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Setting record straight on Oshindonga as MoI

2021-07-30  Staff Reporter

Setting record straight on Oshindonga as MoI

Thank you for availing me the opportunity to clarify some issues pertaining to Oshindonga as a medium of instruction (MoI) in Omusati region as alleged in the article, titled ‘Oshindonga as a Medium of Instruction in Omusati’ by Shifela Johannes and Wapota Jonas. 

The Language Policy (1992) states that grades 1-3 will be taught either through the mother tongue or a predominant local language. The Junior Primary (JP) phase covers the pre-primary grade to grade 3. The authors claim that the Language Policy (LP) states that the MoI is used from pre-grade to grade 3 which is not as such in the current language policy, although, this is what we advocate for so that the teaching and learning process is effective in the formative years. 

To claim that “Oshindonga is chosen as a MoI and as a TL in schools within Omusati region for political rationales” is very disingenuous and has no iota of truth. I, therefore, challenge the authors to substantiate this claim with evidence. 

The authors also stated that “Oshindonga has been exclusively utilised as a MoI and TL on the notion that it is the predominant local language”. This is not correct because it is not only Oshindonga language being used as a MoI in Omusati region but there are schools using Oshikwanyama language as a MoI. 

The authors also claimed the ministry of education “has never run any campaign to fuel the standardisation of the languages of the minority”. This is not true, and I encourage the authors to contact the National Institute for Educational Development (NIED) to establish the facts in this regard before they mislead the nation. I will also be happy to assist the authors in this matter for them to have a better understating for future reference. 

I now wish to outline that the issue of developing an orthography for languages (either languages with more speakers or minority languages) is not the mandate, neither it is the responsibility of the ministry, but it is the responsibility of its speakers. According to Walsh (2006, p. 301) “Books and recordings can preserve languages, but only people and communities can keep them alive.” Additionally, Walsh (2006) and Batibo (2005) state that the language is developed by its speakers, and they preserve it over generations to generations. 

In view of the above, I implore the authors to take the lead in developing the orthographies of their languages, although it will be a very expensive and tedious process. However, every long journey starts with a single step. In addition, after the development of an orthography (writing system of a language), one should also develop the teaching and learning materials, e.g., textbooks, etc. Once that process is completed and quality assured, I do not think there will be any objection from the ministry to approve such a language to be used as a MoI in the appropriate communities.

The Oshiwambo languages comprises eight different dialects, namely Oshindonga, Oshikwanyama, Oshingandjera, Oshikolonkadhi, Oshimbalantu, Oshimbadja, Oshikwaluudhi and Otshikwambi but only Oshikwanyama and Oshindonga have a standard written orthography and they are part of the school curriculum from grade 1 to 12 (Buschfeld & Kautzsch, 2014; Murray, 2007). In addition, Oshikwanyama and Oshimbadja are cross-border languages, as they are also spoken in southern Angola (Halme, 2006; Ntondo, 1998; Maho, 1998; Tötemeyer, 2010). 

Furthermore, let me provide a synopsis of how the orthographies of Oshiwambo languages (Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama) were developed. A writing system for Oshindonga language was developed by the Finnish (Lutheran) missionaries in the 1870s, while Otshikwambi was developed by the Roman Catholic missionaries (Fourie, 1997; Diescho, 1992). It is not clear why Otshikwambi orthography did not advance to the level of Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama, although to this day we have some materials written in Otshikwambi, especially the Roman Catholic Church materials, e.g., Simaneka book, etc. 

The Church of England (Anglican) missionaries focused on developing a writing system for Oshikwanyama in the late 1800s (Diescho, 1992; Fourie, 1997). The speakers of Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama were fortunate to have their orthographies developed by the missionaries, since their interest was to develop the indigenous languages for spiritual contexts (Fourie, 1997) and for the indigenous people to be able to read the Bible.  

I have followed (sometime back) with concern the discussion on various social media platforms of non-native speakers of certain Oshiwambo languages allegedly being forced to learn in unfamiliar languages. However, the fact is that nobody is being forced to learn, since there are only two language options which have an orthography in Oshiwambo. 

This means the two Oshiwambo languages (Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama) are the only available options for now – and according to Malan (1995, p. 17) it is a well-established “fact that all the tribes, except the Kwanyama, have accepted Oshindonga as the written language in their schools and churches”. 

Therefore, it is technically incorrect to say that one is forced when there are only two language options available. Malan (1995, p. 7) reminds us that “countries with an ethnic heterogenous population find it hard to establish unity, and many of them are compelled to institute a form of regionalism that a significant degree of self-determination to ethnic groups”. Namibia as a heterogenous country is not synonymous to the above and we should reject it as per the numerous calls by our president. 

In conclusion, I would like to request the authors to always verify their facts before they publish misleading and harmful information. Moreover, I also kindly request the readers to always triangulate the articles and verify the content with relevant institutions before a valid conclusion is made. This is important to avoid ethnic unrests and possibly an outbreak of civil war. 

Language is very sensitive, since it is intimately part of one’s identity. We have seen how civil wars erupted in some countries, caused by languages issues. Therefore, we must keep in mind that we are still building this nation and we should at all costs avoid the insidious acts that are detrimental to nation building. 


* Eino Haifidi is an education officer and a scholar. He works for the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture based at the Directorate of Programmes and Quality Assurance (PQA), head office. He can be reached at

2021-07-30  Staff Reporter

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