Power and Counter-Power in Zimbabwe: Political Violence and Cultural Resistance

Researcher: Björn Lindgren
The project was established and ended in 2004

During the last few years, President Mugabe and his government have ruled Zimbabwe with increasing political violence. But the government’s politics has been counter-productive. A cultural resistance has developed, which is based on a trans-national civil society. This resistance is led by NGOs promoting human rights, of which many work with performing arts such as theatre, film, and dance. The aim of the project is to describe and map the political violence and the cultural resistance, and to investigate in which way Zimbabwean NGOs are related to international donors and to civil networks in Southern Africa. Specific attention is paid to the roles of male and female youth.

Project description
Since the parliamentary elections in 2000, the political violence in Zimbabwe has increased. The media coverage has focused on occupations and murders of ‘white’ farmers, but violence has above all been directed towards the opposition party MDC and its alleged supporters. In reaction, a ‘cultural resistance’ has developed, which is anchored not in MDC but in a trans-national civil society. The independent media and human rights organisations have been crucial in this resistance. In 2002, however, restrictive laws partly circumscribed these organisations’ work, and made other forms of communication important, such as theatre, music, dance, video, photography, and the Internet.

The Zimbabwean NGOs that are active in the cultural resistance today are to a high degree financed by international donors, such as the UN, the EU, and Sida. Many of these donors promote ‘development as freedom’, i.e. they apply a wide definition of ‘poverty reduction’ that is based on the promotion of human rights. Partly as a consequence of the Zimbabwean government’s repression and the international support, Zimbabwean NGOs rely heavily on networks outside the country. The resistance is based on trans-national connections that are largely attracting a new generation of young women and men, who neither favour government politics, nor are active in party politics.

The aim of the project is to describe the political violence in Zimbabwe today, to map and analyse the NGOs’ resistance, and to investigate how they are related to international donors and civil networks. To succeed in this pursuit, the project will include a theoretical reassessment of literature on cultural policy, imagined communities, and citizenship.

Cultural policy, in its widest sense, has always been an important means to influence and thereby govern people. Since the end of the 18th century, political elites in Europe have used culture to turn people into national citizens that belong to various nation-states. Researchers have written on these processes in terms of ‘imagined communities’. These communities have largely been built first on printed media, such as books and newspapers, and then on electronic media, such as radio and television. Today, however, imagined communities, to a larger extent than before, transcend national borders in time and space. They are, for instance, trans-national, post-national, and sub-national.

The situation in Zimbabwe is in many ways specific, but it is far from unique. While the Zanu-PF government, in the aftermath of colonisation, tries to foster ‘national citizenship’, the resistance in the country is based on what in other contexts has been called ‘cultural citizenship’, that is on a sense of belonging that is based on shared values, experiences, and feelings. There are today many nation-states in Africa whose leadership once fought for liberation, and which is now challenged by new generations of young women and men. In order to compare the Zimbabwean case with situations in West and East Africa, ‘national’ and ‘cultural’ citizenship may be used as comparative tools.

Selected publications by Björn Lindgren

'The Internal Dynamics of Ethnicity: clan names, origins, and "castes" in southern Zimbabwe.' In: Africa, 74(2). July 2004.

'Makt och motmakt i Zimbabwe: politiskt våld och kulturellt motstånd'. In: Häften för Kritiska Studier, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 56-65.

'The Green Bombers of Salisbury: Elections and Violence in Zimbabwe'. In: Anthropology Today 19 (2) pp. 6-10.

'Reflections on Governance and Resistance in Zimbabwe.' In: LBC-Newsletter, no. 4-5. December 2003.

'Power, Education, and Identity in Post-colonial Zimbabwe: Representations of the Fate of King Lobengula of Matabeleland'. In: African Sociological Review 6 (1) pp. 46-67.

'Zimbabwe and the Back-lash of Ethnicity'. In: LBC-Newsletter No. 3. September 2002, pp. 12-13.

'Men Rule, but Blood Speaks: Gender, Identity, and Kinship at the Installation of a Female Chief in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe'. In: Changing Men in Southern Africa. R. Morrell, (ed.). Pietermaritzburg, London: University of Natal Press, Zed Books, pp. 177-194.

'Representing the Past in the Present: Memory-texts and Ndebele Identity'. In: Encounter Images in the Meetings between Africa and Europe. M. Palmberg (ed.). Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute, pp. 121-134.

'Män regerar men blod talar: identitet, genus och släktskap vid installationen av en kvinnlig ndebelehövding i Zimbabwe'. In: Bedrägliga begrepp: kön och genus i humanistisk forskning. G. Andersson, ed. Opuscula Historica Upsaliensa No. 24. Uppsala: Department of History, pp. 139-154.

Björn Lindgren has carried out research on politics, ethnicity, and gender in Zimbabwe since the early 1990s. He received a BA in Journalism from Stockholm University in 1992, and an MPhil in Cultural Anthropology from Uppsala University in 1996. He has studied isiZulu at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and was awarded his PhD in Cultural Anthropology by Uppsala University in 2002.

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