‘Honour’ mansions and the Diaspora syndrome

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LAST week I wrote about how some people from Zimbabwe based here (UK) are regretting investing or buying houses in Zimbabwe because the houses are either becoming costly to maintain or their prospects of going back to live in Zimbabwe have melted away.
Well, it’s not a dilemma facing Zimbabweans in the Diaspora alone, but it seems to be a problem or rather a challenge faced by many other immigrants who came to settle in the UK from Africa (Kenya, Sierra Leone and Zambia), Caribbean Islands or Asia.
This week at work I discussed the issue of owning houses in home countries with some colleagues from other parts of the world.
I got some very interesting views, but overall, the feeling is that many people are now regretting buying or owning houses abroad as they don’t see themselves going back to live wherever they originated from.
A woman from Kenya had the most interesting tale.
She said she went to Kenya last year to sell her two houses and she used the money to buy a house here in the UK.
“My sister, one of my houses had a swimming pool and it had six bedrooms,” she said.
“I had a mansion, I built it 10 years ago, after taking a loan from a bank here.
“I worked hard for five years just to pay back the loan, with interest.
“I was not sleeping in my house.
“I was working back-to-back, doing double shifts, but I realised that I was living in a tiny flat here in Leicester when my lodger was living in a mansion.
“Someone was living in a mansion imagine and the money he was paying me for rent was not even enough to pay my own rent here.
“So last year I said to myself, my children are still young, my youngest is 13, my older son is 16 and here we are, overcrowded in a tiny flat when someone was enjoying our mansion in Africa!
“So I went home, sold the house, and took a mortgage here.
“I now have a decent three-bed house here, not a mansion though, but it’s serving our needs.
“This thing of owning mansions in Africa and living in tiny flats here does not make any sense at all, my sister.”
She also told me that there are many Kenyans in her position who have also realised their lives are here in the UK and going back to Kenya to live is an illusion.
People with young children are the most affected as they feel they cannot leave UK now for Africa.
“Not when I have my young children,” a male colleague from Sierra Leone said.
“I have four children, all under the age of 12, so if I go to Sierra Leone now, I will not afford their education and medical bills.
“I built a house, but a small one, when I came here.
“Now I gave it to my brother because I do not see myself going back to live in Sierra Leone anytime soon.”
However, I got very interesting views from someone from Nigeria who said in his village, where he comes from, they are forced by parents and relatives in Nigeria to buy land and build houses to prove to the community that they have a son in the UK (Diaspora).
As a result, the first thing that they do when they come to Europe is to make sure they build a very big house to make their families proud. It seems the dilemma or challenge of owning mansions abroad (and living in poverty in the UK or Europe), does not only affect Africans.
Masimba Musodza, a Zimbabwean actor and writer based here in the UK told me they are called ‘honour’ mansions in Pakistan. Some Pakistanis build these houses as a symbol of honour and pride.
It does not matter whether they will go back to live there.
Some people came three-to-four decades ago and built those houses, but never went back to live in them.
“Someone actually went back (to Pakistan) and found that the big mansion that he had built for honour, someone was keeping goats inside,” Musodza said.
He said when he came here, almost 15 years ago, he also bought a stand in Chitungwiza with the hope of building a house, but realised that he may not be going back to Zimbabwe to live there.
After all, he gave the stand away.
“My mother keeps asking me to build a house in Zimbabwe, but I told her I would rather extend her own house so that when I visit her, I will have somewhere to stay,” said Musodza.
“I will not go back to Zimbabwe to live, no.
“I think people need to make a resolve.
“You cannot live in two countries.
“When William the Conqueror came to England from Normandy in the 11th Century, he ordered his men to sabotage the ships they had come on so they would not go back.
“It was either a win or die in battle, so I personally believe that when people make this huge decision to migrate, they should decide where they want to live.”
However, most Africans with older children feel they will want to go back to Africa one day.
So whatever they have acquired there is their pension.
But while for many Africans or immigrants the prospects of leaving Europe for good seem to be dwindling with age and other commitments, it seems owning properties abroad is still something that many will continue to do, regardless of whether they will go back or not.
One Nigerian woman I worked with showed me photographs of a very big house, like the one we see in Nigerian movies (Nollywood), and she told me she owns it.
But here in the UK she lives in a very overcrowded area, in squalid conditions; just one of many Zimbabweans, Ken-yans or Pakistanis who own these big mansions abroad.
Like the Kenyan woman said to me: It does not make sense to build a mansion for your lodger when you live in a tiny house with mildew in Europe.

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