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The Politics of the Dead in Zimbabwe, 2000–2020: Bones, Rumours and Spirits

In 1898, just before she was hanged for rebelling against colonial rule, Charwe Nyakasikana, spirit medium of the legendary ancestor Ambuya Nehanda, famously prophesised that ‘my bones will rise again’. A century later bones, bodies and human remains have come to occupy an increasingly complex place in Zimbabwe’s postcolonial milieu. From ancestral ‘bones’ rising again in the struggle for independence, and later land, to resurfacing bones of unsettled war dead; and from the troubling decaying remains of postindependence gukurahundi massacres to the leaky, tortured bodies of recent election violence, human materials are deeply intertwined in the politics of memory, commemoration and death. Providing a new perspective on death practices, the author examines human remains as material substances, as rumours, and as returning spirits, and shows how the incompleteness of death is politically productive, and deeply intertwined with postcolonial power and politics.

Joost Fontein
University of Johannesburg

Product details


  • Introduction
  • 1. Liberation heritage
    Bones and the politics of commemoration
  • 2. Bones and tortured bodies
    Corporealities of violence and post-violence
  • 3. Chibondo
    Exhumations, uncertainty and the excessivity of human materials
  • 4. Political accidents
    Rumours, death and the politics of uncertainty
  • 5. Precarious possession
    Rotina Mavhunga, politics and the uncertainties of mediumship
  • 6. Mai Melissa
    Towards the alterity of spirit and the incompleteness of death
  • 7. After Mugabe
  • Conclusion


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May 18, 2023

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