For many, leaving Zimbabwe to settle elsewhere is both exciting and harrowing. As a Zimbabwean living in England, I have for a while wanted to share my thoughts on some of the more apposite issues that face Zimbabweans in the diaspora. I accept that we may have chosen different paths in different countries and all left under different circumstances. However, it is no coincidence that certain issues always come to the fore when breaking bread with fellow compatriots around the world.
I, like many Zimbabweans I assume, left my home for reasons far beyond my control. My reasons were personal. I left because, at the time, I wanted to be elsewhere, to explore my options more. My view then, and still, is that in Zimbabwe there is a dearth of institutions to support some of our aspirations. Perhaps, like my older siblings and many other Zimbabweans, I would have left even if the situation had remained as it was prior to the events that led to the use of the bearer cheque and the near-collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. The only difference now, unlike previous generations, is that the prospect of returning home after a stint abroad – to study, save, gain invaluable work experience etc – is becoming less and less attractive.
Alienation as a deterrent
As a white Zimbabwean, my identity and general feelings towards where I belong, or more pertinently where I feel welcome, have been put to the test a thousand times over the past 15 years. Particularly, since the poorly implemented, albeit necessary, land redistribution programme which escalated uncontrollably at the turn of the century. From the very beginning, when the redistribution of land was often violent in nature, I felt a tremendous amount of alienation that emanated from the top. I was often left feeling unwelcome, or experiencing situations that certainly made me realise I was not welcome. It was during this time that my quest of trying to understand, or come to terms with, where I truly belonged began.
I am neither naïve, ignorant nor oblivious to the fact that the effects of colonialism have contributed to this alienation. This alienation is something that I, and white Zimbabweans for generations to come, have to live with and accept. For the many Zimbabweans who experienced the racism and segregation first hand prior to independence, feelings of discontent towards “the White man” are understandably still harboured. I have come to understand that these negative sentiments are often not personal or specifically directed at me. I have also fully embraced being a post-colonial child, a child of the “born free” era. However, the alienation is difficult to live with and I believe it starts to affect the psyche of how white Zimbabweans view themselves in terms of their identity. With that and in pursuit of better opportunities, I left.
My sense of alienation was compounded the day I arrived on English soil where I was immediately (in a non-offensive way) made to feel Zimbabwean. Naturally, amongst other things, my accent is different. I was brought up on a small farm in Madziwa. At that very moment, my home could not have been further away.
I am a foreigner here and written off as the descendant of a colonialist back home.
Our “other” lives
We are individuals before we are Zimbabwean, and our loyalty is allied to the self before the other. Once the self is taken care of, there also needs to be a reciprocal predisposition between the individual and that which one is being loyal to. No individual, in my opinion, would be loyal to the Republic’s cause if it meant their wife and children would go starving or if they weren’t afforded a certain level of comfort in terms of security, stability, prospect for growth, an accommodating functional society and financial capabilities to circumvent the overbearing nature of the daily challenges we are faced with.
Due to a number of reasons, many Zimbabweans have left only to discover and build a very successful life of their own with little in the way of help or drawing on their network of friends and family. The realisation that there is a life outside of Zimbabwe does not come overnight and is often in the face of adversity and tremendous sacrifice. Nonetheless, fantastic success stories abound about our brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, and family friends who have accomplished a lot. People who have made a real go at starting afresh and creating a life of their own.
The decision to up sticks and return home after years of building a new life – which often involves unsettling a young family – will not be without exhaustive deliberation as to the current political, economic and social environment. The prospects don’t look promising.
To go back home, or not to go back home? That is the question
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the last two decades is the splitting up of families and friends. Both my siblings and I flew the coop. We are now on three different continents. We are all missing out on irreplaceable family time, and resultant experiences, which was such a big part of our upbringing.
Upon our decision to leave Zimbabwe, there was a condition precedent strongly enforced by my other half. The condition was that I agree to return home the day we decided to have children so that we could be around family as, at the end of the day, family is everything. The prospect of raising our children away from the comfort of what we remember growing up, and in the absence of key family figureheads, was unimaginable.
But then there is the realisation that Zimbabwe is not the same as it was when I grew up and the political landscape is modestly unpredictable.
What really throws the cat amongst the pigeons is hearing how so many more Zimbabweans, who had stuck around when many left, have decided to leave.
But today I am left questioning what is most important. Is it the future of my own family and children, or is it being able to bring them up around their relatives and in their home country? The realisation that if they are brought up in England they will lose their ties to the country that has given me so much is difficult to accept. To make the decision to never return is to not only accept that I will see my parents age over Facetime, but it is also to deprive my children of getting to know their roots. Yet going back increasingly seems unlikely.
A genuine dilemma indeed.