Many of Nelson Mandela’s fellow prisoners during his time on Robben Island condemned his insistence on learning Afrikaans, the language of the white South African minority that many of the oppressed refused to speak, or even learn. Just like his prison mates, a number of younger activists who remained outside to mobilize the 1976 student uprising were deeply offended when they heard that Mandela was speaking Afrikaans to the prison warders.

This was because their generation had taken to the streets in protest against the Apartheid regime’s directive that Afrikaans be taught in black schools. Their hero and idol seemed to have been converted in prison. Little did they know that Mandela’s position was that you have to know your oppressor’s language, their passions, their culture, hopes and fears if you are ever going to defeat them.

Indeed, it was from that calculated position that Mandela realised how passionate the Afrikaans were about the game of Rugby. He could hear the warders’ passion as they discussed the Springboks’ performance at international tournaments, and after leaving prison, Mandela used that sport to unite a racially divided nation – the rest of the story is out there for anyone interested to read further.

We are afraid that a lot of Zambians have reacted emotionally to the news that Chinese language would be taught in our secondary schools starting immediately. We feel those that are disgusted and appalled by this development have only looked at the downside of it, ignoring the necessity. Our fear is that Zambians are protesting against this move because of what they have come to learn about the Chinese people and the bad things they have committed in this country. It’s not really the language they hate, but the bad elements associated with the people who speak it. We find that to be a problem.

How about French? There are plenty of primary and secondary schools in Zambia that are teaching French as an option subject, but there has never been any protests because we don’t hate anything about France and its people. The French are not in Zambia to cut corrupt deals with our leaders or to take up our jobs, that’s why we love their language.

So then what is at play here is that we realize how crucial it is to learn other internationally used languages other than English, but we have chosen to accept French and reject Chinese. It’s like when we think French, we imagine what Herve Renard did for Chipolopolo and when we think Chinese we imagine what Avic International did with Mr Ronald Chitotela. Really, there is a problem with that reasoning.

Our submission is that the Chinese language must be allowed to be taught in primary, secondary and even colleges, on condition that it is voluntary. Pupils and their parents must be allowed to choose whether they want to learn Chinese language or not. It must be in optional classes with alternatives being French, Spanish Arabic or any other language experts may consider a growing necessity.

Don’t lose focus Zambia. What we hate and should continue to detest is the corruption that the Chinese have escalated in our country. We must hate their disregard for our labour laws and the hijacking of unskilled casual jobs, but all that has nothing to do with the language.

Knowledge is power, and when you think critically, you will agree that there is technically no knowledge that is bad, what is bad is using that knowledge to do wrong things. Ask America, those marines who are sent to fight ISIS or the Taliban in Afghanistan are first taught how to make suicide bombs, that’s the only way they can know how to defuse them. In fact, the best marines or CIA agents suited to deal with Middle East-sponsored terrorists are those that can understand and speak Arabic fluently. You can’t send a soldier who is completely ignorant about his enemy.

If we are preparing our children to be the future leaders of Zambia who will fight to protect our political and economic sovereignty, we can’t deny them the necessary arsenals that they will need to defuse the lurking oppressor. If China is one of the biggest threats to our emancipation, we must find ways of preparing the future leaders with effective ways of understanding the oppressor’s thought process. If we are struggling to deal with the influx of Chinese in 2019, imagine what our children will have to deal with in 2065 when the Asian population in Zambia will have more than tripled. Imagine having to deal with the most powerful and influential minority group when you don’t even know what and when they are plotting against you.

Dear Zambians, let us be careful and avoid thinking with our emotions. China is the new emerging colonizer of not just Africa, but the world at large. It is the second biggest economy in the world and so far, it seems unstoppable. We feel it is an emotional decision for us in Zambia to protest the VOLUNTARY learning of the Chinese language when everything around us is dependent on that country. Our construction industry is dependent on China, our loans are dependent on China, our campaign financing is dependent on China, the whole economy is dependent on China. Why do we want to pretend that this dependency on China is a passing phase that we must not worry about to the extent of learning their language?

If we really hate the idea of our children learning Chinese language in secondary school, let’s start by terminating all Chinese contracts and loan agreements, some of which have been designed to stay in effect for 30-40 years. Let’s limit Chinese arrivals at the airport to prevent the looming uncontrollable influx. If we can’t do all the above because we want Chinese money and development to pour in, it simply means we can’t do without the Chinese, and only a foolish person can find it wise to accept everything that China is exporting to Zambia except their language.

Of course there is the part of consultation which stakeholders say was not done, and that’s not what we are here to defend. All we are saying is that those who should have been consulted must take into consideration the fact that Zambia is nothing but part of the global village, which is becoming more and more intertwined politically, economically and socially. We can’t live in isolation.

Anyone who thinks we can defeat the Chinese dominance by refusing to learn their language is lying to themselves. As a matter of fact, the opposite makes logical sense. Nelson Mandela teaches us that, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, the message goes to his head, but if you talk to him in his language, the message goes to his heart.” Let’s learn Chinese and communicate to their hearts.

Like mudala wa kasaka ka ndalama told us, these Chinese are like cockroaches. They are everywhere, be prepared to find them at the secondary school near you. If you won’t find them constructing a classroom block or teaching inside it, they are probably in the teachers’ compound trying to procreate – which is the more reason why we must all learn Chinese because we are now also producing Chinese citizens.