The Diaspora Family- shifting centre of power
A family provides the smallest unit to practice and test democratic systems. Like a state, the family normally has a head, who for the Zimbabwean culture, has always been taken to be the father. The power to generate resources, distribute them and to punish behaviour which seems to violate accepted standard family values used to be bestowed in the father. For this article, I am guided by the Zimbabwean culture where a standard family used to be composed of a father, mother and children. I shall be examining how regional and international migration has destabilised this set up. Seismic cultural and behavioural shifts have left the father weak and strengthened the mothers and children`s positions in newly configured family set ups.
Political upheavals, uneven educational opportunities and equal access led to primary school graduates enrolling at secondary schools far away from home. A single secondary school in one corner of Zimbabwe created a mixed bag of values. The Budya from Mutoko, Karanga from Masvingo, the enlightened ghetto kid from Mbare, a Ndebele kid from Maphisa ,all under a headmaster from possibly Binga. On completing GSCEs , some would proceed to different Advance level schools ,again, scattered around the country whilst others failed to proceed and either took another route like apprenticeships , teaching training or in worse situations went back to their homes and found themselves trying their hand on small scale farming in the village or for town dwellers lining the street for some menial jobs in town. For those who enrolled for A levels ,another screening awaited them as they had to pass the barrier before qualifying for university entry. Those qualifying to enter university found themselves mixed with others from A level schools from around the country. This process of integration has continued to this day where almost 4 million are now resident in the diaspora.
Historically, married women would automatically inherit the husband`s surname and take habitation at the husband`s home. The lateral movement into the husband`s home , his space , entailed loss of power due to being assimilated into a space controlled by the husband. The wife`s surname would also change to the husband`s. What a better way to belong than changing one`s identity. Just like a Zimbabwean , who lives his mother country and takes a British Citizenship or a British who becomes a Zimbabwean by taking on Zimbabwean citizenship. That change entails accepting a different value system which ,in most cases, causes friction as one battles with compliance issues. This friction is what has troubled many Zimbabweans settling in different diaspora host countries. Women have become more powerful. Children have become more liberated or in for a lot of parents rebellious.
Intermarriages and changing value systems as people continued to migrate has produced a very differently configured family from what a rural bred young man or woman has had to live with. My present life and hence family values are a concoction of the good and bad I picked up on a journey of over 50 years from the Sango homestead in rural Chivu to a new Sango homestead in Birmingham ,United Kingdom. The power and family dynamics I witnessed along the way, the family challenges I hear and witness every day within the diaspora Zimbabwean community shows almost a total reversal to what I grew up with- a home where a father was the centre of power, a protector, provider , family police and ultimate judge. Realities of life have taught me to let power drift to my wife and children. Holding on to my usual Zimbabwe fatherly power for too long would have completely destroyed the family fabric. Many marriages have failed and many children have been lost to prisons and mental institutions and care settings as a result of failing to negotiate these family power struggles.
I believe that in order to stay in peace we must all accept the new life realities, especially for those of us in the diaspora. In many families, the wife was the first to land on these foreign shoes. She explored the terrain and became empowered so much that she became the main bread winner and expert in negotiating life in the host country. The children came later and had to be taken on a learning tour by the then more knowledgeable mother. That led to a shift of power and no matter how much a lot of us men try to regain the front row, it will always be a struggle and the consequences can be dire. Once power has slipped it is always difficult to regain it. This might explains why most women do not mind permanently staying in the host country to enjoy the new found power yet many men want to return to country of origin to regain lost glory.
In conclusion, I would beseech my fellow men to accept the new life realities in the diaspora. This might help in maintaining marriages and moreso keeping families together. The old order is gone and the new era of negotiated power within the family has dawned.