Shaping identity: Seeing the world through our children’s eyes

I first came to South Africa in 2003 to study. My husband, also a Zimbabwean, moved to South Africa around the same time I did. I chose to settle here immediately after I completed my studies – I just decided I was going to make a go of it! Unlike me, my husband did a short stint in Zimbabwe for a few years after varsity.

Since his return, we have been living together in South Africa for 9 years.

All our children were born in South Africa & they have only been to Zimbabwe once (that’s a story for another day.)

In 2008, when there were xenophobic attacks across South Africa, my eldest daughter was 2 years old – far too young appreciate what was happening. When the same violence erupted this year, she was 8. Again, I thought, too young to experience or fully understand the chaos.

For my husband and I, having lived through the first, a secondIMG_0940 bout of xenophobic attacks was just shocking. During this time, we toggled between news channels so we could keep up with what was going on, oblivious to the fact that our child was soaking all this in. At her age, I now know, everything is absorbed like a sponge.

One day, as I was picking up my daughter from school, one of her teachers asked to have a quick a chat with me.  It turns out my daughter had had a meltdown at school: tears, shaking, drooling, the works because she was really concerned about all the foreigners who were being attacked. I had to ask her to pause for a minute, I asked her was she crying because she was afraid she would be attacked too, was she feeling unsafe? (Oh Lord had I failed as a mother). Apparently before the meltdown during the, “I am grateful for…” session (something they do at school everyday) she’d told her classmates she was grateful she was South African (technically she isn’t quite, but well, now she is).

This really got me thinking about why my child would think she was South African when both her parents are Zimbabwean. Does it matter? I came to the conclusion that she can be whoever she wants to be & claim whatever nationality she saw fit. I am Zimbabwean & she isn’t. I am totally fine with that.

What makes my child South African? To her, this is the only place she calls home. It is where she was born and raised. It is as much a part of her identity, as being Zimbabwean is to me. I, however, consider her a global citizen. For now she’s South African. In a couple of years we are set to migrate again and I hope she will feel as much a part of that society as she does in South Africa.

One thing I know for sure is she is not Zimbabwean. Her father and I are Zimbabwean & that’s as far as her connection with Zimbabwe goes. She does not identify with Zimbabwe at all. She speaks more Zulu than she does Shona. Heck! She understands Afrikaans more. While some believe her passport settles the issue of her identity; that too will soon change. As she grows, and as we move, she will collect a few more along the way. Hence she is a global citizen.

I do not intend to impIMG_1238ose any culture, traditions etc on any of my children. I believe part of being a parent is allowing them to explore these things and seeing where they fit. The times we live in dictate that we give our children these kinds of responsibilities at such a young age. We live in a world where children as young as 14 are graduating from University. As parents we must equip our children for life from birth.

As a woman raised in Zimbabwe, this has not been easy for me. For most of my life I’ve had to look at life differently for the sake of progress for my children. I am not an expert at this, but through trial & error I am finding my way and learning a lot along the way.

Reflecting on my child breaking down for the foreigners who were under attack, I thought of how amazing it is that, as parents, we don’t talk to our children about issues we think they might not understand but they actually do. How we sit and watch the world, thinking they don’t see it too.

If we all saw the world through the eyes of a child we would be surprised, they actually could actually teach us a thing or ten.

I believe children are the future…

Ottilia Chidavaenzi 


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