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Human Security and Return Migration

"where is home?"

Research Question: To what extent is ontological security a motivating factor for (white) Zimbabweans who have begun to voluntarily return home since the 2000 exodus?

My research begins from the very problematic question of ‘Where are you from?’. During my research, I found that this is a question that causes anxiety for a huge number of people the world over. Using myself as an example, I can visually see that people are much happier when I answer that I am from Australia rather than Zimbabwe as this fit with their essentialist ideas on race, nationality and ethnicity. But Zimbabwe is my “furusato,” where I was born and raised, where I saw my future and where my values and culture developed. I use this Japanese word on purpose here. Firstly, I wish to stress the fact that my furasato[1] is a nostalgic yearning for a past home I cannot return to — being a forced migrant from our family farm. Secondly, by using a word from another culture and place, to emphasise the existence of our globalising identities and our transnational mobility. Finally, to highlight the irony that only in losing my furusato was I really able to come across this new concept, through experience of another culture, that captures what home means to me now. 

It is with an understanding of the idea of globalisation and the notion put forward by some scholars and NGOs that we are becoming (or can become) global citizens[2] that I move on to exploring in a sense the opposite idea, namely, the idea that there is a basic human need for our belonging to be anchored in a place, a tangible community and culture (Dower, 2000). Diaspora studies provide this useful interdisciplinary lens for understanding 'the consequences of globalisation, transnationalism, and cultural hybridity’ (Jacobs, 2016, p. 3). Studies within psychology and sociology suggest that our identity and sense of self needs a physical place to call home, something to attach to or something that provides stability (Innes, 2017). This is something known as ontological security, which is a concept that takes our idea of security beyond just the physical to embrace a more holistic understanding of what makes us secure to address our vital core. The idea that our insecurities are kept under control by the structure and routine of a known society in which we interact within. This is where we can see human security, the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, broadly including freedom from fear and freedom from want (CHS, 2003). And ontological security complementing each other to bring to life the idea of security[3] for the whole human and whole of humanity in a way that is not universalist and limiting, as is sometimes the case with human rights discourse, but pluralistic, open-minded and inclusive. The idea of ‘security for the whole human and whole of humanity’ contributes to the stated objective of human security, by the Commission on Human Security, that in protecting 'the vital core[4] of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfillment' (CHS, 2003). However conventional human security does not allow for this and thus a post-secular[5] and postcolonial[6] approach towards human security is needed, this will be discussed below in more detail. 

But firstly back to that question ‘Where are you from?’, the question that I introduced at the beginning of this essay, and how it can cause myself and many others huge amounts of ontological insecurity putting our identity and belonging into question. This question would never have been an issue had it not been for the colonial narrative of nationhood[7]. When one explores one’s identity and belonging further, the colonial narrative of nationhood leads many of us to question how much of this ‘feeling’ of nationality is truly part of our identity and how much of it is a political construct. Yet now it forms a huge part of our sense of self. Therefore, being unable to answer this simple question is what led me to ask: to what extent is ontological security a motivating factor for (white) Zimbabweans to voluntarily return[8] home after the 2000 exodus despite the ongoing protracted crises and clear lack of human security within the state? This essay will attempt to answer this question by explaining Zimbabwe's history and current situation, including the 2000 exodus, characterised as an exodus due to the scale of outward migration (McGregor and Primorac, 2010). Exploring return migration[9] literature and how it relates to ontological security, I will use part of the findings of my research conducted in 2018 on the experiences of Zimbabwean returnees, which encompases my own subjective experience as a returnee. 

1. Furusato (written here in romaji instead of the Japanese alphabet) is a Japanese word that means native place or home. However, it has a deeper meaning than that in that it is connected to nostalgia and ‘the past’ (and has a temporal dimension which can be past, present or future unlike home) (Morrison, 2013). Like the idea of ‘home’, furusato can also have physical and imagined fluid meanings and positive and negative imagery that is associated with it. Furusato is also associated with an ideology of loss and change and spirituality (Morrison, 2013)  

2. Global citizen had been defined in many ways, but basically refers to individuals who see their responsibility and connections to others as not being defined by national borders. Identity is connected to the whole human race not just those of the same nationality as you (Dower, 2000). 

3. Security being defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a state of being free from danger or threat. 

4. The Vital Core of human security encapsulates the vital interests, values and needs of people that are necessary to be protected including the need to develop personal capabilities and aspirations (Baldwin, 1997).

5. Post-secular perspective aims to recognize aspects that are key to the whole person's identity, their religious and cultural beliefs and values that are unique to them. Ensuring they are not constructs from colonialism. 

6. Post colonial approach acknowledges the effects of colonialism as occurring now (Shani, 2017). Post colonialism is where these two concepts are interlinked as through the effect of the post colonial legacy in prescribing religion and then removing it from public view, the post-secular became necessary. 

7. Colonial narrative is referring to the stories and ideas that the European colonizers have created about the places they colonized. Including creating the idea of nations, of belonging and non-belonging as well as construct of certain identities (Mhlanga, 2013). 

8. Return migration is defined by IOM as 'going back to one's own culture, family and home'. Voluntary return is used here in contrast to forced return being defined as the ability to freely choose to return to your country of origin (IOM, 2017). 

9. Global citizen had been defined in many ways, but basically refers to individuals who see their responsibility and connections to others as not being defined by national borders. Identity is connected to the whole human race not just those of the same nationality as you (Dower, 2000). 

Security and Movement: Securing the whole self

Ontological security can be defined as “a person’s fundamental sense of safety in the world and includes a basic trust of other people. Obtaining such trust becomes necessary for a person to maintain a sense of psychological well-being and avoid existential anxiety” (Giddens, 1991 in Shani, 2017, p ) - structure is a way of managing these existential anxieties. Our routine, belonging, and sense of meaning and purpose can be brought into question in a completely new environment (Brace, 2013). Acknowledging that the migration journey can bring our ontological security into question. Especially when the choice is removed from the individual, as with the case of forced migration[10], it can strip a person back to bare life[11]. To a loss of what makes them whole, their identity, culture, social ties and religion. Added to this is if the migrant is moving into a more secular world, where expressing your religion or culture can lead to persecution. Which some of my respondents suffered in the secular countries they had migrated to, leading them to question something that has always been core to who they are, their faith. This may not be a bad thing, if these individuals have the support around them to navigate such existential questions, to be empowered to find a new sense of security. But if they do not have support, which can often be the case in migration, especially forced migration, where people are not prepared and thus may not have options to consider and choose where they move to, resulting in isolation and vulnerability.  

Bartram, Poros, and Monforte suggest that migration should be viewed as a continuum of compulsion to better understand the nuanced and politically motivated definitions (2014). As the decision to migrate can be removed from citizens due to activities of the state, by the deeper political socio-economic structures (Nzima and Moyo, 2017). The definition of forced migration being, “migration that results from some sort of compulsion or threat to well-being or survival, emerging in conditions ranging from violent conflict to severe economic hardship” (Bartram, Poros, and Monforte, 2014). Thus, we cannot assume economic migration (a category that many African migrants are automatically put into by the Global North) is the voluntary end of the continuum. As using this same logic we could argue (quite uncompassionately in my view) that refugees are voluntarily leaving due to their insistence for human rights (Bartram, Poros, and Monforte, 2014). Within migration literature, it is presumed that economic compulsion often does not have a persecuting agent, but I would argue is the case of Zimbabwe, it does, very clearly, it is the state. This would imply, in traditional security, the failure to protect people within the state and validate the need for a better approach to protection, which is why the concept of human security remains useful and important. 

10.  Forced migration depicts the situation when a person has no agency in the reasons they come home, such as being deported by the host country or having no legal visa to remain (Bartram, Poros, and Monforte, 2014). 

11.  Seeing the individual without the important factors such cultural or religious aspects that make up their identity (Shani, 2014).

Human Security: Protecting the ‘Whole’ person

Using my data and other literature on return migration, economic stability or incentives are not people’s main reason for return, but connection to customs, culture, language, norms and identity are key factors influencing return (Shani 2017). The primary reason for return migration can, therefore, be seen an ontological security. However, once they achieve ontological security through return, they are subject to human insecurity from both a narrow view, subject to violence from the state as well as from poverty as 90% unemployed people are taking to violent means of burglary. As well as the broad approach with mass hunger due to multitude of factors, continuous cholera outbreaks due to lack of infrastructure maintenance and lack of foreign currency to bring in medicines the hospital needs. The brain drain has lead to lack of staff to run schools and hospitals and decline in these, as well as parents being unable to pay school fees due to ongoing unemployment. Multitude of ongoing human rights violations in the name of politics, including the recent suspension of the internet and social media. The situation in relation to freedom from want are dire, but also with a culture of violence perpetuated by the state against its people, the freedom from fear is not a reality. Again witnessed by the recent strikes due to the fuel increase in January 2019, the military came out, going door to door beating up young men thought to be able to protest, striking fear into anyone willing to speak up about the suffering people are experiencing (International Crisis Group, (2019).

At the same time, we are not defined by language, religion, geography as these are obstacles created during colonialism. Colonial representations define people as alien, settler, native, outsider. It rewrites history from a western point of view. In Zimbabwe through the current 'liberation history' being told, it is perpetuating this colonial narrative and telling history from one side again. Perpetuating divisions, North, South, black, white, Liberator, sell-outs, settler, indigenous. I agree with Shani, in our need to view ontological security through the post -colonial lens as ultimately the colonial legacy that continues to exist is what has resulted in so much insecurity within the state that has led to the huge outflow of migrants (2017).

Thus the human security approach is important as it protects the whole person and whole society more than traditional security can - enables the individual who legitimises the state to question if it is fulfilling standards of Human Rights and welfare. But as multicultural societies, as is the case in Zimbabwe, we need a post-secular approach to security - to see the whole being.

Forced Migration and Voluntary Return 

Return migration is the process of going back to one's own culture, family and home (IOM, 2017). This is the idea most have, but it leads to misconception that it is a simple process for the individuals. The process of returning is more like the outward migration journey, in the need to adapt to a new culture on arrival, especially in insecure and unstable countries like Zimbabwe, and the host population have had to adapt and survive daily. The migration experience also changes the individual or family, having to adapt to a new normal and learn new ways of doing things and seeing the world. In a sense those who cannot adapt either suffer in isolation, live within ethnic enclaves or return home. As one respondent commented about her friends who went to Australia and how 'they were traumatised, nobody told them how difficult it would be, so they came home again'. As argued by Shani (2017) individuals are only able to act with agency because they have stability, to be able to 'act consistently regarding future relationships and experiences' (Shani, 2017, p 8). For returnees this agency results in their choosing to return home to regain this continuity. As one of my respondents shared how she has lost her 'core' in the UK and so 'I have decided to go back to Zim, to figure me out. I had got to that point where I had lost myself, I didn't know what my weaknesses are, my strengths... those basic things” (Personal Communication, 2018). As if (consciously or unconsciously) seeing a more holistic view of human security, one that enables them to express themselves in their culture and/or religion without being ostracised excluded or even persecuted, a freedom which they initially thought to find in the country of migration. Instead they found countries that restrict the rights that make them who they are, rights linked to their ontological security of being, as they no longer feel whole or able to continue being who they were before, they either have to change and adapt to survive, which many migrants do, and return becomes less likely with each passing year. Or they end up living in ethnic enclaves, a situation which enables them to continue to live out their culture but having to restrict themselves in the public domain or in interactions with locals. Or return. 

Migration and Ideas of Home: A Case Study of Zimbabwe

What is home? As Mitzen states 'a psychological need for home as a place of “being” is central to an ontological security approach to subjectivity, and home qualities that resonate psychologically underpin political projects such as the Westphalian homeland' (2018, p 1373). Narratives and practices of home help sustain the feeling of being and belonging - even if it is part of a political project that creates this idea and organises our lives. The sense of belonging creates by collective stories that are part of group identification and mobilization. Our community around us help us remember and re-confirm this narrative. Personal continuity of familiar sights, people and how the self behaves within this social order gives us meaning and morality - thus ontological security.

