Marked out: histories of student protest in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, 1957 to now

'A university degree is a requirement for national leadership.' This remarkably widely-held view emerged in the twentieth century and was one shared by the Asquith Commission, the 1940s committee whose recommendations rolled out higher education across the late-colonial Anglophone world. Views such as this embedded university students deep within state-centric projects of political and economic development. Yet, this ‘modern’ turn to higher education also created a category of people – ‘students’ – from which would emerge some of the most politically outspoken critics of late-colonial and post-colonial regimes.  

This oral history project explores the lives of twelve such student activists in the context of Zimbabwe, a country with one of Africa’s highest literacy rates where educational achievement has come to be highly regarded in both politics and society. The stories of these twelve people’s experiences cumulatively stretch from the founding of the country’s university in the 1950s to the present, and tell of the different ways that student activism has affected people’s ideas and behaviours over several generations and through dramatic political and social change. The study traces people’s engagement with their institutional circumstances under colonial, Rhodesian and post-colonial rule, as well as the effects of higher education reforms that shifted from elite education to massification and privatization. Given that many student activists did go on to become prominent political leaders, this generational approach provides a way of analyzing how the legacy of these student experiences, and the educated authority they’re built around, relate to other forms of post-colonial political authority. 

Dan Hodgkinson
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow