Last month, CNN’s Inside Africa featured a Zimbabwean DJ in New York, Chaka Ngwenya who started up an online radio station SARFM Radio through which he says he is trying to help African listeners keep their identity abroad. Identity caught my attention and that lead on to not forgetting about who you are and where you are from. Thinking about ‘Identity’ got me thinking about the term “MUSALAD” that so many young Zimbabweans have been labeled. What exactly is a “salad/musalad/salala?” It is a term that cannot really be given a clear cut definition because of people’s different interpretations of it. My understanding of the term is; someone from a low-density suburb and from a so called group ‘A’ school (private school) who is not streetwise, copies Western culture (mainly American) and speaks English with an accent. In years gone by munozi (nose brigade) was more commonly used due to ‘these people’ speaking nasally.
I am one of those people who was and still is labelled a munozi and/or musalad but to a much lesser extent as compared to years gone by. Up until just after starting high school I went to these so called group ‘A’ schools until I was shifted to a boarding school out in the rural areas. Within the first few hours of being there I was labelled a munozi. Very soon after that I was given a nickname brought about by me being told to stand up and tell the class my name. When I opened my mouth, the entire class burst into laughter and I didn’t understand what was going on until the teacher eventually asked me to repeat what I had just said whilst a number of my classmates (and the teacher) were still laughing and mimicking what I had said with a very exaggerated nasal intonation. The nickname I was given was what they thought they had heard me say and it stuck through out my time at the school. It wasn’t easy going by day to day and having to deal with the discrimination (which is how I saw it) but as time went by I got used to it and paid less attention to it. Those years of my life were probably my quietest and I only spoke when I really needed to so that I didn’t have to deal with the onslaught if I spoke. I did make a few friends and those who got to know and respect me saw more than just what was on the surface.
Masalad are viewed by many as, “vanhu varasa tsika” (people who have lost their traditional ways). This Shona term, tsika refers to knowing and being able to use the rules, customs and traditions of society to be regarded as a respectable person. Not all masalad are a lost cause. Those who went to schools where they mixed with other races, they had and still have different accents to those from a rural background. For most when they got back home it was back to their traditional ways but they would take along what they picked up in their environment. They way that they speak is different but it is not necessarily fake or put on. Yes, there are some where it is a bit over the top and obviously put on and bound to draw a lot of attention and criticism. The video shows what I would consider to be over the top. The people in the video do live in the United States but you could very easily come across people in Zimbabwe who have never stepped out of the country speaking like them.
It is not only masalad who get discriminated against. An example I can use from years and years ago is that before I left the private school, an SRB (someone with a Strong Rural Background) was awarded a scholarship to do his ‘A’ levels there. He was ostracised because of his mannerisms and the way he spoke English with a very heavy Shona accent. He was a very nice guy but his background and the environment he was in did not do him any favours.
I have been criticized by family and friends who said I had an identity crisis because of the many white friends I had and the ‘white things’ I did (whatever they were). Yes, I did mix and mingle with a lot of white people but that did not make me less of a Zimbabwean. The discrimination encountered by both groups of people (masalad and SRBs) is unwarranted at times because we should not be judging a people by the way they speak, what they wear and how they carry themselves. As long as those in question know who they are and where they come from they should be treated with respect. When cultural identity has been lost there should be cause for concern because you will have lost a lot of who you are.