I am sure most of us have watched the Oscar nominated 1988 movie Coming to America. For those that haven’t, it’s based on the story of Akeem Joffer, the crown prince of the fictional African country of Zamunda who goes to America in search of a wife. Side bar – Wakanda much *wink*.
The experiences that Akeem and his personal aide went through run parallel to what I went through when I came to South Africa for the first time. The day I was told I would be visiting my father in South Africa during the school holiday became the first day of months of research and preparation to blend in with the people of Mzansi. I had heard about the big city and the fast life that was Jozi but nothing prepared me for the magnitude of the phrase “big city, fast life”.
The night before we were to board the bus to Johannesburg was, needless to say, one filled with excitement and anticipation. The morning came and my two sisters, my mother and I arrived at the bus terminus 2 hours earlier than we were supposed to because no one could contain the excitement of three young girls who were about to get their passports stamped for the first time! That excitement soon died down as we realised that we would just be sitting in a bus for the next 18 hours.
Fastforward past the long bus ride, long queues at the border and endless, “Are we there yet? ” chiming and we made it to Johannesburg Park Station. The sheer artistry of the roads, entangling was more than what my Chikanga dust roads accustomed eyes could handle. Fast food joints were at every corner. One person spoke a different language to the next, and the next, worlds apart from Mutare were you hardly ever hear any other languages besides English and Shona.
The excitement of being in a new country quickly faded when I began school and at the tender age of 13 I would cry every morning at the thought of going back to “that place”. The dense questions about whether or not Zimbabwe had electricity, televisions, tarred roads, the general markers of a thriving country according to the world, I could handle. What broke me was the sheer unadulterated xenophobia that I faced day in and day out. It never got physical but words have a funny way of lingering in the mind long after the physical pain has disappeared. Had it not been for my English teacher and a few good friends at the school I might have become a teen suicide statistic.
Now, I can’t definitively say what the reason is behind my patriotism but after 11 years of living in this beautiful country flowing with milk and honey I still speak of Zimbabwe as if I left yesterday. It might be being reminded that I don’t belong here every now and then when people carelessly post ill-informed comments about foreign nationals or when a shop attendant refuses to assist me because I’m addressing her in English. It might be because in Zimbabwe there’s a familiarity of hearing the Shona language at every turn. The familiar taste of sadza cooked with mugaiwa mealie-meal. It might be running into a relative at least 3 times a day. It might be the absence of extreme violence that plagues the streets of Johannesburg.
I appreciate South Africa for the opportunities that have been afforded me. I appreciate the friends I have made here. I love the diversity the country offers. I love the display of cultures. I admire the infrastructure and service delivery that my own country lacks. I envy the free speech and the exercise of democracy that a lot of Africans can only dream of. Even after considering all this I am still unapologetically proudly Zimbabwean.
The feeling of coming to South Africa will never measure up to the feeling of going home where my heart is every December!