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Locating exile: decolonization, anti-imperial spaces and Zimbabwean students in Britain, 1965-1980

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posted on 2023-06-09, 06:54 authored by JoAnn McGregorJoAnn McGregor
Exile is usually cast as a time of hardship, narrated through tropes of nostalgia and loss. Yet it is not always experienced and remembered in this way. This article provides a counterpoint to the familiar nostalgic lament by exploring the narratives of Zimbabwean students ‘in exile’ in Britain during the country’s liberation war of 1965–1980, who looked back on their stay in the imperial heartland as a time of opportunity and excitement. They recalled their own youthful militancy, the optimism of liberation movements before independence and invoked the conviviality of joint political campaigns with British-based allies. The article explains their up-beat recollections by locating exile in transnational socio-political spaces created by Rhodesia’s contested sovereignty, focusing on exiles’ relations with mainstream liberal-left solidarity organizations, with Caribbean/black British groups and the liberation movements’ own transnational networks. By locating exile in this way, the article extends two hitherto disconnected bodies of scholarship – on southern African nationalisms in the making and British decolonization and postcolonial cultural politics. It highlights how students helped foster liberation movements’ international standing and their influence on post-independence ideas of status. The article also offers a new vantage point on Britain’s re-racialised cultural politics, as performed in middle class spaces on student campuses and internationalist campaigns. Zimbabwean students’ accounts of exile in Britain can thus do more than reveal the inadequacies of generalisations about a singular exile condition. Their narratives of the opportunities and sociability of exile in Britain reveal the occlusions of narrow military versions of southern African liberation history, while adding new, transnational dimensions to historical geographies of decolonization, urban cosmopolitanism and the African presence in 1960s and 1970s Britain.


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