Colonial biomedical infrastructures and the interpenetration of biomedical knowledge in northwest Zimbabwe, 1940s to 1980

Having been perceived by colonial officials as an ‘unsafe’ region for human settlement during the first half of the 19th century, northwest Zimbabwe presents a fascinating space to explore consequent medical interventions to sanitise the region. The ambition of colonial state medical projects saw the establishment of biomedical infrastructures like tsetse gates, roads, fences and clinics, as well as the introduction of tsetse and mosquito eradication campaigns such as game elimination, bush clearing and aerial spaying.

Apart from the introduction of development agendas, the region experienced a rapid population growth and a creation of new social hierarchies as a result of colonial displacements from the 1950s. Thus, with its unprecedented demographic growth, a mixture of different ethnic identities with diverse religious and medical ideas, Gokwe remains an interesting space to explore African encounters with colonial medicine.

This study suggests that beyond these colonial biomedical infrastructures lay crude histories and rich collective narratives to supplement our understanding of colonial medical history. The study suggests that biomedical colonial infrastructures are not only emotional objects with abstract entities such as protocol, regulations on mobility and memory, but they have the ability to uncover the interpenetration, negotiation and expropriation of scientific medical ideas.

Asa Mudzimu
Research Student