09 April, 2017


"Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

         I worked in big retail shops in South Africa for 10 years. I worked with many young men coming from, or born of parents coming from my country of birth -- Zimbabwe.  Currently, I am working with a young man whose parents hail from my country. He was born in Zimbabwe 23 years ago.  His father is alive but he hasn't met him in person. His father is said to have migrated to the United Kingdom.  Most, if not all, of these young boys I have worked with have one thing in common: they were brought up either by their single mothers or by their grandparents.

          In the early to mid 70s the Black revolutionary parties decided to engage the colonial governments through violent means in the Southern African regions as a way to coerce them to seriously consider their demands for democracy or majority rule/government. Many young people, especially men, were either voluntarily or forcibly conscripted into the armed wings of these movements.  In my country there were mainly two military groups, one under the PF ZAPU and the other under ZANU PF. Many young men in my region were conscripted into ZIPRA, the military wing of the PF ZAPU party.

            Our brothers left school and joined the armed struggle -- some as young as primary school going age. These young people crossed the borders to the neighbouring countries, mainly in Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, and Namibia. These countries would -- many of whom had already attained their independence -- assist us by offering training bases, assist on training the freedom fighters, and offer logistics for our liberation struggle.  This, therefore, meant that many of our boys would leave the schooling phase forever and miss out on the pillar of self development and self advancement. They would spend up to 10 years in the training bases, especially those who were too young to be soldiers, and would languish in those military bases doing absolutely nothing but singing liberation songs and reciting some political manifestos that meant little or nothing to them.  Regularly, the colonial government forces would send the air force to bomb these places. Many of our brothers and sisters perished in these camps where security was very primitive.  There were no good radars and signal detecting instruments to warn about the imminent enemy’s air or ground attacks.  The intelligence was also weak and primitive.  It meant that these little souls were always caught unawares, with little or no time to hide or react.

          These young boys experienced hell -- saw their friends and relatives blown up to a pulp -- some surviving with no limbs, no hands, or arms; blood and anguish; and the smell of death everywhere  . . . . every time  They were left physically, emotionally and psychologically ruined PERMANENTLY.  There were no psychotherapeutic facilities or systems in place to mend or heal their emotional or psychological damage. These camps were normally located in very remote deep hidden dense forests or mountains, far away from civilization. These young boys, detached from the parental love and care, faced bombs and gun explosions and popping almost every day, and training instructors bucking out at them every time. Those who were too young to be conscripted did the cooking, laundry, shoe polishing, and mending, cleaning and all those chores.

          After a cease fire, these young people, having spent years under the tents in the mountains and forests, having spent years living like wild animals, running for cover every day, had to face another steep mountain to climb -- to be taken back home and be integrated back into civil life which they had unplugged themselves from for quite a long time. Psychologically and emotionally limping back home, some were only to be welcomed by the ashes and charcoal from what used to be their homes . . . some parents having been murdered during the war . . . some of their parents having disappeared in the police cells  and not to be seen again! Now these are the children who have grown to be what we call parents today. These are the fathers who bore these boys we are working with now.

          In 1979, after the cease fire, the two military wings failed to reach an amicable position on the power sharing question and how to properly disengage from war and to demobilize their forces back to civil life.  A civil war ensued in 1983.  The very same young boys left AGAIN, this time running for their lives -- running away from the government of majority's crackdown on those it perceived as a threat to their rule and therefore enemies. The operation was popularly known as Gukurawundi, meaning to sweep away the chaff or dirt. The young men had no option but to jump the borders back to the neighboring countries. Now, this time they would be treated as illegal immigrants in those destination countries.  Many would spend their times working in the foreign lands and hiding after work – many  would spend their time in the police cell, while others would spend months in the repatriation camps waiting to be deported back to where they were running away from.  Many have managed to survive in these painful and difficult conditions in the foreign countries. Many have bonded and created families with the local people. Their children are these boys that we work with. Because of the complexity of life in a foreign land, their children are facing the identity and documentation, xenophobia challenges. Documentation challenges would mean being unable to access some privileges otherwise enjoyed by their peers. No government grants would mean they go to low grade schools and colleges. They have so many questions but little or no answers. Many of these young boys are not well connected to their fathers. When they lose jobs or when they fall ill, some fathers go back home, leaving these innocent but confused and disillusioned souls wondering what happened to their fathers. Many would never see their fathers again. It leaves them paralyzed in their minds -- wondering, questioning, angry, confused, hating, and hurting. These souls will always manifest these feelings through anger and outbursts at work places -- always showing some rebellious tendencies. They are not happy and confident. They are mesmerized.

            Liza Lanovich in her article featured in the 23 January 2015 issue of the Immigration Policy Institute publication had this to say about the “left behind children” or the children who left their home countries alone:

"Left-behind children face numerous adverse effects of parental migration including problems related to school, such as deteriorating academic performance, declining attendance.  Health concerns may arise, including drug use and undermined or deteriorating health, as children with migrant parents may not solicit help when needed. Family stability and future development are also at stake...... Children left behind lack job opportunities and may develop psycho-emotional problems often associated with an inferiority complex. This can lead to youth unemployment and juvenile delinquency.... Left-behind children are also vulnerable to human trafficking and labor exploitation".

          Recently the South African government passed the law that makes it so difficult for a father or mother to migrate back with their children without the signed affidavits with an attached certified ID copy for the other spouse as a proof of mutual consent that the child is free to go. What if the child is in the care of a single parent, maybe after divorce or, after one parent died? Many have hit a snag on this challenge, forcing some parents to leave their children with relatives or friends. The biggest challenge therefore is to reconnect these innocent souls with their psychologically limping fathers who themselves find it so hard to reconfigure themselves with the modern life challenges. These fathers lost their pride, their whole self-being in the training camps, in the war fields, in the civil wars back home – meaning, therefore, that help is needed on both ends. A holistic approach is therefore needed to reconcile these innocent children with their grossly challenged parents, mainly, the migrant fathers. This calls for a serious and urgent intervention from the governments involved to try to work together and reconnect these "stray" innocent souls with  their migrant parents. Otherwise we risk a vicious cycle that would spin out very psychologically and emotionally wounded future parents who would otherwise find solace in substance abuse or find themselves and/or their morally and socially malnourished children in jails or in the mental hospitals. 

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