The concepts of ‘African culture’ can also be analysed through the writing of Mbiti in 1969 who wrote about Ubuntu.  He states that Ubuntu is ‘I am, because we are, and since we are, therefore I am’ (Mbiti 1969) Identity as social beings is linked to meanings of you as an individual and secondly in relation to the environment around you. In Zimbabwe, Dodo (2015) states that this is aptly captured in the concept of ‘unhu/ubuntu’ where people share in both goodness and difficulties. However, with the advent of globalisation, that is fast eroding and taking with it, traditional systems (Dodo 2015.)  Hunhu/Ubuntu as Samkange and Samkange (1980) stated is that A person has moral attributes not granted to a wild animal. Wild animals 'do not have customs. A wild animal will allow its own son to make love to it'. A Shona/Ndebele proverb says, 'you do not educate your child for yourself alone. Education is for society by society'. Growing up I used to hear that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ which meant that I was everybody’s child in Bulawayo or when I went to the Zvimba village during school holidays. If I was misbehaving, then the community took it upon them to discipline me if my parents were not nearby or report to my parents. If I was succeeding, then my success was for the society and they all embraced it as I would be able to give to my community. In relation to the globalisation and politics of Zimbabwe now, I wanted to find out what has changed about cultural identities, gendered identities and being Zimbabwean for young people.

I had the privilege of spending 2 weeks in the ‘New Zimbabwe’ as it is now called after the ousting of President Mugabe who had ruled the country for 37 years.  The current President who was sworn in November 2017 was one of the closet minister and MP to President Mugabe. During my 2 weeks I manage to travel to most parts of Zimbabwe and during those travels I had a chance to informally talk to young people (including older people).  I am currently doing a PhD and my research is on young Zimbabwean diaspora in the UK. I wanted to find out before I start my field work how the young people’s identities are constructed, and their belonging is shaped in the current space, political and economic framework. The conversations with the young people were informal and voluntary in different geographically setting in Zimbabwe.

The population dynamics of Zimbabwe have changed and there are more young people who unfortunately are not employed or in main stream education.  There is unemployment rate of over 80% in the country and many people survive through informal trading. Most of the young people I spoke to have only seen one Head of State and one Ruling Party in their life.  Only recently can they say there is a new Head of State – President Mnangagwa, in fact, they say he is not new as he was part of the Mugabe regime for the past 37 years.  Unless it was relevant I wanted to have a ‘conversation’ with these young people and desist from engaging into politics as in previous years of visiting Zimbabwe it was a well guided subject and was not discussed in open spaces. I wanted to know who they are and how they relate to their space in a geographical context. I also wanted to find out how development was taking place in different parts of the country if any and what could be done differently.

I travelled by road from Harare to Bulawayo to Plumtree crossing over to Francistown.  I then crossed to the other end of Botswana to reach Chombe to the Kazungula border into Victoria Falls.  I then left Victoria Falls to Bulawayo then Harare to Mutare and then Vumba.  I came back to Harare which was my base and then Karoi then Chinhoyi.  During this road trip I was fortunate to be accompanied by my young sister, her husband and my husband.

 My husband is British white (as English as they come lol) and has spent most of his career as a Journalist in the UK, although now he prefers to do the moderate work of public relations with some normality.  He visited Zimbabwe during the Mugabe regime, but did not feel free enough to explore.  He was petrified by the number of roadblocks during Mugabe’s regime that we had seen on the previous visit in 2015 and had literally googled ‘on how to behave when you are in Zimbabwe’ – the notion of UBUNTU.  Although he had felt welcomed in 2015 by the natural happy people of Zimbabwe that he spent a whole day in Matapi – Mbare (the most highly densely populated township in Harare) playing snooker, it was the emotional balance that knowing that ‘British’ people were not welcomed by the regime of Mugabe as ex-colonisers.  This time he relaxed but very mindful that Mnangagwa was ‘married’ to Mugabe for over 37 years.  You can not be married to somebody for all those years and not learn some of their habits.  My husband's comment after the 2 visits was ‘sometimes the international media does not do justice to this beautiful natural country with its happy people.’ He learnt to speak Shona and Ndebele through informal ways including kuwombera.  He ate most of the indigenous foods (mazhanje, chibage, magaka, mufushwa, macimbi, amachakade, ulude) let alone try the crocodile tail, kudu, warthog, Zimbabwe traditional beer (amasese, chibuku). Some of this delivered unwanted stomach problems but this did not hinder him enjoying the trip.

