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Shared Legacies of the War: Spirit Mediums and War Veterans in Southern Zimbabwe

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This paper explores the nature of ongoing relationships between war veterans and spirit mediums in Zimbabwe, as well as the continuing salience of a shared chimurenga legacy of co-operation by these two groups, and how it has been put to use, and acted out by both in the context of Zimbabwe's recent fast track land reform project. In emphasising this continuity, the paper also considers whether a corresponding disparity between the ideology of the ruling political elite and the practices, experiences and performances of guerrillas, spirit mediums and others acting on the ground, which materialised during the liberation struggle, has re-emerged, despite or alongside the recent collaboration of some war veterans with the ruling party's rhetoric of 'patriotic history'. Engaging with Lambek's work on moral subjectivity and Mbembe's 'logic of conviviality' of postcolonial states and their subjects, it argues that war veterans and spirit mediums sometimes share a 'moral conviviality' which appears during bira possession ceremonies, in the shared demands for the return and reburial of the war dead from foreign countries, or for 'national' ceremonies held at Great Zimbabwe and elsewhere to thank the ancestors, as well as in the similar way in which spirit mediums and war veterans subject their agency to that of the ancestors in their narrative performances. It concludes by suggesting that although many war veterans have undeniably been closely complicit in the violent 'authoritarian nationalism' of the state, in this shared war legacy of spirit mediums and war veterans lies the opportunity for radical alternative imaginations of the state.


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