The emotional geographies of the Zimbabwean diaspora in a post-Mugabe era

John Clayton and Bernard Manyena have just started a new research project inspired by political changes in Zimbabwe. You can read about it below.

The ‘emotional turn’ within human geography has brought renewed attention to the role of affective registers in constituting and transforming socio-spatial relations. How people feel about, react to and relate to past lives, current situations and future prospects matters – and has material consequences. For migrant communities, the (re)production of such emotions are particularly significant in relation to processes of marginalisation, the (re)construction of translocal subjectivities, constructions of home, strategies of adaptation and resilience, activism and protest and future plans. Others have pointed to the emotional dimensions of more seismic geo-political change as experienced, but also actively navigated, including 9/11, the war on terror and Brexit – radically altering the terrain on which emotions play out, but also providing moments through which they might be re-worked.

We use this grounding to focus on an era-defining political shift: the resignation of the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. In a fast moving week in November 2017, Zimbabwe witnessed a military led ‘coup’ with popular support, a resignation that wasn’t and then the stepping down of Mugabe.  In the immediate aftermath of events, the overwhelming impression conveyed by the (social) media was a powerful and overwhelming emotional response across social and political divides: initial excitement tinged with frustration and exhaustion, disbelief, celebration and then hope also measured with uncertainty. Such publically displayed emotions have political effects. Some initial observations indicate how such reactions, fed by decades of repression are actively re-working the contours of citizenship and belonging. Regardless of what comes next for Zimbabwe there is a sense that ‘the genie’ of this outpouring of relief and hope; a very physic(al) claiming of the streets, cannot be easily put back in the bottle. However, what perhaps is less clear is how are these changes are viewed ‘from a distance’ by those who could not pour onto the streets of Harare, but also how such emotions might evolve and continue to inform stances and practices of transnational lives.

Over 37 years under Mugabe Zimbabwe lost millions of citizens. Some were killed in war, others were ‘disappeared’ in clampdowns on political opposition and the seizure of land, many more moved to find work and escape oppression in regional African countries – but there has also been considerable migration to a plethora of other countries beyond the continent. Some scholars have suggested that the Zimbabwean diaspora may be viewed as ‘fractured’: constituted by those with different constraints on freedom of movement, settlement, and varied relationships with ‘host’ and homeland.

Through an exploratory survey with Zimbabweans living outside of the country in a number of locations we will generate themes and issues for further in depth qualitative research. This initial survey will address (a) how events of November 2017 were experienced and mediated (b) emotional reactions to events of those 8 days (c) perceived direct impacts of those events and (d) hopes and fears for the future. We will then conduct a series of in depth interviews with a range of willing participants in a variety of international locations to explore in more detail narratives of experience and change. The research looks to address the following three research questions.

  1. What is the role of emotional registers in the (re)formation of perspectives, prospects and plans for Zimbabweans living outside of Zimbabwe?
  2. How do these experiences play out in and for a diverse and ‘fractured diaspora’?
  3. What role do emotional geographies play in anticipating and planning future lives?



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