OTHER SOCIAL ISSUES

The Life of Exiled Zimbabwean Soldiers in South Africa: Coping with the Repressed Memories of War and Political Violence

Article

This doctoral study explores the lived experiences of exiled Zimbabwean soldiers living in South Africa. The ways in which exiled soldiers use their past experiences in the military, their military identities and skills to cope with migration challenges is of interest to this study.

Abstract

This study explores the lived experiences of exiled Zimbabwean soldiers living in South Africa. It focuses on a group of Zimbabwean National Army soldiers now in South Africa who were recruited in post-independence Zimbabwe and many had participated in the Democratic Republic of Congo war to protect the Laurent Kabila government from rebel insurgency from 1998 to 2002. Upon returning to Zimbabwe in 2002, most of these soldiers either deserted or resigned the army at the height of the Zimbabwe crisis to find refuge in South Africa. The ways in which exiled soldiers use their past experiences in the military, their military identities and skills to cope with migration challenges is of interest to this study. Theoretically, the study draws from Bourdieu (1984) habitus and field to understand the ways in which exiled soldiers reproduce and make sense of the strategies they use to manage their tiring lives. Nonetheless, the concept of social navigation propounded by Vigh (2010:419) also informs the study on the ways in which exiled soldiers ‘act in difficult or uncertain circumstances and how they disentangle themselves from confining structures, plot their escape and move towards better positions’. Apart from that, this study pushes the concept of ‘endurance’ which comes out of exiled soldiers’ everyday lives in South Africa. Endurance departs from ‘habitus’ in which particular human practices can be understood in a broad historical context of beliefs, thoughts and attitudes. Endurance, a concept which is common in military language often spoken in situations of soldiers’ hardships and difficulties either during military training or in war has been dominant in the narratives of exiled soldiers’ to explore their current lives. The concept of endurance is theoretically interesting and empirically so as it explores the reality of exiled soldiers. In terms of the methodological approach, the study was grounded on ethnography, particularly the life histories to understand exiled soldiers past and everyday life.