Accepted paper:

Broken Journeys: ZAPU soldiers' stories of war inside a Rhodesian prison

Authors:

Jocelyn Alexander (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses oral histories of ZAPU soldiers imprisoned during Zimbabwe's armed struggle to explore the 'broken journey' as a mode of storytelling. It shows how the conditions of prison created an extraordinary, distinctive martial narrative, but one lacking in public currency.

Paper long abstract:

This paper uses oral histories of ZAPU soldiers imprisoned in the early years of Zimbabwe's armed struggle to explore the 'broken journey' as a mode of storytelling. It compares these narratives to those of ZAPU soldiers generally and to nationalist prisoners, both of whom find purpose and efficacy in journeys. Stories of transformative passages leading to a powerful martial identity characterise soldiers' accounts. In nationalists' stories, prison was given value as a (temporary) place of self-improvement and institution building in which future citizens and leaders were usefully moulded. The narratives of soldiers in prison were marked by disarmament and stasis, both offering profound threats to soldiers' purpose and progress. Their stories told of fighting a war within the 'enemy territory' of the prison by defending specifically military bodies and minds against existential threats, and thus preserving the possibility of a resumed journey. Soldiers also told escape stories, through which an efficacious life beyond the prison could be imagined even amidst the harsh realities of a loss of freedom akin to a defeat. The meanings of these narratives were not, however, 'consummated in return' (Jackson, 2013: 50): these men found their stories lacked 'currency' not only at the moment of their release from prison in 1980 but also in the context in which they told them decades later.

panel His02
Storytelling and social order in Africa