In various schools in Uganda, and some other parts of Africa, children as young as five are punished for speaking African languages, indigenous languages and mother tongues at school. The modes of punishment differ. The most common one in Uganda is wearing a dirty sack until you meet someone else speaking their mother tongue and then you pass the sack on to them. In some schools, there are specific pupils and students tasked with compiling lists of fellow pupils and students speaking mother tongues. This list is then handed over to a teacher responsible for punishing these language rule-breakers. According to Gilbert Kaburu, some schools have aprons that read: “Shame on me, I was speaking vernacular” handed over to an offender of the No Vernacular rule, who then is tasked with finding the next culprit to give the apron. Most of the punishments, in their symbolism emphasise the uselessness of the African languages.
Commenting on a photo of two children in Uganda wearing dirty sacks as punishment for speaking their mother tongues, Zimbabwean writer, Tendai Huchu says:
“That sums up our self loathing and inferiority complex. Junot Diaz once said we do a better job of enforcing white supremacy ourselves than white supremacists ever could. I should add, notice how the punishment consists of wearing sack-cloth. The image is telling. You are rags if you speak your own language.”
Halima Hosh, agreeing with Tendai Huchu opines:
“It’s outrageous. What a slave mentality that a colonial language is considered higher or better/more worth than their own local language. Unbelievable. Do the Europeans learn any African language in school? No. Why not? Because we are not proud of our heritage, not proud of our languages, not proud of Black African history. These teachers need to be fired.