He wondered as he was married to a Zimbabwean if there was possibility of belonging to this country and be identified as a Zimbabwean or have a dual citizenship.  This, I am sure it is very controversial now in Zimbabwe and Mr Mudede (Registrar General) does not seem to except dual citizenship let alone allow the over 2 million Zimbabwe diasporas to vote in general elections. This legal citizenship is an identity determined by national borders and governments.

I have included my husband as to contextualise belonging, culture and politics playing a role in identity. Despite him wanting to feel part of the society, you could see how some local people still felt  that murungu/likhiwa characterised by a profound sense of respect - white people were and are still viewed as morally superior in Zimbabwe. Primordial whiteness has always had social status identified with superiority due to the history of colonialism and imperialism which rendered ‘otherness’. The values associated with black as a race is an ongoing construction in Zimbabwe in  relation to colonisation. To fully digest whiteness is to attempt to explain it as 'an historically and geographically specific social construct that has been accorded a privileged position' (Peake, 2009).

During my conversations with the young people I pick up a theme which related to these questions being responded to.

1. What does it mean to be Zimbabwean and belonging?

2. Why is it so many young people now speak English and not their mother language?

3. Are young people still connected to their culture?

4. Do you see a difference geographical in development with young people from up Mashonaland and those in Matabeleland?

5. What are the aspirations of young people? How does politics and economy sharp them today?

I have literally transcribed and translated these conversations as they were said during the conversation with young people. Each sentence represents different views.

A group of young people (30 years plus – female) who had attended a Boarding School together (keep in touch on WhatsApp) had to say about belonging and identity.

“We have been radicalised by our parents who had an identity that was given to them by white people and then their norms and values changed to suit the white people.”

“Resilience for the young people is learnt not acquired.  Resilience for the generation before was not out of necessity.  The young people have no choice. Our parents were protected by the generation before and were taught to be resilient.”

“Zimbabweans have solutions to almost everything except how they are governed.  They have met the hard times, so they tend to get solutions to most problems.  They are critical thinkers and educated but have not used these wisely to have good governance.  When they see an opportunity – they are opportunistic people even if there is nothing.”

“There are absent parents – some kids have to literally raise themselves as the parents are hustling or are out of the country. Migration has affected the families as they were known before.  Inter-city migration is now the ‘bright light syndrome’ – meaning in the villages people are moving to cities for the dollar.”

“Goals for what was called success has shifted and the economy has affected how we are as a nation and individuals”

“Zimbabweans have developed a low shock factor, people are absorbing so much, and we are proud to be Zimbabweans, and this is shown by our resilience”

“Our identity has become about ‘resilience’ it changes, our resilience has made us into chameleons.”

“Our culture is now for yourself and before we used to have the UJAMI (not sure what is that) effect.  But you can still see some of our culture through music, poetry and art.  We are remoulding our culture as we go. The absent parent due to economy and political reasons is not there to implement, enforce or explain the reasoning behind the cultural obligation hence our culture is eroding”

“Self-awareness is a sign of weakness.  If you are vegan it is unacceptable in our culture- it’s a sign of weakness (kawudli inyama/hawudye nyama/don’t you eat meat?) It’s like you have been bewitched and you need exorcism.”

“Look at some things like post-natal depression for women which is real and other mental health problems but due to our culture, it is seen as a weakness. You must do things, get up and look after your child and husband.”

“Young people are thirsty for their tradition and there seems to have been a movement when HIV became prevalent in Zimbabwe that people turned to health organic food especially traditional ones. The younger ones understand HIV than the older ones.  The older ones cause it to have stigma, they take it as ‘chihure/ulihule’ especially when you are a woman.’

