Day 5 of Afrobloggers’ #WinterABC2022 Blogging Challenge.
Hi everyone! Welcome (back) to my blog! We are now on day 5 of this year’s #WinterABC2022 blogging challenge and I have officially matched last year’s efforts!
It is a cause for celebration to be honest because I have never blogged for 5 days consecutively and this is a big deal for me.
Anyway back to the serious stuff, the main agenda for today. We are on week 2 and the theme is stories of Africa and today I wanted to offer my reflections on the ” half-lived” experiences of African immigrants living in Johannesburg , South Africa. This is a continuation on the blog I did for day 3 of this challenge titled Home Under My Feet where I commented on how the concept of home is changing for me. I feel like home is anywhere that I place my feet at that moment.
Today we are moving from my personal reflections to a more broader reflection of the lived experiences of African migrants in Johannesburg. I titled this blog, Half Lives because this is how I view the lived experiences of migrants in Johannesburg. It is not written from a place of judgement but rather from a place of concern. This is not something that only African migrants experience but it is something , even South Africans experience and have experienced during apartheid.
A bit of historical context of the city of Johannesburg. The city was built around the mining industry that boomed when gold was discovered sometime in the late 19th century. Technically, Johannesburg is city for migrants because mine workers would only come to work in the city and then go back home after earning enough wages to buy cattle among other things. We shall not get into a history lesson but the point is even now, a good number of South Africans still view Joburg as a temporary home, a place to earn money and invest ” back home” aka rural home.
This is the same attitude that has been adopted by African migrants who come from across the continent to seek better opportunities in this city of gold. However, what I believe is emerging is some people living half lives. Half is in Johannesburg, the other in their home countries. To be frank, it is not even half in a technical sense because if you exclude Christmas and Easter majority spend the year in Joburg. There is definitely an imbalance.
At the same time, there is a group of people who have managed to escape this trap. I believe there a good number of people who come into this city for a few years, save enough money to set up their life home and go back. These have escaped the half life curse.
However, I would like to believe these are a minority. A majority do set up their lives back home, they build houses, buy cars, among other things. The sad reality is that people are accumulating possessions they will never get to fully enjoy until retirement because they still need to support their families back home. So…. they are trapped. Forced to live half lives till they eventually move back home where they find their children grown and they have missed a great part of their lives.
Interestingly, even families that are uprooted and brought to Joburg. Their children inherit these half lives. At school, they need to assimilate into society, act South African and blend in. At home they are required to act Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Congolese or whatever nationality they are. In this way, these half lives become generational. Half is at home, the other in broader South African society. They essentially inherit this half life curse and become identity chameleons.
For their parents, nostalgia doesn’t help either. Memories of where they grew up holds onto them like dirt on a grill. They attempt to raise their children based on conservative values from their home country yet their children spend most of their time among their peers who are very liberal. South Africa is a very liberal country. These values sometimes clash at home which shows again that the experience of African migrants is that of a half life. The half might be here but the other is in your home country.
Xenophobia doesn’t help too. Lately there has been push back against the presence of African migrants in South Africa in general. I won’t get into the politics of that but what is important to note is that there are sections of the migrants who live in this city who are on the edge. Literally. There is a common notion (or misconception?) among them that one day they will be told to pack up and leave the country. Based on this, they live on the edge. Metaphorically speaking they live with half packed bags, ready to leave at any moment. The half is here in Joburg, the other is somewhere on the way back home.
Resolutions? I doubt there are any concrete solutions. Migrant experiences are diverse and complex. However, if I would sit down and have coffee with migrants going through half life experiences I would suggest one thing. Acceptance. Accepting that you are probably attached to this city and you might be forced to call it home. No matter how temporary you deem it or how uncomfortable it makes you. It is still home and this does not dismiss where you came from. That too is home.
Home at the end of the day is the roof above your head or the ground under your feet otherwise you might wait a lifetime before you actually go back “home”. Harsh reality is some end up returning in coffins or just buried here because of the cost of transporting someone home. Therefore, it is importance to accept where you are as home.
As a writer, I am still grappling with this notion of home and there will be more follow up blogs on this. If you want read my first reflection on this topic. Here you go : https://blavkprint.wordpress.com/2022/06/03/home-is-under-my-feet/#more-446
If you read this till the end. Thank you! I appreciate your precious time and take care!