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About

Unit of Zimbabwean Studies

 Associate Professor Kirk Helliker established a Unit of Zimbabwean Studies at the beginning of 2015, based in the Department of Sociology.

The main emphasis for the Unit is scholarly research and publications (include post-graduate work) about colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe, but with a more specific focus on the contemporary political economy of Zimbabwe.  

Zimbabwean studies have a rich, varied and deep history and have made a significant contribution to broader intellectual debates across the African continent. Since the nation-wide land occupation movement and the subsequent fast track land reform programme (formulated and implemented by the Zimbabwean state from the year 2000), significant scholarly work has arisen around understanding and explaining the turbulent events which are taking place in present-day Zimbabwe. This scholarly work has led to very vibrant and illuminating debates amongst radical (and liberal) scholars, most notably exemplified in the works of leading Zimbabwean scholars, Sam Moyo and Brian Raftopoulos. Professor Helliker have been directly involved in this vigorous scholarly debate.

The debates within Zimbabwean studies, though about the character specifically of the current political economy of Zimbabwe, raise and discuss broader theoretical questions pertinent to sociology and cognate disciplines about for instance the state, nationalism, citizenship, identity and political transformation, and such themes continue to resonate throughout Zimbabwean studies. The debate at times has been extremely polarised, with one group of scholars arguing that fast track land reform furthers the national democratic revolution in the country, and the other group claiming that it has – first and foremost – entailed undemocratic and authoritarian restructuring. Additionally, though, the debates are not simply about the present, as they engage with differing interpretations of Zimbabwean history, including during the colonial period. At the same time, the scholarly controversies about the Zimbabwean political economy have resulted in a range of empirically-based localised studies and ethnographies on diverse themes, most notably through the work of post-graduate students based in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

This is not to suggest that all current work within Zimbabwean studies is in some way connected to the ongoing controversies, as excellent work continues to be produced by Zimbabwean scholars in some way untouched by the debates swirling around them. But the scholarly significance of the debates is reflected in the fact that Brian Raftopoulos, the leading labour historian on Zimbabwe, felt it necessary ten years ago to abandon his historical work to engage theoretically with the character of the contemporary restructuring of the Zimbabwean political economy.

The Unit locates itself primarily within the contemporary debates and controversies about land and democracy, but the thematic range of the Unit is very broad and inclusive. Additionally, the Unit seeks not only to produce solid empirically-based work on post-colonial (and colonial) Zimbabwe but to also offer cutting-edge theoretical work on a diverse range of historical and sociological themes which continue to emerge in and around Zimbabwean studies.

The Unit has the strong possibility of positioning Rhodes University as the premier university internationally (outside Zimbabwe) engaging in Zimbabwean research and studies within the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Unit, in the first instance, arises from an Agrarian Studies Research Group which Professor Helliker established in the Department of Sociology a few years ago. The Group undoubtedly has been the most productive component of the Department’s post-graduate programme if measured purely in terms of Masters and PhD graduates. During a three-year period, from 2011 to 2014, the numbers amount to three PhD and nine Masters’ graduates. However, the bulk of the post-graduate students falling within the ambit of the Group, including those currently registered in the department, are Zimbabwean students working on Zimbabwean agrarian themes. At the same time, the thesis work by Zimbabwean post-graduate students in the Department stretches beyond agrarian themes. Likewise, Professor Helliker’s own research interests, expertise and scholarly writings on Zimbabwe are not confined to agrarian themes.

Professor Helliker’s recent scholarly publications, as well as a list of graduated and current PhD and Masters students, are available on the department’s website under Professor Helliker’s staff profile.

In addition to the Unit, but falling under the ambit of the Unit, is a Mellon Research Focus Area under the theme “Zimbabwean History and Society”, which Professor Helliker was granted and which will also begin in 2015.

Under the Unit and the associated Research Focus Area, Professor Helliker plans to pursue the following over the next few years:

  • Producing highly quality scholarly publications on an ongoing basis, including an edited book comprising chapters written by PhD students
  • Developing a diverse PhD and Masters student profile
  • Establishing and reinforcing linkages with scholarly centres in Zimbabwe,  including universities and private research entities
  • Offering courses or components of courses on Zimbabwean studies at Honours level at the university where possible and appropriate.
  • Initiating a ‘Rethinking Zimbabwe’ Seminar Series, including presentations by PhD and MA students within the Unit
  • Arranging for periodic visits of leading Zimbabwean scholars to Rhodes for purposes of presenting public talks on specific Zimbabwean issues
  • Organising conferences and workshops on Zimbabwe at Rhodes
  • Producing a quarterly newsletter on contemporary Zimbabwean issues, for a South African audience.

An advisory board for the Unit is still to be finalised, but it will include the following: Professor Sam Moyo, Professor Brian Raftopoulos and Dr Tendai Murisa.

Professor Helliker can be contacted at k.helliker@ru.ac.za for enquiries about the Unit and for possibilities of engaging with it as either as an established scholar or as a PhD or Masters student.

Last Modified :Wed, 31 May 2017 14:01:13 SAST