“Young people are having their ‘hair journey’ embracing their natural hair, afro, locks and Zimbabwe music in our language.  Young people are creating some outfits with African themes, they are finding their own identity.”

“People have nothing to anchor on as the generational inheritance is based on inherited culture. There are more concerned to fit in with the western culture.  The local ZBCTV is called DEAD BC (laughter). What we call ‘brand Zimbabwe’ you must sell yourself using the western style of life.  At some point a whole generation got tired and didn’t pass the culture to the next generation”

“The government does not practice any of that as everything is westernised.  During government official ceremonies, the President speaks in English instead of the local languages and have a translator like they do in Germany or France – proud of their language.  The President goes to Bulawayo and speaks Shona, why?  People in Matabeleland speak mainly Ndebele, he can find a translator.”

“Religion is changing in competition with Pentecostal churches.  The old churches, Methodist, Anglican are no longer ‘cool’ and Jesuits (Catholic) are old and outdated.  The Uniforms, who wants to wear those, in fact who started them? Sometimes you find that churches say culture does not go with religion especially kurova maguva/umubuyiso (memorial services for the deceased).  Yet they also can be seen mixing the culture and the religion.  It’s confusing us.”

“Religion the old Methodism, catholic, Anglican can not compete with the young Pentecostal churches.  The young people identify more with the Pentecostal churches as there is music and talk about prosperity. Young people are looking for prosperity – to make money in this economy.  Religion and culture can work together although there are some negatives, there is some positives.”

“The social media is the global world is now on social media and its breaking things of the voiceless or teaching young people things beyond their borders.  In the social media there is also silent competitions”

“Feminism is heavily patriarchal, and feminism can’t be spread like butter on bread for everyone. Feminism is pressuring women who would like to continue doing some of their traditions e.g. holding a dish with water for their husband.  Feminism was practised long before the word feminism was coined.  Women had power as they used to be consulted for most things by their husbands and had voices.  Like the husband will always consult the wife before making decision or letting her have a voice – ‘VaChihera vataura zvavarikuda.  ….  Ndichatura navaChihera ndozokupayi minduro (Shona).’  ‘UMaMpofu usekhulumile akufunayo.  Ngizakhuluma loMaMpofu ngibe sengilinika impendulo (Ndebele)’. 

“Feminism – all things were applied across by our great-grand parents, it was not exploitation to remain with our patriarchal society, it was a choice and is still is as some woman like to practice the culture.  The extremist was that feminism was applied across and then culture was destroyed.  Those women who wanted to carry on were labelled as being subjects of their husbands or mabaradzi, is that fair.”

“Today’s women don’t have time, they are working in formal and informal sectors, hassling and they are making 2 minutes convenient foods.  Children refuse to be part of all these Zimbabwean foods which take time to cook.  China started a one child policy and flex time.  Zimbabwean women have to look after several children, some now can’t afford musikana webasa (maid), so if they have the children they get attached to the maid more than the mother.”

"Look at the roora/lobola/amalobolo, the parents are charging so much and in dollars its like a business now.  Gone are the days we saw our aunts getting married just to create hukama.  If you have degrees, it increases roora."

“Political participation – politics was a silent game in Zimbabwe and hopeful it will not continue like that.  There was fear of persecution and this stopped young people participation.  The CIO were or are everywhere including at University, schools as teachers, so academic debates were reduced to minimal as they are censored.”

“Who is a role model in politics, who can you emulate as speaking young people’s language or identifying with young people.  The minister of youth is an old person who is over 65 years.”

“Look at the politicians, they wear political outfits with their faces when they are doing civic duties or the western suits, how do I identify with this as a young person cultural wise, why can’t they have the decency to find somethings that complement our colourful identity. Madhara awa hatina basa navo, taneta

“Education, everyone is educated but there are no jobs for young people, so they are hustling.  I think there are lesser people attending school due to economy. Everyone is supporting a relative or someone who goes to school, it’s ridiculous, what is the state doing?”

