by Tafara Mugwara
HWANGE, Zimbabwe, June 27 (Xinhua) — Speaking through a walkie-talkie, Panashe Shayawabaya – a Chinese language interpreter – delivered instructions to a local employee from a Chinese supervisor at a coal mining site.
Inside an open cast pit nearby, deafening sounds from excavators and dump trucks reverberated throughout the pit as the machines extracted and hauled chunks of rock from the earth to expose the coal hidden underneath.
Shayawabaya is one of a few Chinese-speaking Zimbabweans who are playing a critical role in facilitating Zimbabwe-China mutual understanding through their Chinese language skills.
“I spent about eight years in China, and during my course of that time in China, I learned a lot of Chinese culture, Chinese history, in terms of Chinese food, likes and dislikes,” Shayawabaya told Xinhua.
Zimbabwe is witnessing an influx of Chinese investments. Language barriers and cultural differences between the two sides mean locals who understand both sides linguistically and culturally are in huge demand.
Several schools across the country have also started offering Chinese language lessons to feed the growing demand for the language.
Shayawabaya, who is an interpreter at Zhong Jian Investments, one of the largest coal mining companies in Hwange, Matabeleland North Province, said language is an important way to connect the two sides.
“The languages and culture are quite different in Zimbabwe and China. So during my stay in China, I learned a lot in terms of negotiations, and how to speak and respect other cultures,” he added.
George Chiremba, another Chinese language interpreter who stayed in China for six years, said interpreters play a big role in facilitating mutual understanding between China and Zimbabwe.
“Basically our role is to try and bridge the gap in communication between the Chinese investors and the Zimbabwean workforce. But it also goes across into understanding the two cultures, and the difference in the cultures so that you make sure that communication is not lost due to those differences,” he said.
Since language and culture have a complex relationship, the translation goes beyond vocal interpretations, Chiremba said.
“So the role includes more than just being able to speak the language, it also involves understanding the culture of the Zimbabwean people and the culture of the Chinese people,” he added.
Culture and language are inextricably linked, hence the importance of people who understand both cultures, said Chiremba.
“The difference between cultures plays a major role in communicating. The politeness, the rudeness, the message being carried across, if you understand the culture, and understand the tones, and how the message is being said, you can better translate to the person of a different culture what the person means,” said Chiremba.
Shayawabaya said learning a language goes beyond the classroom, it also involves learning the behavior of the society and its customs.
Shingirirai Alufasi, a translator at Zimbabwe Zhong Xing Electric Energy in Hwange, said without interpreters, cooperation between Chinese investors and locals would be difficult.
“In terms of being a Chinese interpreter, it’s very useful. Why? Because here in Zimbabwe most people don’t understand Chinese, and many Chinese people can’t speak in English, so for someone who is an interpreter, it is very crucial to be in such an area like this,” he said.
As China’s global economic footprint expands, the demand for Chinese language interpretation services has expanded spectacularly.
In Zimbabwe, China remains the biggest foreign investor, with investments from the Asian country across sectors including agriculture, mining, and energy.
Trade between the two countries reached close to 1.9 billion U.S. dollars in 2021, a 35 percent jump from the 2020 figures, according to the statistics released by the Zimbabwean government.