At a personal level home means comfort, familiarity and safety, it is providing 'refuge from an unsettled and potentially threatening world,' thus home offers a certain security of being (Mitzen, 2018, p 1374). Thus, the loss of the home with forced migration and displacement removes the stability and continuity needed for psychological well being. If you cannot recreate it elsewhere can affect the self - thus entering the desire for return migration to find oneself and your security. 

“The return of migrants to their country of origin is sometimes as fulfillment of original intentions, sometimes as a consequence of revised intentions” (Bartram et al, 2014). But at the core of it more migrants regardless of reason for migrating the idea of returning provokes a nostalgic yearning for home and stability - for ontological security - routine and the familiar. Evoking images of longing and angst. This desire to return home being described as ‘palpable’ (Okome, 2014). But home comes with it many romanticised ideas, of what we remember and what we choose to forget and where return migration can come into trouble. As the idea to 'go back' is flawed as the idea of home may not exist as used to. The people and structures that make it home may no longer be there. it also depends on our ability to make choices and create actions to be able to control existential anxiety created through migration or massive instability. So outside of a known environment we can be too anxious to make decisions for ourselves anymore (Mitzen, 2018). 

In the Zimbabwean context, returning to what many onlookers think is ‘madness’ or a ‘reckless step’ (Okome, 2014) can be explained in part by this concept of ontological security. 'That generation (in their 30s) they have not really established their roots in another country yet, so they quite desperate to come back. There is something about it, my son who is doing really well in Switzerland, but he is yearning to come back, you know home is home'. This was the case with all respondents in my study, who expressing in various ways a desire to regain their sense of self or stability, which could be interpreted as the need for ontological security, or security of being. The need humans have to feel as if they are whole, continuous, and stable over time (Giddens, 1991). The idea of home here is a mythical idea now with emotional meanings, but it still helps create that continuity that gives us ontological security of being and belonging. Realising that home cannot be seen as static. As just from the relational perspective, idea that social ties are what give people meaning, community and ontological security in a place. So, the idea of home that is caught up with the idea of family and community is mythical now, it no longer exists as it is always changing, especially with all the displacement within the country. Including the culture within it, making return migration even more challenging. 

Zimbabwe: A Nation Born into Insecurity

To understand the reasons why this is an interesting question to ask now, we need to understand the current levels of insecurity in Zimbabwe, which is directly related to Zimbabwe’s recent history. When Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, the idea of nation building became prominent with President Robert Mugabe declaring that the Zimbabwean people shall forgive and forget the 10-year Bush War (also called the Liberation War depending on which side one was on) and the effects of colonisation. Mugabe led the nation with the following rhetoric: 'let bygones be bygones and move together as Zimbabweans to trample upon racism, tribalism and regionalism and work hard to reconstruct and rehabilitate our society...' (Mlambo, 2013, p. 50). This changed and there was an outbreak of outward state-based violence that perpetuated the colonial narratives, causing people with certain political persuasions, ethnic identities and, to a certain extent, educational and socio-economic statuses to lose their security. The violence began shortly after Zimbabwe gained independence with the massacre of over 20,000 people in the 1980s in Matebeleland and Manicaland. This violence was legitimised by labeling the people there as ‘dissidents’, when in reality many the people killed were women and children (Mlambo, 2013). The massacre caused a huge number of people from that region to spill across the border into South Africa and Botswana because the people could not survive (economically and emotionally) in Zimbabwe after losing key members of their families and communities. Since the occurrence of the massacre, to this day, Zimbabweans do not have freedom from violence. This has lasted for over two decades resulting in authors referring to Zimbabwe as being in protracted crisis (McGregor and Primorac, 2010). As one 25-year-old informant said to me, 'we are living in a silent war'. Currently, the state is failing to provide basic services for citizens. This failure to provide basic services is said to have originated from the effects of the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP), imposed on many African nations by the World Bank in the 1990s. This policy was then perpetuated by policies of the ruling party led by the liberator turned dictator, and the corruption that directly contributed to the rapid deterioration in the quality of life of everyday citizens that has occurred since 2000. Zimbabweans do not have freedom from want or freedom from fear with mass unemployment, food shortages and a continued politics of fear[12] (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2009). This politics of fear creates anxiety and questions of safety and stability that led to millions of people fleeing the country.

