[Special Interview #2] Haz Nyasha - We all deserve a second chance
Today I am joined by Haz, author of Suppressed Memories , who left Zimbabwe to live in South Africa 7 years ago due to the economic crisis and political corruption in her country. Her story is a tale of sadness but also of hope where she and her family are able to find a new life in South Africa.
By Alex N.
September 28, 2020
Interviewer: Lets start from the beginning, what was life like as a kid?
Haz: I grew up in Chitungwiza near Harare. I still remember that 1-bedroom house with a big yard that had a lot of trees I remember the ones that were not chopped down. A couple of banana trees, two mango trees, one guava tree, and a huge avocado tree. Every two houses where I lived were close together with a wall to separate the houses that made it easier for nosy neighbors to eavesdrop. Everyone knew everyone in the street I lived and whenever there was a party all of us would be there. Those were great times, things were simple and I had lots of great memories: us kids would run together and play games that left me exhausted but I never stopped and looked forward to hanging out with my friends.
Back then Zimbabwe was much nicer, during the school holiday we would visit my grandparents who lived in the rural areas. As we drove away from the city there were lots of farms with huge plots, they would go for a couple of miles and were well maintained. It was a beautiful sight to see and I loved to travel because I got to see many farm animals. The shop back then was always stocked and it was easy to buy bread and milk. We used to be known as the breadbasket of Africa.
Interviewer: What was primary school like for you?
Haz: The best part of my life so far was my primary school years! School was great I remember winning an award in first grade it was a happy moment and I made my parents proud. I made many friends and memories and I'm happy to be following two of my primary classmates on Instagram though we just click likes for each other's photos. It was like a breeze in primary because I used to get excited to go there because of the many activities.
Interviewer: And what was secondary school like? Was that when the economic crisis started?
Haz: This was the awful period in my life mostly because my father had left, and I had found it difficult to deal with. This was the time I put myself in a shell and started to become more introverted. The economy went from great to sour in an instant and things began getting tougher from long queues just to buy bread and milk to the Zimbabwe dollar losing its value which was the worst period because the exchange rate became crazy due to hyperinflation. Luckily during that period, we always had a proper meal and we never starved, my mother is the strongest person I know and made sure our school fees were paid.
In between those years I had to deal with secondary and high school which was scary because everything was confusing. I was never bullied though and I did have friends who looked out for me. Growing up as a teenage girl is difficult and for me in a country with a terrible economic crisis made it 10 times worse.
Interviewer: What caused the economic crisis to begin with?
Haz: The details I have are from the news and from my own memory. There was an uproar because after independence, the war veterans wanted the land back from the white farmers so they booted them out. It was not a matter of choice the people who fought in the war voiced that the reason they fought was to get the land and that's how it all started. The Mugabe vs Tsvangirai then started as some saw Zanu PF (Mugabe) for the black people and MDC (Tsvangirai) for the white people. I remember when MDC was appearing on the news with Tsvangirai and a white person and people would talk and accuse him of being a traitor to the people.
I'm not interested in politics but that time during the 2008 election, it was scary as there was a rumor of MDC winning and a rerun. My mom who worked at the hospital said there were people who were coming in either beaten, burned or whipped. It was ugly, and people had to be indoor early as ZANU PF supporters would roam the streets and beat people up suspected of supporting MDC.
Around 2008/09, I started high school but then the public schoolteachers were protesting for being unpaid. Therefore, half way through, I had to transfer to a private high school to finish my education instead. In the end, I actually failed high school: I think the transfer plus the divorce of my parents and our chaotic society all took its toll on me. Though I had not left, others had already been leaving for South Africa.
So next I took a gap year and found a job but then was let go due to the economic crisis. After this I returned to school again but unfortunately I failed again (this happened in 2012).
Interviewer: Was there any good news for you at all during this period of your life??
Haz: Well, my mom was able to buy a house for ourselves during this time. The place I grew up in was rented and my mom always wanted to get a house of her own. While we were renting she was saving up for a house in her name. The first time she had enough money was when she was scammed because the person used to sell a place that was already owned by other people with fake documents I think. It was some sort of inside job and most people were doing it for a while. So with the money gone, she had to save again until she bought a land a little wiser which ended up being legit. After she began the process to get it built so we can move. We still own the house back in Zimbabwe but after that we decided to leave for South Africa (SA).
Interviewer: What was the hardest thing about leaving Zimbabwe permanently?
Haz: Honestly, I was happy to leave because I was fed up with everything. I had failed high school twice which came as a shock to everyone. I was sad to leave my mom behind (she was still working) and my siblings but the excitement to leave overweighed the sadness. It was presented to me when I needed a change the most.
Interviewer: What was the journey like? Was someone waiting for you in SA?
Haz: It was the longest journey ever because we went by bus it took about 3 days to get here. It was fun for a day but then I kept asking how long we had to go because I'm not patient and my aunt and cousin kept telling me to chill until we were close. Luckily, I did not go alone and had them to keep me company but something I will not do again. My uncle and my aunt's son were already living in SA. I came with my aunt and her daughter.
Interviewer: What about your mom and your brothers?
Haz: My mom still had work then but as thing continued to get worse the hospital where she worked had to let half of the staff go. She went to SA later on. My brothers are still in Zimbabwe.
Interviewer: So what was life like when you first arrived?
