Citizens of the world – this disconnected generation

Tapuwa is 16 years old. His family relocated to South Africa when he was a toddler. He has done all his schooling in South Africa, returning to Zimbabwe once every year or two for just a few days.

A South African soldier checks the passports of Zimbabwean citizens who walk across the Beit Bridge.
A South African soldier checks the passports of Zimbabwean citizens who walk across the Beit Bridge.

His mother, Sarah, says she is a bit heartbroken when she sees how disconnected Tapuwa is. She is concerned that her son cannot relate to people at a deep level whether in Zimbabwe or in South Africa.

Since the beginning of the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, families have experienced profound disruption, leading to confusion and lack of identity by the children born in this generation. It’s a generation that calls itself Zimbabwean yet knows so little about the country and cannot connect with its values.

Belonging

Growing up and being schooled in foreign countries has not done much to give them a sense of belonging. Many can still not speak the native languages of their host countries, choosing to speak English. They cannot also speak their own home language fluently, making it difficult for them to identify meaningfully with their compatriots.

“My son is not fully accepted here in South Africa. He has friends yes, but he does not share a similar history with them and so it is not the kind of friendship we had growing up. But that being said, when we go to Zimbabwe, he is even more disconnected.

“You can see belongs to neither world. He is just there, floating around. He has no meaningful conversations with anyone over and above pleasantries. I have friends with children the same age as my son and we worry about the same things,” says Sarah from Johannesburg.

Critical

The history and culture of a person helps in constructing one’s identity, and enables us to make our way through the world.

Studies have shown that having a sense of identity is critical for an individual’s self-worth and self-respect. One scholar who has written on identity has pointed out that a distinct identity and crafting a sense of purpose are key elements in the healthy development of young people. Achieving a sense of identity, she says, fosters continued healthy development and psychological ease.

Today’s youth are constructing their own identities that are not based on where they come from but on other factors. Identity is a critical influencer in all human societies, giving cultural and moral pointers individuals, families and societies as a whole.

Tapuwa no doubt, will find his way around the world. He will construct his own identity eventually. But sadly he belongs to the generation of millions of Zimbabweans who never really belong anywhere. They become citizens of the world, and maybe that in a way is their very own identity.

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