I left Zimbabwe when I was sixteen. Sixteen is a difficult age at the best of times and leaving behind everything that I knew was hard. I missed home and I missed my friends. I missed the Zambezi River.
And even though it was just next door, South Africans were very different to Zimbabweans. My new friends wore tight skinny stovepipes while I wore red velvet bellbottoms. They spent hours whirling and straightening their hair. They wore shoes.
South Africans didn’t ride bikes, run wild in the streets or kiss boys behind the school bicycle shed.
They were sophisticated.
They were different.
I went back to Zim for a holiday in my early twenties. I remember riding a bike around my old neighbourhood and cycling up the driveway of our old house. 17 Epping Road. It was a beautiful big home with a very long driveway. I thought it was so cool and fun until suddenly I burst out crying.
There were strangers living in that house. They’d put up a fence and a gate and painted the walls a terrible colour. The huge avocado tree in the middle of the driveway was gone. My childhood swing was gone.
I didn’t need to go inside.
It was sad and awful and a huge realisation.
Zimbabwe, my home, was no longer my home.
Over the years, I settled. And now I have lived in South Africa for much longer than I ever lived in Zimbabwe. I am South African.
I’m happy here, I feel at home, I am at home.
But Zimbabwe shaped me. It shaped me in every single way, in the way I speak, the way I think, it gave me my spirit and my fabulous nature, it gave me ‘being African’ and being free and it gave me astonishing friendships and extraordinary love that has lasted my entire life.
So this evening when I heard the news that Mugabe had finally resigned, I was elated. I leapt up and down while watching the television. Hundreds of thousands of people on the streets celebrating, singing and dancing. They were jubilant. They are jubilant. Mugabe has made their lives hell for 37 years.
They deserve this chance at freedom.
I suddenly felt lonely. I put on my old red velvet bellbottoms and headed to my local bar. It’s a Mozambican bar here in South Africa and always filled with Zimbabweans. I love it. It’s African. I drank with strangers. We watched the television, we clinked our drinks, we hugged and I may have kissed a stranger or two.
Zimbabweans are great kissers.
Later in the night a Zimbabwean walked me home. I didn’t know him but I knew I could trust him. Zimbabweans are like that. They’re kind, peaceful, brilliant people.
I climbed into bed, happy and tipsy but also a little bit sad.
And suddenly I couldn’t stop crying.
And I’m still crying.
I’m crying for the millions of people who were displaced.
I’m crying for the devastation of a country, for the brutal regime, for the murder and the torture and the loss and the senseless useless terrible waste.
And I’m crying for me.
And my childhood home.
Because even though I’m a lot older now, and South African, I will always be Zimbabwean too.
So here’s to red bellbottoms, curly hair, bare feet, kissing behind bike sheds and also to a new and decent government, freedom, peace and democracy.
Here’s to home.
Viva Zimbabwe, Viva.