“Also the western world does not recognise ZimSec , so parents are worried they could be no future for their children so Cambridge exams are being marketed as the authentic paper, with exorbitant costs to write the exams. Its British, again we still continue wanting to identify with the colonisers. There are so many private schools that have mushroomed, and Shona or Ndebele is not taught at these schools.  Everyone wants to take their child to some private schools, so the fees go up and there is competition.  The parents want to be identified with class.”

“The Chimurenga war ended 37 years ago, how do I identify with something I don’t know.  I appreciate it, but I don’t know what it means to me as I feel I am not liberated.”

PN – 18 years – F – lives in Vumba rural village just finished GSCE – supported by well-wishers for school fees

“Being Zimbabwean and belonging to Zimbabwe means observing our culture, speaking our mother language in the rightful way, attending traditional ceremonies and being patriotic and proud of Zimbabwe.

“It is certainly true that, so many young people speak English and not their mother language.  In my own point of view, I think they feel their mother language nowadays is not important and when looking for a job, the language English is used as an essential requirement and during interviews the questions are asked in English. More importantly many parents recently send their children to private schools where everyone is supposed to speak in English which leaves them undisputed English speakers as they grow up. The other thing is that these days, mother language is being considered as outdated as young people need that sense of belonging when among other people of the same age who can also speak English.”

“In my opinion, young people are not connected to their culture.  As a matter of fact, many young people are now living in urban areas with their parents which makes them neglect the given virtues of good childhood.  Looking into the society one cannot even differentiate between the young and the elderly since the young people are not giving the elderly the respect they deserve as in the past.  Furthermore, the dress code, the language spoken, and the type of music being listened to have recently turned to be the worst things.  I think the key driver to all this the young people want to move with change as things are also changing.

YB ( F - 28 years born in Bulawayo and living in Bulawayo township. College educated, not working) “To be Zimbabwean can be by birth or decent. This qualifies one to be a Zimbabwean who is entitled to rights and benefits that come with it - which rights with this government? Most people want to speak English language due to globalisation, network of all countries across the globe. Also, some people are ashamed as they feel the English language is more prestigious than the native language.  Due to movements and migration English becomes universal.”

“Most people are now alienated from their culture now due to migration, industrialisation, the family unit is no longer intact as it used to be in the past. I think we are losing our culture and our identity has been eroded away. Now we are adopting Western cultures. Internet and televisions also contribute to many young people speaking English”

“I see difference the ones in Matabeleland are just chilled and relaxed thinking of migrating to South Africa. South Africa is the aspiration. Up north maybe because of exposure to the political administration that is centralized have an advantage because things and policies get to them first”

“Culture and younger people has disappeared maybe because the older generation has stopped practicing the morals of culture and television has bought in new cultural views that young people can relate to due to the change of times and systems. No African is keeping their culture. Our culture has been swallowed by the West.”

“There is nothing that has moved much in Bulawayo because we are a minority group especially women and our voice is never heard so why bother. The hustle for the Mashonaland people is about the fast/consistent buck, and they reinvent the wheel at a faster rate that Matabeleland people. Regarding aspirations, the Matabeleland people aspire to be hwindis(kombi assistances), njivas (popular word used for Zimbabwe migrants workers from Matabeleland returnees – who show that they are well to do even if it’s far from it)malayitsha (carrier – one who loads the kombis), and tsotsis, (young urban robber) and they go to S.A. to get professional training and associated experience from their counterpart brothers there and graduate by bamba  nkunzi (necklacing). Their hustle is hard and physical, whereas the Mashonaland hustlers use brainpower.”

TM (M- Bulawayo -over 30 years – unemployed, not married as he can’t afford a family, never been employed)

“To be a Zimbabwean is an identity that was long and tirelessly fought for by our leaders and our elders. It’s our pride our heritage, our honour most of all God's gift and blessing to us

things have differed, before people would communicate in English because of different language barriers and tribal backgrounds but of late we've seen transcending change were people are adopting and learning different tribal languages to exert maximum communication for example in business.”

“Young people are not really connected a portion to say the least of which there are few.

