans, not that all their languages, perhaps with the exception of German, Russian and few others, were ready to be “languages of science” by default.

Then it means that it is also possible to do the same in Africa in order to make scientific knowledge accessible to everyone. Any language is ready to adopt science, accounting and chemistry without problems.

Afrikaans, for example, was “kitchen Dutch” for many years until it was standardised and adopted as a language of Boers. Today a large population of South African whites learn engineering, math, biology, architecture and finance in their home language starting from primary school all the way to university.

Using examples below, consider how simple it really could be to teach chemistry in Zulu or any other indigenous language.

The term for oxygen (O2) in Afrikaans is “suurstof”, probably borrowed from German word “Sauerstoff” or Dutch word “zuurstof”. The word means “sour dust”, in isiZulu it would be “umlotha omuncu”. 

The English word “carbon” is the same in Spanish but in German is “kohlen” and “koolstoff” in Afrikaans. In Zulu the same word means “ilahle”. Then “carbon dioxide” (CO2) is “Kohlendioxid” or “Kohlenstoff”, which literally means “umlotha wamalahle”.

Water (H20) is “amanzi” (in Zulu) or “metsi” (Sotho).

Thinking about decolonisation of science? Then it means that we need to escape shackles of mental slavery. 

As we argue about White Monopoly Capital, we must remember that it is possible to learn engineering in Zulu or Shangaan. Kiswahili?

  • Siyabonga Patrick Hadebe is PhD candidate in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. This article first appeared on the