The Migration Generation

When I left Zimbabwe in 2000 I left to explore the world. Zimbabwe was spiralling into chaos with the violent land grabs of white-owned farms, government opposition fighting and a sense of fear as the future we’d grown up thinking was going to be, suddenly didn’t exist anymore. And so began a mass exodus migration and the start of what I now think of as the migration generation. At the time we simply ‘left’, we didn’t think of it as emigration because we just assumed we’d return.

The UK Connection

I was 19 years old when I flew to the UK, never having flown anywhere alone before and with £750 in my pocket. I wasn’t the only one. Within a space of about five years, almost all my friends and family left Zimbabwe too, except for a few including my parents. Most of us went to the UK. With Zimbabwe being a former British colony a lot of us had rights to ancestral visas which gave us a permit to live and work in the UK for four years, which could then be converted into full British citizenship. If you didn’t have access to an Ancestral Visa, you got the young persons “Two Year Work Permit” which gave you the chance to live and work in the UK for up to two years before having to leave.

It wasn’t just Zimbabweans either. There were South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders all flocking to the UK too. All via a similar work permit route.

The Making Of Us

We were all of that age. The age where we live, work, travel, play hard, meet like-minded people from all over the world, fall in love and get married.

Some of us stayed, got married, had kids, settled down and never left the UK. A large number did their time in the UK, then immigrated to other places like Australia, New Zealand and Canada, for example. And some of us returned to our roots, to the countries where we were born.

Our Story

My story is not that different from many of my friends, or indeed many other people. I met my husband, Brad, in a South African themed pub in London. Not uncommon.

We got married four years later and then decided to move back to Zimbabwe. He’d been in the UK for 11 years, and I had been there for nearly 10. It was 2010 and the UK was in recession. Life wasn’t all sunshine and roses anymore and we longed for the warmth of Africa and our families.

braai in the snow
Snow Braai

Building Our New Life

We really did try to make it work in Zim. We even built a house hoping it would be our forever home where we could raise our slightly wild kids. Our dream was for them to grow up running barefoot down the dusty dirt roads, playing in the sun. We’d braai with friends and family on the weekends, our two little girls would grow up in the same small (although significantly smaller) community that I had. They’d be close to their loving grandparents, and we’d have a support network of family and friends. It was meant to be forever, a perfect life situation as we saw it. Only it wasn’t perfect.

Reality Bites

Zimbabwe was once again struggling economically. I was pregnant with our second daughter and I couldn’t take the instability of life in Zimbabwe. I’m ashamed to say that I pushed Brad to look for work opportunities in neighbouring South Africa, his home country. I needed some financial stability. As a civil engineer, he was effectively ‘in-demand’ career-wise. Fortunately for us, his qualifications have provided us with job security for most of our life together.

My family didn’t like it. They were very upset that we were taking their precious grandchildren away from them; to South Africa, a country that Zimbabweans have always viewed as dangerous … because it is. A controversial statement maybe, but there’s no denying that the violent crime levels in South Africa are far worse than they are in Zimbabwe. Poverty in Zimbabwe is rife, but the level of violence is nowhere near the levels in South Africa. At least we weren’t moving back to the UK though, that’s what we told ourselves.

Immigrating to South Africa

My baby daughter was five weeks old when I got on a plane with my two little girls and we left Zimbabwe, again. We had every intention of just biding our time in South Africa. We hadn’t even finished building our house. Over the next 18 months, any spare money we had went into finishing the house with the intention of returning there to fulfil our dream of living in it. Obviously.

In those 18 months, Brad was then transferred to run a construction operation in Nigeria. We lived the Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) life for a long time. It was awful. I spent a lot of that time travelling back and forth to Zim with the girls. I was struggling to parent the girls alone, in a foreign country where I struggled with the Afrikaans language, I didn’t have many friends, and I probably had a touch of PND.

Starting again …

Eventually, we settled. Brad got a different job in South Africa and after moving around like nomads for five years we were finally settled in, like a ‘normal’ family. Brad would sleep at home every night, we had a school run, and we went back to Zimbabwe just for holidays. We never gave up on our dream though, but we were biding our time whilst work was good for us.