There is a big difference between young people Mashonaland and Matabeleland. There's more opportunities in Mashonaland than Matabeleland, more political based hence a lot of people in Matabeleland are not pro ZANU PF. Lack of employment is another, the country is facing a serious lack of jobs but it's worse in Matabeleland because there's not a large sum of capital circulating for people in Matabeleland to do indigenous businesses, so the circulation of money in Matabeleland is struggling, people don't buy much here because there can't get the money. Due to this people migrate for example to Harare in search for money because in Harare the circulation is far much better than here. It is evident by the overpopulation they are facing people country wide are moving to Harare every day.”

“For now, the politics and economics in Zimbabwe has caused a significant amount of mental depression in the youths due to harsh challenges that there are facing. There are not happy but keep faith and hope there will get opportunities to overcome and sustain themselves.”

“Aspirations of young people in Bulawayo is to get opportunities, employment, funding for projects, and most are given to ZANU PF party members, so there low here due to different political affiliations, basically capital, opportunities employment. I believe Zimbabweans in general are hard workers besides the regions they come from. Also, the land issue, should be shared to Zimbabweans besides their political differences.”

“As a young person I feel I'm lacking opportunity to play a role and be a part of making our beloved country into   a prosperous Zimbabwe that we know it's got potential to be. Really, I'm not sure what it means to be young Zimbabwean, it’s complex.” 

TMM – 28 years – M - unemployed

“Being Zimbabwean to me personally is being part of a collective group mixed with different tribes and ethical backgrounds. Predominantly Ndebele or Shona cultures shape most of us youth, the ethos and doctrines of either shape us. Which distinguish us from other African cultures or world over. And of late, being Zimbabwean to many of us is our ability to remain resilient through tough times.”

“Most young people now speak English more than their mother tongue, because many now assume their mother languages are inferior.  This could be due to exposure to Western Cultures which us young people ' believe are "cool" as compared to our mother tongues. Tools like social media and TV expose us to these cultures. Most young people are no longer connected to their cultures as most have adopted foreign cultures particularly western cultures. Blame can also be put on parents especially modern-day parents who no longer pass the on the cultural practices to their kids, e.g. Most kids now speak English and are taught by their parents who communicate with them in English.”

“Most significant difference between the youths of Matabeleland and Mashonaland is the mind set and attitudes particularly economically, whereas the youth from the north are inclined to work and hassle for economic opportunities, the Matabeleland youth prefers and aligns himself to South Africa for economic liberation.  Youth from the south see themselves as marginalised. Young people from Bulawayo, see their lives built around the 'dream ' of living in South Africa as it has better to offer in terms of opportunities. It’s a marginal that are willing to settle in Zimbabwe and build. However probably due to the number of Universities that are now sprouting in Matabeleland, perception is changing

The political imbalances have affected the youth of Matabeleland to a larger extent. Lack of policies that directly apply to the Matabeleland youth, as most ' Youth policies are named in Shona areas.”

(SM – F - 18 years finished A levels lives in Mutare, went to a boarding school)

“To be a Zimbabwean it means not having an opportunity to speak out. It means struggling to have a better life and your problems being fixed after fighting for a right. It means that no one is able to hear the voices of one another, but the power of unity makes a Zimbabwean become stronger”

“Young people speak English and not their mother language because at schools they are teaching children a language that will enable them to interact with other people from foreign countries for the future use of maybe visiting other countries, for job interviews or even attending universities abroad. English is also being used since even in exams they use English so if they are able to speak English more frequently it would be easier for them to understand questions and answer correctly”

“Young people are now basing on the fact that it’s the 21st century and they are now becoming introduced to advanced technology which makes them lose interest in culture. Most teenagers would be modern people since no one would want to be left out on any kind of new fashion or gadgets.”

“Politics as it is, is suppressing, is teaching this generation to be free to speak out what anyone would think that it might improve the country's development. There is a need to focus if its anything to do with politics and this however shapes teenagers to be more knowledgeable on the things that improve the government and the members of the public.”

