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The trauma of home and (non)belonging in Zimbabwe and its diaspora: ‘Conversion disorder’ in Shadows by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

Johan U. Jacobs

Literator; Vol 37, No 1 (2016), 11 pages. doi: 10.4102/lit.v37i1.1237

Submitted: 17 August 2015
Published:  22 August 2016


The renewed outbreak of xenophobic attacks in March and April 2015 in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, the killings, looting, and burning of homes and shops, and the flight of thousands of foreign Africans to refugee camps, have brought to the fore not only the question of the African diaspora in South Africa, but also into focus the notions of home and homeland in a diasporic context. In Shadows, for which she was awarded the Herman Charles Bosman Prize in 2014, Zimbabwean writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma presents the dislocations of life in present-day Zimbabwe and the relocation and double displacement of the Zimbabwean diasporic community in South Africa. The text, comprising a novella, ‘Shadows’, and five other stories, is best approached as a story cycle, the individual narratives being linked not only by the theme of diaspora but also by a number of recurring diasporic situations, figures, and tropes. Drawing on a wide range of contemporary diaspora theory, including the African and intra-African diaspora, as well as current research on Zimbabwe and its diaspora, this article examines the ambiguous diasporic concepts of home and belonging, and inclusion and exclusion, with reference to Tshuma’s fictional depiction of daily township life in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe with its food queues, depleted resources, and crashed economy, as well as in the marginal world of the presentday Zimbabwean diaspora in Johannesburg with its police corruption and brutal exploitation of illegal immigrants. The article considers the psychogenic condition known as ‘conversion disorder’, which Tshuma foregrounds in one of the stories, as a metaphor for understanding the paradoxical diasporic identification with, and alienation from, home, community, and home country in Zimbabwe as well as in the unaccommodating host country, South Africa.

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Author affiliations

Johan U. Jacobs, Department of English, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa



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ISSN: 0258-2279 (print) | ISSN: 2219-8237 (online)

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