Who is this Zimbabwean identity anyway?

Posted on 24/07/2011

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In the wake of the proposed indigenisation and empowerment laws last year, I wrote a blog in which I asked a somewhat similar question to the one I’m probably asking right now? Who is this indigenous person really? I heard a few murmurs in the room but no one really answered that question for me IF we’re being totally honest here. Today however, I want to know or perhaps discuss this Zimbabwean identity. Call it an oxymoron of some sort if you will but I feel that this is the same and yet different question. You see, I now have examples of a variety of people who I either know or have actually spoken to. What I have gathered is that this particular question isn’t always that easy to answer. At times just asking this very question often rubs people the wrong way or makes others slightly uncomfortable.

Let’s use Yvonne as an example. Yvonne works in the medical fraternity and has been now for close to 60 years. In fact for 52 of those 60 odd years, she has spent that entire time in Zimbabwe working and assisting this very country within the health sector. She has a wealth of knowledge about the real challenges facing the health sector and has a great sense of appreciation of where we as a nation came from and perhaps where we are headed. If you probe, as I often do, she will tell you that things are getting slightly better in her sector but, more work needs to be done and that many NGOs and their respective programmes don’t often have this country at heart in real terms. What I find really interesting about all this is that Yvonne is European and has remained European on paper throughout the 50 odd years. I didn’t want to ask her why however I did ask her if she would ever return ‘home’. An emphatic ‘no’ was her answer. Just talking to her I felt that Zimbabwe is and has been ‘home’ to her for many years. I also got the sense that she still holds onto her passport despite this seemingly emotional attachment to her adopted ‘home’. However I also understand that one’s passport does not always indicate that one in fact considers that country as ‘home’. I have found that more often than not, people have these ‘other passports’ to find a way around the system. If this is the case, would you consider Yvonne to be a Zimbabwean I wonder?

I know this other gentleman. In fact some can relate to this particular case. Let’s call this gentleman Alfred. You see Alfred came to Zimbabwe many years ago. He says he arrived in Zimbabwe from Mozambique when he was less than 10 years old. He tells me that his mother simply got up and left her husband and the rest of her family in search of work. She came across the border and settled somewhere between Harare and Mutare. Alfred now has 2 children who were born in Zimbabwe to a Zimbabwean woman. I have often asked Alfred if he would ever return back ‘home’. Once again, his answer is an emphatic ‘no’. He says Zimbabwe is the only home he knows. If this is the case, would one not consider Alfred to be a Zimbabwean?

I spoke to some immigration officer on my way into Zimbabwe earlier this year. It’s very typical of me to use opportunities like this to ask various questions about the immigration system and this lady’s experiences. The main reason I was talking to her that day was for this blog I intend to write about the Chinese in Zimbabwe and naturally I was making small talk as she stamped my passport whilst I entered the country again. We started talking about numbers and she told me that there were approximately 20,000 Chinese people now living in Zimbabwe. That number surprised me a little to be honest but I’ve been thinking more about the next generation of what I refer to as the ‘ZBC’ (Zimbabwean Born Chinese). That generation has Chinese born parents who willingly (or otherwise) left China in search of a better future in Zimbabwe. They now have children, some born in China and others born in Zimbabwe. Assuming that the immigration laws are straight forward (i.e. if one is born in Zimbabwe one is then automatically considered a Zimbabwean), but wouldn’t ZBCs be considered Zimbabweans? As they grew up, they might learn the local languages, attend the local schools and Zimbabwe becomes their home. Are they not Zimbabwean I wonder?

These are just examples of situations occurring daily in and around Zimbabwe. Alfred might be the gardener whose parents originally came from Zambia or Malawi in the early 60s. Yvonne could be some technically skilled employee who thought out of the box and decided that Zimbabwe or Rhodesia as it was then was the place for her. What about the new wave of ZBCs? How can we exclude them or disregard them as Zimbabweans? How do we or how can we simply disregard their Zimbabwean-ness IF they feel some connection to this land? This might after all be the only ‘home’ they know. In these interesting times that we are now living in, I ask you once again, who is this Zimbabwean identity anyway?

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