16 Nov 2020
A Shared Identity in Migration: Lasting Cultural Legacies
Zambia and Zimbabwe are neighbouring nations with a shared history. During the colonial era, the two countries were known as Northern and Southern Rhodesia, respectively, forming part of the Federation of Rhodesia with Malawi. When Zambia gained its independence in 1964, the country went on to play a key role in the political liberation of Zimbabwe from the Rhodesian Federation in 1980. After copper fell in value during the 1980s, Zambia fell into a recession and relied on Zimbabwe as ‘the breadbasket’ of the Southern African region. The former saw an increase in daily Zambian visitors into their country, in search of resources. When Zimbabwe went through their economic downturn, borders between Zimbabwe and Zambia saw an increase in daily crossings from Zimbabwe into Zambia. In 2008, the International Organisation for Migration reported that about 37.8% of Zimbabwe’s population had migrated due to unsustainable socio-economic circumstances.
Investigating today, I want to understand the key motivations behind this cross-country migration, from both sides of Victoria Falls, whether these aims have been realised and the lasting cultural legacies within the migrant and native psyches.
LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – A restaurant situated in an area in Chongwe town operates in an area surrounded by Zambian government offices. The District Education Board Secretary (DEBS), the Chongwe Local Court and offices, the District Agricultural offices, and the District Commissioner’s office are all within walking distance of the restaurant.
The owner is a woman I have encountered in the past through casual interactions. Coming from a hybrid national identity, I wanted to uncover her migration story. She has requested anonymity, which is suspected to be over fears of loved ones facing deportation should her identity be publicised, though this theory remains unconfirmed.
“My husband is Zambian; my mother is a Zambian, and my father is from Zimbabwe.”
She said she was born in Zambia and spent the first six years of her life in Zambia before she joined her father’s family in Zimbabwe. In 1988, while she was training to become a teacher, she met her husband, a Zambian student at the University of Zimbabwe.
“He was a student-teacher like me. I am a trained teacher.”
She used to visit Zambia through the connection she had through her mother and husband, but she did not settle permanently.
“In 2008, my husband got a job in Zambia, and we decided to move our family permanently,” she said. “He was working in Chingola on the Copperbelt Province, but when I arrived, I stayed in Chipata with my mother.”
She went on to share the story of her integration into these new communities through learning languages. “I had to learn how to speak Bemba first then Nyanja because you have to learn how to speak the language to fit in.”
“Zambians are good people,” she said. “I am not saying this because my mother and husband are Zambians,” she adds.
She described how each community they moved to welcomed them with open arms. “Even here in Chongwe, when we moved here in 2011, the neighbours helped to offload our furniture from the vehicle into the house.”
“I have also learnt a lot from Zambians, like eating the leaves of sweet potatoes, garden eggs and coloured mushroom.”
“I am running a business, and as you can see, no one is disturbing me here. This is my home now.” She said.
KABWE, ZAMBIA – Ashton Msekiwa is a 25-year-old student at Mulungushi University-Main Campus in Kabwe, a transit and former mining town located about two hours away from Lusaka. This is his migration story.
“I am from Victoria falls in Zimbabwe, which is a few kilometres away from the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. We used to cross over into Zambia when I was young to shop.”
His reason for migrating is education. “I left Zimbabwe in grade seven and went to a South African school, that’s where I completed my grade twelve,” He said. “I migrated to Zambia in 2016. An aunt, who is a Zambian suggested a good university in Zambia, and this is how I found myself migrating to Zambia.”
Ashton mentioned that he has relatives who migrated to Zambia decades ago. “They moved here some forty years ago, but we are not close.”
“I think when you are living in your country, you have only one side of the story about another country. You mostly hear about the negative things about a country on the news.
For example, some friends here think that Zimbabwe doesn’t have tarred roads, so I had to update them about how Zimbabwe is like. When I came to Zambia, I liked that there is no segregation. I was treated like a human being.”
He said his move is temporary for now, but he would not mind staying permanently if he was to be offered a job in the country, upon graduating.
As more world leaders take on nationalist ideologies around the world, it is imperative that migration is not only reported on negatively.
As Mr Msekiwe said, the news tells one side of the story about a country which influences public opinion, it is often the same when the media covers international migration. Words like ‘swarming’ and ‘flooding’ in relation to migrant entry to countries dehumanises these individuals who are pursuing economic and political stability. This is why I chose individual stories of a Zimbabwean-Zambian businesswoman and Zimbabwean student. Migration is a human activity driven by choice and often by factors like economic hardship.
Profiling individual migrant journeys should be the norm when migration is talked about in the media.
Written By: Fiske – a Zambian writer of both non-fiction and fiction. She is a 2020 PenPen African Writers Resident.
Header Photo: courtesy of Sowetan/Sandile Ndlovu