University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars > Spaces of Exile and Solidarity; Conviviality, Contention and Transnational Activism for Zimbabwe 1965-1980

Spaces of Exile and Solidarity; Conviviality, Contention and Transnational Activism for Zimbabwe 1965-1980

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This paper explores spaces of exile and transnational activism for majority rule in Zimbabwe following the Rhodesia Front’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. The focus is on grassroots cultural politics in Britain, examined through oral histories and archival sources. My aim is to bring together and take forward two currently disconnected areas of debate: 1) revisionist perspectives on the role of exile and international solidarity in Southern African liberation struggles, and; 2) transnational understandings of the process and impacts of decolonization on British society, through African mobilities and the politics of immigration, asylum and race. The paper critiques romanticized accounts of grassroots solidarity, by exploring not only the conviviality and convergent interests of transnational campaigning spaces, but also the contentiousness of liberal leftist internationalisms and the fractiousness of national liberation movements in exile. Most Zimbabwean exiles in Britain in this period understood themselves as privileged, took pride in educational distinction and anticipated future leadership roles on their return. They were neither heroes nor victims, and they were not interested in British citizenship. Their experiences and influence have been occluded both in the predominant militarised heroism of Zimbabwean nationalism and in histories of the African presence in Britain. The paper argues that the cadres of returning educated exiles helped shape Zimbabwean postcolonial cultures of public service, professionalism and strong valuation of educational success. At the same time, their forward-looking, revolutionary ethos contrasts with the nostalgia that infuses classic accounts of exile and provides a new transnational dimension to histories of African diasporas in Britain. The networks and alliances fostered through the circulations and internationalisms of this period have interesting legacies, including in the most recent phase of Zimbabwean emigration, exile and transnational activism in Britain.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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