Whenever I’m asked where my home is, my mind scatters in all directions like demonstrators seeing a teargas canister suddenly land in their midst. I can’t decide which location is my home.
Is it Mzilikazi Township, Bulawayo, where I was born? Maybe Lower Gwelo, Midlands, where I lived for the first five years of my life and later spent most of my school holidays? Should I settle for Luveve Township where I did the first three years of school and I have happy memories of Sunday school? But then what about the pleasant and memorable eight years my family and I spent in Rimuka Township, Kadoma?
Father often told me that my umbilical cord was buried in Lupane near my grandfather’s grave. Does that make Lupane my home? Father also often said his real, real home was Mdutshane, the place his family was uprooted from before they turned it into a private ranch. ‘One day our whole clan will regroup there,’ he sometimes mumbled to himself. He was ten when forced out of his home.
I never worried about where my home was until I was at a boarding school at Inyathi. With the passion of football fans, other boys boasted about their rural homes. They genuinely believed they hailed from the best places in the world.
‘I too have a home,’ I boasted. ‘The township is my home, I hail from…’ Derisive laughter drowned what I said next.
‘A township can never be a home,’ a lad from Nkayi declared with the confidence of a Man of God casting out evil spirits. The whole dormitory roared in agreement. ‘The township is a white man’s creation,’ the lad continued. ‘Yes, you can work in town, visit relatives but a cow will give birth to a human being before a town is a home. A proper home can only be in the rural areas. Towns are for cultureless Africans who don’t know who they are.’
The Lord knows, I tried to present the township as a home but I was no match for those boys who grew up following the behinds of cattle whilst we watched bioscope and read comics. In the evenings choral music solidified their claims of heavenly rural homes. ‘Across River Tshangani,’ the Nkayi boys chanted. ‘Bukalanga is our home,’ the Plumtree boys chimed. ‘We travel on Super Godlwayo Bus Services,’ the Gwanda entourage sang.
I sang about beautiful Luveve with stunning girls, about Kadoma where various tribes lived happily together…it was no use. I just could not manufacture the tangible and infectious pride rural boys had about their homes.
Like politicians often do, I suddenly sang a different tune. I reclaimed my Lupane roots. I shouted that I belonged to the Lupane/Nkayi group. ‘That township talk was just a joke. I’ve real, real roots.’
For the avoidance of any doubt I spent the next school holiday at my grandfather’s home in Lupane. A delighted Grandma trotted a fattened goat for me. Though a devout church lady, she explained to neighbours that my ancestral spirits had beckoned me home. ‘Today,’ she whispered to me, ‘the spirit of your grandfather is holding its head high.’ I was sure the missionaries at Inyathi would strongly object to her views but this did not dampen my joy. I now had bragging rights to a real home.
The question of which was my home reared its head again years later when I was a student in London. One afternoon after saying a few words at a students’ union meeting, a fellow student approached me with a broad smile, ‘home boy, how are you coping with the cold in this land?’
‘Home boy?’ I asked. ‘Which part of Zimbabwe do you come from?’
‘Vereeniging, South Africa. But why split hairs? I could tell from your accent that you are from Southern Africa – ‘he has.’’ He mimicked part of the speech I had made by making an exaggerated hissing sound when pronouncing the letter ‘h’.
‘Pleased to meet you home boy,’ I said as we hugged. Surrounded by the Chinese, Middle Easterns, South Americans, the Vereeniging lad was indeed a home boy.
So now Southern Africa was my home. Later I discovered that the whole of Africa was also considered to be my home. Here, those open necked multi coloured tops we used to call Zambian shirts were known as Afro shirts. I was expected to wear them as an expression of my culture. At gigs, I was supposed to sway to the Nigerian beat as if I had lived in Lagos all my life. Yes, the whole of Africa was now my home.
Don’t you, then dear reader understand why the question of where my home is throws me into disarray? The answer depends on who is asking. If it is a Zimbabwean traditionalist, then my home is Lupane. If it is from a Midlands person then I’m from Lower Gwelo. If the questioner is from Kadoma area then of course I’m from Kadoma. To the rest of Zimbabweans, I’m from Bulawayo. Finally to the world, I’m an African with a cosmopolitan outlook.
A few years back I was helping my niece Gugulethu choose a post graduate course. She had been abroad for a few years and was visiting me in Bulawayo. ‘You must,’ I advised her, ‘choose a course that will make it easy for you to get a job here and easily settle down when you finally decide to come home.’
‘Uncle,’ she said, ‘I’ve no intention of returning.’
‘What do you mean? This is your home. You can’t just…’
‘Don’t worry; I will never stop visiting you guys. But there is nothing for me here.’
‘You mean we are nothing!’ I almost shouted.
‘I said I will never stop visiting you guys. I have settled down well abroad. Look, just as whole white tribes have settled in Africa, I’ve settled in Europe. Be happy for me and my happiness will be complete.’
Not for the first time when ‘home’ issues are discussed, my mind ran amok. I hoped grandfather’s spirit had heard Gugu’s heresy. He would know how to tell her this was her home. I don’t buy what those Nkayi boys declared that home has to be a rural place with livestock roaming around but surely the United Kingdom can’t be my niece’s home? Can it?
Grandfather will understand that compared to life in the Diaspora, our towns and cities are not cultureless places. He will make sure that Gugu and the rest of the Diasporians one day come home. And home is all of Southern Africa, including the towns.