(MM - M 30 lives and works in a restaurant in SA, looks after his family in the village)

“Zimbabweans lost their identity because they live in different countries'

l think the schools they now speak  English as the main language because it's mixed tribes

I do think so nowadays everybody is after money. Elders they no longer teach young ones about culture and young ones grow in different places “

(R.M 23 F an international student in the UK – frequently visits Zimbabwe) “Being Zimbabwean and belonging: this is so hard to answer directly. I don’t feel I fully belong anywhere. I love my country, I love my tribe, I’m proud to be Mashona, Manyati Shona. Very proud. In efforts to provide a better life for their children amidst the economic turmoil in Zimbabwe I was blessed to be afforded the opportunity to study abroad. That’s where it gets interesting. I honestly believe my formative years were 16 till maybe 21. I’m 23 now. I moved to the UK when I was 18, so that’s a lot of self-discovery taking place. “I don’t belong anywhere”, well not fully at least. I’ve now adopted some aspects of European culture which too I love. I dislike certain parts of my culture so much it’s refreshing to embrace good things out of other people’s culture. So now we have a 23-year-old Zimbabwean studying in the UK who’s not all the way immersed in her own culture and nowhere near British. I don’t belong anywhere fully. At least that’s how I feel. Right now.” “With language luckily, I grew up in Zimbabwe predominantly, so I couldn’t answer that objectively. I speak Shona fluently.” “I do feel connected. I understand what it means to be a Shona woman. I do. I just don’t agree with everything. I suppose one will have to question “to what extent?” I’m not sure.”

KK – F – 25years lives in Victoria Falls – works - not married

“I moved here from Bulawayo to work and I work and its owned by one of the Ministers in government.  I don’t get paid much but I get to see a lot of tourist and its always busy here.  I can’t afford my own private place, its expensive. Like I said last time it is not seen as cool to speak in Shona, so we all speak in English. Young people want to be associated with cool things.  It has been very hard for them in the past years as they have to survive on nothing.  Its so sad and they want to be young people, but they still have to find a means of living.  Long ago your parents looked after you and you looked after them, now its changed and we can’t identify who is looking after who.”

Unknown -F – 22 years lives in Karoi a village town – she is selling maize in the street

“My mother died yesterday, and I can’t even go to the village where she was living.  She was prostituting herself in the growth points and was murdered who knows.  I was living with the father of my two kids, he never paid lobola and he left.  One is this little one who is one year (malnutrition) the other is my 6-year-old daughter, this one selling maize.  She does not go to school.  I just want to go and bury my mother as it is traditional, so that I don’t get bad luck if I don’t go to the funeral.  My husband used to drive trucks and abused me so much, so I have just been living everywhere.  He is gone, and I don’t know where.  I just need $3 to get to the funeral.  I will survive day by day.  I am young but its tough when you are a young person with 2 kids. I am also teaching my daughter to beg, am I or it just happens I don’t know. I am wearing ZANU PF t-shirt because we are forced, I can take it out if it gives me $3 to go attend my mother’s funeral. I never went to high school as such. I just want a better life.”


Although there was quite many young people in Zimbabwe I had a conversation with, I was unable to fit the conversations in this blog. One thing that was clear is that there is resilience. Resilience being the mechanism of coping, adaptation, persistence in the face of change in Zimbabwe. They all felt that the effects of ‘Western’ culture has influenced the values of belonging in Zimbabwe. Without wanting to analyse further the conversation maybe a thought can be made to Samuel P. Huntington’s famous essay ‘The Clash of Civilization’, generally culture and self-identities are the first and by far one of the most important aspects that people consider in their lives as they bring meaning to themselves. I am not advocating that Huntington’s essay represent young people of Zimbabwe but trying to find the meaning of identities and belonging.  People seek to know who they are, where they are coming from and where they are going. Government institutions may not foster that in Zimbabwe and hence the dilemma remains if culture is going to be preserved and passed to the younger generations. ‘Identity is produced through everyday domestic practices, from the language spoke, clothing worn, and faith to the food eaten’ (Valentine and Sporton 2009.) Ubuntu/hunhu might not continue if the sentiments of these young people endure. What does it mean to be belonging as a Zimbabwean for you?

Alice Mpofu-Coles

'One Refugee Without No Hope Is Too Many'


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