And then it wasn’t.

Here We Go Again

South Africa is a wonderful country, but there were more and more incidents, security risks, employment blockages. Nevermind the huge financial costs that we were forced to pay just for basic things like medical aid and private school fees. Eventually, all these things came to a head for us. We considered our options of moving again, either back to Zimbabwe, on to Australia or New Zealand.

Eventually, I called it. With my bonus daughter in the UK needing us more than ever, Zimbabwe economically no better than when we left; add to that the push factors I mentioned above. And so we decided to stop messing around with considering Australia and New Zealand and realised that it was time for us to move back to the UK. Something we never ever thought we’d say, let alone do.

Until we did.

Are We Done Yet?

Once we’d made the decision it was actually easy to accept. We have been settled back in Yorkshire for nearly 18 months now.

The girls are getting older now. We have moved so much in their little lives, starting again, new homes, new towns, new schools and new friends. I’m tired. They are tired. As I’m sure you can tell from reading the above, we are not afraid to start again. If they handed out degrees in migration, we’d have a PHD!

We epitomise what I have called the migration generation. A generation who moves around trying to find their place in the world, a world that is so different to the one they grew up expecting, yet not scare to keep trying new things and to keep searching for the place that most feels like home.

We Are Part Of The Migration Generation

This is just our story, and one that I’m sure is not over yet. When I first moved to London at 19, I lived in a house share with my sisters and friends from ‘back home’ in Zim. Of the group of 8 of us who lived in the house on and off over four years, two of us are still in the UK, three are back in Zim, and three are in Australia.

I’ve got cousins in Australia and New Zealand who’s children I’ve never met, and they’ve not met mine. This is the last photo we have of the 10 of us cousins on my mother’s side – it’s more than 22 years old! Our dear gran in the middle of this motley crew now had dementia and doesn’t know who any of us are.

One things for sure, the migration generation has transformed family life as we knew it. The world might be smaller thanks to more affordable long-distance travel options, but it’s not the same as riding your bike down the street to have a sleepover at your granny’s house with your cousins! It’s not the same as your kids growing up in the same village as their cousins, and it’s not the same as having a family support structure as part of your everyday life.

History Repeating Itself, sort of.

South Africa is now facing a mass migration where highly skilled people are leaving with their families in droves. I read a report recently about how there are approximately 25,000 people leaving South Africa a year, and how most of those highly skilled or wealthy people. Most of those who are leaving South Africa are moving to either the UK, Australia or New Zealand. It’s like history repeating itself. Everyone in SA knows someone directly who is going to leave, or has left. This report really p*ssed me off, to be honest. The focus was not on WHY people are leaving, but that they are taking their high earning tax Rands with them, leaving the South African economy worse off.

Controversial Personal Thought: Maybe they should focus on fixing the reasons people leave, rather than crying about their loss in tax revenue!

Zimbabwe is ahead of South Africa when it comes to this migration generation. Those who remain in Zim either can’t leave because of visa restrictions, or they don’t want to. And that’s fine. Those who wanted to go back did, and those who wanted to leave, have. Let’s not forget those who refuse to ever leave (my dad!). Regardless, it’s almost come to an end. Whereas South Africa is experiencing an unprecedented exodus only previously seen back in 2000. Families leaving in droves, all with similar reasons, whether those who remain like to hear them or not.

The Effect Of Social Media On Migration

Sadly, there seems to be a negative shift in society’s perception when it comes to the migration issue in South Africa and of South Africans. When the mass exodus happened in Zimbabwe nearly 20 years ago now, social media wasn’t a thing! Those back in Zim didn’t track everyone’s departure. They didn’t stalk them on Facebook or even know what they were all getting up to (thank goodness – no need for mom to have seen all the drunken walkabout benders we were on.) It just wasn’t a thing.

But now, everyone is on social media. Everyone! And so when another family leaves South Africa, followed by another, and another, those in South Africa (or Zimbabwe) follow their journey on social media. And those who have left Africa still follow their friends and family back in Africa. That has caused a new problem that is only affecting this generation.

Why is that even an issue?

