Associational links with home among Zimbabweans in the UK: reflections on long-distance nationalisms

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Abstract

In this article, I provide an overview of the character of associations formed in Britain by Zimbabweans in the context of the mass exodus that gathered pace from the late 1990s. I discuss the politicization of the Zimbabwe diaspora, which infuses many aspects of associational life beyond specifically political organizations, and also emphasize the importance of Zimbabwean church fellowships. I offer an historical explanation for the strength of nationalism expressed in the diaspora and the absence of ‘translocal’ associations characteristic of other African diaspora groups, such as hometown associations, and explore reasons why burial societies, which have been centrally important for Zimbabwean migrants in other periods and contexts, are less prevalent in Britain. I build my argument on an historical discussion of continuities and changes in the associational forms characteristic of labour migrancy and urbanization within the southern African region. I emphasize the legacies of a strong segregationist settler state, the mobilizations and international solidarities of the protracted struggle for independence, the Christianization of elite African culture in Zimbabwe's cities, and the international politics of the recent multifaceted crisis. My discussion of the associational expression of ‘long distance nationalisms’ is based on interviews conducted in 2004–5, participation in diaspora meetings and events, and reading of diaspora media and websites. In the article I aim to highlight the specific social histories of association and the political context of diaspora formation, which are essential for understanding the nature of institutions connecting with home, and ideas about home itself.

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