Towards a history of xenophobia in Zimbabwe

Rethinking racism and the culture of ‘othering’ in Zimbabwe, 1890-2020




xenophobia, racism, chauvinism, migrant labour, Mabwidi, borders, indigenisation, Africanisation


The article explores Zimbabwe’s history of racism, ethnicity, and other forms of “othering” from 1890 to 2020 and argues that, although scholars of Zimbabwe’s past have, hitherto, shied away from using the term, these pathologies amounted collectively to xenophobia. It calls on scholars of the country’s colonial history to investigate the degree to which the above pathologies were, arguably, xenophobic. The article argues that xenophobic tendencies in colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe emanate from a number of key historical developments. These include the establishment of artificial colonial borders at the turn of the 19th century and the creation of an artificial nation-state called Southern Rhodesia, which engendered a new colonial identity that eventually crystallised into an exclusivist Zimbabwean nationalism and the divide and rule segregationist racial colonial policies that promoted national disharmony. Also significant was the development of the settler colonial economy and its insatiable hunger for cheap African labour, which led to labour migration from neighbouring countries and the socio-economic tensions this unleashed. Last was the role of an increasingly parochial Shona nationalism, which claimed the Shona as the real owners of the land and whose proponents advanced a particularistic rendition of the past that is known in Zimbabwean historiography as “patriotic history”. The article then concludes by sketching out the various manifestations of xenophobic tendencies in the country in the period under study. The study is essentially a reappraisal of Zimbabwean history and not a product of new research and fieldwork.




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How to Cite

Mlambo, A. S. (2023). Towards a history of xenophobia in Zimbabwe: Rethinking racism and the culture of ‘othering’ in Zimbabwe, 1890-2020. Southern Journal for Contemporary History, 48(2), 24–54.