Haz: It was exciting because this was the furthest I had been from home. I arrived in the coastal city and was greeted with the wind that rattles and whistles. I arrived at our new home and the first thing I saw was the huge mall near it. I was in awe of everything from the moment I got here but the wind was too much for me that I clung to my jacket as we waited for someone to pick us up. I couldn’t wait to go sight-seeing and I managed to have a chance to explore from the mall to the beach and the town. I was eager to go around quickly so I can be familiar with the place.
Interviewer: I guess SA feels safer and there was a lot more opportunity for you to find work?
Haz: Safer yes and no I got robbed the first month I arrived. As for finding work it was surreal how it happened.
Everything happened all to quickly in a month because I was in Zimbabwe one moment and the next I was in a bus to a foreign country and within a month I had a job. I came here with a goal of making sure I get back to school, help my mother back home and do whatever job I can. I first got a job to be a live in maid and I was supposed to start on the first of November but then her boss had an opening and by coincidence I was helping her in the kitchen and during greetings there was a mention of me looking for a job. He then asked to speak to my aunt and the next thing he was calling me to his living room and the chat had turned out to be an interview and I got a job in sales. I remember him saying come on Monday and see if you like it. I was glad I had taken computer lessons back in Zimbabwe.
Back then we could sort out work visas and papers here in SA. It wasn't hard for me because my aunt was proactive to get it processed and since I got the job quickly it helped with the process as it played a major role in the reason for my staying.
Things have changed now and requires application to be done whilst in Zimbabwe. I can imagine that process being slower and more bureaucratic.
Interviewer: Wow, so within less of a month of staying in SA you found a new job?
Haz: It was what I needed for a great start. I adjusted pretty quickly and I can say I learnt a lot. Seriously the boss who gave me the job was the best and always understanding. Its been 6-7 years now, and I'm still with the same company but it's run by head office and under new management.
Interviewer: Obviously being different in another country can sometimes make you feel unwelcome, but there are also times when you are welcomed i.e the job you got so quickly. Can you think of examples for both?
Haz: At my workplace, I’ve worked together with them for years and I see them as family and the work environment from the beginning has always been great. There were a few bumps but we worked well.
The unwelcoming part is mainly from a racial point of view. Here I am a black girl walking down the street and up ahead is a white person who will clutch her bag as if I'm a thief or go across the street. It's frustrating when I try and speak my mind but get sidelined because of my skin or someone assuming that I'm uneducated because I'm Zimbabwean I came from a cave. There are people who get surprised by the mere fact than I own a Netflix and have wifi it's like I have told them the most bizarre thing. These are one of the few moments I have been unwelcome.
Interviewer: In South Africa, there are sometimes xenophobic attacks, have you or your family been victims of such attacks?
Haz: The xenophobic attacks rarely reach here as it’s a small city on the coast and we have never been victims. I'm not saying there are no attacks but the people here are very calm in some areas. Pretoria and Johannesburg are the places that can be hectic. It was heart breaking when the xenophobic attack happened a few years back and I can remember watching TV of people being burned alive during the demonstrations. I will never forget it and my heart will never heal from that.
Interviewer: I can imagine that you feel everyone deserves a 2nd chance at a better life?
Haz: This question always causes conflict because people take sides. But this answer is from my own experience: Yes, I believe I do deserve a 2nd chance because leaving my country and home was not so I would come and terrorize or take jobs as people say I came for the greener pastures and a better life. I work hard and I'm in search for a life that I saw was better than the one back home. I chose to pave my path and in a pursuit to at least have something tangible than having nothing. Secondly, everyone has a reason for leaving their countries and no one chose on a whim, there are people struggling and striving for survival. They would rather risk leaving and face a foreign land than stay and die in their country.
I do believe people deserve a chance it's unfortunate if some people come with bad intentions but most have no choice.
In another country some want to build a wall but that’s too harsh. It's a message to say that you don't need people but the truth is we DO. All countries in the world play a role that's why when one country doesn't have all the resources, they trade to get from other countries. It would be unfortunate to build a wall now and next find out you need someone from the person you have cast aside in the future.
Interviewer: What has been your greatest achievement and joy since living in SA?
Haz: My greatest joy has been finding the potential I have. I wouldn't have known that one of my strong point is creativity if I was back home. Things are limited there and everything I know and do now would all have been wasted. My greatest achievement is school, right now a pastor at the local church is paying for my studies and recently I have found my own place and am living independently. Web development has been what I wanted from the beginning but as I'm proceeding I feel like I want to do more and I'm not going to limit myself either.
Interviewer: What do you miss the most about Zimbabwe?
Haz: I miss corn the most because before we harvest our own in season and here I have to buy. I’m a picky eater but I love eating corn. I guess I miss the good old days when I was a kid and during the school holidays where we would round up the gang and plan how to spend our holiday. Some of them have gone to other countries now. I miss my life as a kid.
Interviewer: Will you ever go back to Zimbabwe again?
Haz: If it could return to before then I would go without a 2nd thought. But for now I only hope. For now, it is even worse than when I left. People thought the coup to get Mugabe out was going to change things but now it's hopeless. A new currency has been introduced now but from what I hear its not very useful. Corruption has destroyed the country and the rich people are getting richer while the rest of the country suffers. It would take a person who has the heart of the people to get Zimbabwe back to being the bread basket. I would give it 15 years who knows.
Interviewer: Thank you for the interview today, your story shows that behind every refugee is a tale of second chance and hope at the end of the tunnel.
Haz: I would like to say thank you to my family, relatives and especially my mother, they are the real heroes in this story.