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Home is where the music is: Like millions of Africans who leave their traditional homes in the countryside to migrate to the cities, our columnist finds herself caught in the dilemma of trying to plant a new home without roots.

For many Johannesburg denizens--including those who migrate to the City of Gold from small towns--leaving home is a signifier of success and coming of age. It symbolises some kind of transition from the known to the unknown, into a place where you're forced to forge meaning in the frantic bustle of Jozi Maboneng, the City of Lights. This city; it illuminates not only our career aspirations and propensity towards greatness but also the fluidity of the meaning of home.

The common understanding of home is that it's "where the heart is"; when considered purely in linguistic terms, home is a place where you don't have to question who you are; it is where you are known and understood; it is the centre of belonging and the locus of steady identity.

But, what happens when you are forced to leave home in pursuit of material gain, to make a better life for yourself or support your relatives because you're the first and only graduate in your family? Or you have to leave home for your own sanity and to escape the clutches of dysfunction?

What happens when you realise that, in fact, home is not where the heart is; it is where its shards are, so your feet bleed as you navigate your way from one memory to the next; passing bygone days of abuse and neglect, making a pit stop to rest in the emptiness of unholy arms that are too weak to rock you back and forth.

And at the thought of home, you hear deafening screams of unanswered prayers and broken promises; as we approach the festive season, many find themselves having to prepare themselves to return to homes that haven't been home for a very long time.

After many conversations with Jo'burg friends of varying backgrounds, I noticed how at the end of every year, when it's time to unite with our families, most of us have to deal with the reality of being visitors in places that we once called home. And it's a complex process because, for many, Jo'burg is so far from being home.

We spend so much of our time here chasing gold, but there comes a point where one realises that the corporate ladder does not have enough rungs to fill the void or soothe the wounds of the battle to make ends meet. The striving for recognition and wading through the waters of White privilege, systemic racism and structural violence add to the sense of "unhome" that a life in Jo'burg begets.

The home in the 'unbelonging'

World-renowned South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela's 1972 album, Home Is Where the Music Is, changed my perspective on the concept of home, completely. After years of battling with this idea of home and feeling like I don't have one, the title of that album helped me reimagine home.

As a fervent melomaniac--a person with great enthusiasm for music--who exemplifies music's power to impact one's neurological structure, I have found in music what many will associate with home: stability, tranquillity and liberty. Music affords the sense of belonging I never thought I would ever have.

I have come to realise that home isn't something that is static and categorical; this might sound trite but the truth is that home is whatever you want and need it to be and this approach is critical for those of us who've had to cut ties with our first homes in pursuit of greener pastures.

And while we leave for new opportunities, we cannot afford to leave behind us this notion of stability that home represents because the respite is much needed, especially in a city like Jo'burg where rest and recuperation are viewed as luxuries that only belong to the dead.

The feeling of stability and belonging requires intentionality and commitment to the self. Making the decision to commit to self in a city that is the epicentre of capitalism, is an act of rebellion, but a worthy endeavour nonetheless.

Redefining home

If home is about restoration, we need to be determined to create homes in this desolate city so that we can effectively contribute to the wellbeing of society. It's so easy to forget that we are actually human, especially in a system that manipulates us into believing that there is no room for our personhood on the path to success.

My hope is that young people in Jo'burg, who find themselves having to redefine the meaning of home for their own survival and psychological wellbeing, would approach the exercise with the same vehemence they use to contribute to economic and social change.

I hope that in our mission to shatter glass ceilings and make room for ourselves in spaces that were designed to prevent us from living purpose--driven lives, we would step off the cracked ledge and come home to ourselves, to compassion and to the music.

Wherever it is, my hope is that we'd come home because without belonging, there is no being.
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Title Annotation:JO'BURG DIARY
Author:Motswatswa, Kelebogile
Publication:New African
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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