Africa is the “continent of hope.” We see this hope in the eyes of the many young men and women who arrive in Europe. A hope that can be a great contribution to an aging Europe when it finds a way of being accepted, put to use, and adequately accompanied by the welcoming community. But news of African migrants losing their lives on the way to Europe has become commonplace nowadays. The Italian island of Lampedusa conjures up ghastly images of thousands of lifeless black bodies swept ashore by the unforgiving waves of the sea. While one would expect such deaths to act as deterrents for aspiring migrants, thousands upon thousands of Africans continue to embark on the risky sea journey to Europe. Meanwhile, within Africa, despite 80 percent of its migrants seeking refuge there, migrants from other parts of the continent are not always accorded the hospitality that is often claimed to be one of the hallmarks of the Ubuntu (meaning “humanity” and “reciprocal benevolence”) ethos. This was seen recently when a new wave of xenophobic attacks broke out in South Africa.
Migrants: searching for a home?
The history of humanity is replete with examples of the migration of peoples. In fact, life on the move characterized human societies before the advent of civilizations. People moved from one area to another in search of food, water and security. Even after the introduction of agriculture, communities continued to move in the quest for fertile land and peace. In other words, on the one hand, migrations have always been triggered by the absence of some basic need, and on the other, the prospects of a better life elsewhere. But one can ask: Is migration a departure from home or a search for home? To answer this question, it is important first to unpack the concept of home which easily lends itself to glib and superficial use.
What is a home?
There is a close connection between physical space and the notion of home. Home is the space that houses memories. The house, especially the house in which one was born, is said to offer the primal experience of a home. Human life starts with well-being afforded by human warmth given and received in a home. In the warmth of a home, being is well-being. “Life begins well” because “it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house.” When one is thrown out of the house of one’s birth into the cruel, outside world, one longs for and dreams about the warmth one once enjoyed in the house of one’s birth. An essential feature of home is a sense of protection. Home is the cradle that shields us from all forms of danger. Loss of the warmth and protection of the primordial home can lead to personal dysfunction.