The search for greener pastures has often fueled men and women alike to venture to new territories. Although in this case it happens to be to a neighboring country and the journey is from humble rural upbringings to the bustling City of Gold. It is the story of the woman who gave me life. My mother, Doris Radebe. She has lived in three countries throughout her life, and I had the privilege of talking to her about her travels. This is a recollection of her journey to South Africa.
When and where were you born?
I was born on the 8th of March 1974, in the missionary town of St Joseph in the Matoboland region. This is in the landlocked country of Zimbabwe, and I am of Ndebele origins.
What was it like growing up in St Joseph, Zimbabwe?
Living in Zimbabwe was the best. Wee relied on the earth for food and our livestock gave us milk, meat, and eggs. Life was easy and I was most fortunate to have both my parents to run to when I faced any problems. I attended school at the St Joseph mission school and my life was simple but labour intensive. Growing up in a place like Matoboland, a place that thrives on agriculture, I, as a girl, was expected to fetch water, firewood and help in the Millie farm. I genuinely enjoyed my life, but I always wondered what lay ahead.
When did you decide to depart from home and where did you first go?
It came as a hard decision to leave home and travel. But I wanted to be successful in my own right. So, I completed my O level exams and prepared for my departure as I waited for my results. It was the end of 1994 when I left home and everything I knew. I left the rural life and all my friends behind.; the life I had grown accustomed to and the watermelons in the farm that were yet to mature. My siblings would now have them all to themselves. I was too excited to care. But as the day crept closer, I started feeling terrified of the unknown. I had to decide whether to go South Africa or Botswana, I chose the latter.
When did you arrive in Botswana and how did you react to the new environment?
I arrived in Botswana after a day and a half on the road. I was surprised by how busy it was. The brick houses seemed to fill the entire landscape and there was an abundance of shops and hawking stalls. These were things I only saw when I visited the town, back in Zimbabwe. People also spoke a mix of dialects.
How was life in Botswana?
I stayed in the capital of Gaborone, but I struggled to find a job. I was also sharing a backroom with my sister, and we relied solely on her wages. But by the grace of God, I found a job as a cashier and for the first time I was able to send money home and help out my sister. I was grateful for what I had but I still held on to my big dreams. I continued staying in Botswana doing odd jobs to get by and support my family in Zimbabwe. Life in Botswana was not easy at all and one day I decided to go to the next country. I had saved up enough. And then three years after moving to Botswana, I decided to go stay in South Africa.
When did you move to South Africa and how was it different from Zimbabwe and Botswana?
I moved to South Africa in 1998. I was 23 turning 24. It was yet another struggle to adjust to life in another new country. The currency was different too and I also had to come to grasps with how fast life is here. I stayed in the township of Orlando in Soweto with my eldest sister. It felt like I was starting over again, and I had to look for a job. Life in Botswana was hectic, but it was nothing compared to South Africa.
I was constantly looking for work to no avail until I went searching in a place called Brackenhurst in the east of Johannesburg. I was very fortunate to find a job at the shopping mall and I was able to sustain myself and my family in Zim. I worked very hard from then on and I was able to stand on my own two feet when I started renting an apartment in Johannesburg.
How has South Africa been treating you?
South Africa has its ups and downs, but I’ve learnt to roll with the punches. I currently stay in the Katlehong Township with my family. My family is my all and a blessing that I don’t take for granted. Life in SA has thrown me from pillar to post, and they were moments that I contemplated going back home. Like when I struggled to earn an income and had to rely on my sister. I felt like a burden, and this weighed heavily on my heart. But this is where my life is now, and I aim to continue making the most of my time in this country.
What advice would you give to the younger version of yourself?
Now that I’m older and wiser, I would’ve urged her to attain her qualifications first. This would’ve made life easier for me. Life was hard for me and even to this day I still fall short in some aspects. My life is also not one without regrets but as I look back, I find myself feeling grateful for making it this far. And even though I may not be where I want to be yet, I am grateful for this life and my loving family. I have not given up on my dreams for success and as long I have breath in my lungs I will keep forging on.
This is the true story of the adventure of a life that my mother, Doris Radebe has lived. A story of one women’s search for success, a search that led her to explore new frontiers. She may have not have found her riches yet, but she sure is rich in experience. Like the late Bob Marley once said: ‘A person’s wealth lies not in their possessions but in the life they choose to live.’
And as long as the good Lord still retains her life on this planet, I know for sure that she will never give up.
Doris Radebe is the stalwart who gave me life.