Well, it is. For the simple reason that when you move on in your life and start a new life, everything is new and foreign to you.

Of course, I’m going to talk about how I walked with my girls to school. We all know schooling is free in the UK and most first world countries, how there is less violent crime, and yes, how the weather in the UK sucks in comparison to South Africa (let’s be honest).

But, why should my discovery of a different way of life make someone back in South Africa angry? But it does.

Why do people back in South Africa see someone who has moved to New Zealand talking about how the well-maintained children’s play areas are free, as an attack on their way of life back in South Africa? But they do.

When I see something in the news about another white farmer murdered in South Africa, I am appalled and share it on social media. Me sharing that story is done in an effort to raise awareness of the issue. So why does me sharing that article anger someone in South Africa? But it does. I ran a poll on my InstStories – you can check it out on my highlights reel “Expats Life“.

When you say words like “We’re immigrating to New Zealand”, “They are immigrating to Australia”, “He is moving to the UK”, it is more often than not met with serious hostility, judgement, condemnation and even anger from those who don’t want to leave South Africa. Why? Everyone is entitled to make their own decisions about the way they want to live. Why is it such an angry conversation?

Cause and Affect

What has happened now is that most of the migration generation who left the land of their birth, and with it their friends and family and all they knew; those people have stopped talking about their new life because they don’t want to upset someone back in Africa. People who choose to remain, to stay in Africa, can be very defensive in the face of the migration generation. Very. I’m not really sure why, and I’d love to find out the answer to that question.

Interestingly, I don’t see Australians who choose to leave and live in the UK condemned by other Australians, is this a purely African thing?

Let’s Start A Conversation!

I have decided to embrace our Migration Generation. I want to start a conversation going between those of us who left, and those who stayed. This phenomenon of Africans, those born in Africa no matter their race or culture, leaving Africa and moving to the far corners of the world of their own choice, as a unique migration situation. I want to create a platform where everyone can talk about this, share our own version of it, and try to understand the points of view of people on both sides of this divide.

The Migration Generation Podcast

I will be launching a podcast in the next few weeks. The podcast will be a conversation between me and people who have left, those who have gone back, those who refuse to leave, and those who were left behind. There are so many stories that are all unique, but equally, share so many similarities.

In the Migration Generation podcast, I will be asking the difficult questions, and I will be giving everyone a chance to share their thoughts and opinions on this topic. I want to hear all about someone’s life in Canada dealing with the snow, how the kids are adjusting to speaking German, and how the dentist in New Zealand are free.

I also want to hear about how annoying it is for those back in Africa when people who have left only seem to share bad news stories Is that true, or are they just defensive? Is it social media sensationalising stories, or is it accurate?

Please Get Involved

If you’d like to be involved in this podcast please do reach out and make contact. I am very excited about this project and can’t wait to get you all talking about how the Migration Generation has affected your life, if at all.

The Podcast will run along side blog posts where those who don’t feel comfortable sharing their story in a podcast can still be involved by contributing their migration journey as a blog post.

I need your help to get guests who want to weigh in on this debate. Pause for thought though, is it a debate? I’m hoping it is more of a conversation and one that will effectively promote greater understanding and acceptance of everyone’s life choices.

Please like this post, share it with your friends and family, or let me know in the comments if you have any specific questions you want me to ask those who agree to participate in the podcast. Or you can email me at momof2littlegirls@gmail.com.

Until then, have a lekker day, wherever you are.

The Migration Generation stories of Africans living around the world
The Migration Generation – Expat Africans living around the world.

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  1. Fantastic post, and touching a real nerve for me. We made the decision a few weeks ago to move from Cape Town to UK. Will definitely follow your podcast and posts with keen interest!
    (I have been enjoying your snippets of life on Instagram already, been interesting to see them as we’ve been talking the past 6 months or so)

  2. Very sad that most of us have family scattered around the globe. I get slightly irritated when people here in UK say their family is ‘miles’ (we haven’t totally metricated) away – a 2 hour drive. Tough times have created tough people. I agree about it being an ‘African’ thing, we were ostracized by friends when we said we were leaving in 2001. Amazing how many of them have since left.