12.  A concept popularized as a culture of fear by sociologist Barry Glassner in 2000, which enxompases how politicians use emotional manipulation to incite fear as a method to achieve political goals. 

The 2000 Exodus

This insecurity has remained until today, with a recent bout of violence against people who were protesting the economic instability in the country. The state responded with violence, intimidation and the cutting off access to the internet and social media (International Crisis Group, 2019). Looking at Zimbabwe’s history, it is clear that people often come to exhibit what they themselves have experienced, as pointed out in Mlambo (2013), who quoted from Melber as follows: the “irony of the fact is that those who had struggled to end colonial injustices tended to exhibit the very negative and repressive characteristics of the system that they fought so hard to overthrow” (2013, p.60). This politics of fear and polarization tactics continue to force people to seek safety and economic opportunities outside Zimbabwe. With a quarter of the population now living in the diaspora, Zimbabwe, a nation initially characterised by simultaneous inflow and outflow, lost nearly 4 million of its people in a few years, starting in 2000. Hence, the migration of the people from Zimbabwe was dubbed the Zimbabwean Exodus by Crush and Tevera (2010). Waves of legal and illegal border crossings resulted in crippling skills losses in the public and private sectors (that were initially targeted for their perceived political opposition), initially affecting the quality of education and healthcare, declining to the stage where all areas of society are affected, with the deterioration of infrastructure, lack of food supply where even finding cash to catch the bus has become a daily struggle never mind a job to earn that cash legitimately (Crush and Tevera, 2010). This leads to the question, what should the individual be protected from? Thus, facilitating for the included to 'forget' the government's part in corruption and mismanagement of funds, of forgetting or hiding attempts by minority groups to work with government on righting certain historical wrong. Most importantly this focus on certain memories, creates the ability to forget that these people are citizens of the state too, that have the right to the state’s protection.

White Zimbabwean Returnees - Questioned identity, Questioned Belonging

The population of white Zimbabweans went from 300,000 in 1980 to under 30,000 in 2008 (Crush and Tevera, 2010). The violence against white farmers was highly reported in western media, at the time often overlooking how it affected the mostly black farm workers. Asover 28 white farmers and 78 black farmers were murdered between 2000-2014. Due to the murders, assault and rhetoric of the government over 100,000 white Zimbabweans, feeling directly targeted, fled the country. Added to this, with the Citizenship Act changes in 2003, white Zimbabweans, many who had birth rights in the country, were labelled as aliens. This period of Zimbabwean history was made to be a race issue but really it was about political power (Musanga and Manase, 2016). However, it made many question where they belonged, questioning their claim to a Zimbabwean identity, and now many are voluntarily returning. Therefore the focus on white Zimbabweans returning is an interesting phenomenon to understand in relation to ontological security. 

As through my research I found this seeking of ontological security slightly different to those whose identity had not been questioned - those who felt their identity had been stripped of them - those white Zimbabweans who were labelled alien in the citizenship act changes, including the non-white Zimbabweans who were born to Malawian or Mozambican parents who no longer could claim a Zimbabwean passport to vote. Arguably resulting in a loss of ontological security, as their identity was questioned, and nationality removed. People's responses were either to hold tighter to their nationality, making outward migration never an option or for those who left, making eventual return essential to their sense of self. While others now in the diaspora live in a state of ontological insecurity or choose to embrace the new host country completely. This is the sense of ontological insecurity many white Zimbabweans face after the 2000 land reform, citizenship act and ‘liberation history’ that Mugabe used to demonise and exclude people from their country of birth. The state began operating against its own people. Choosing who may be excluded from the nation perpetuating post colonial state narratives of the liberation movement, creating a 'patriotic history' based on selective memories. This colonial narrative allowed it to continue to divide rather than use the understanding and learnings from the checkered past to create human security for all Zimbabweans and carry out land reform peacefully. The ability to continue the trajectory that Mugabe started on, of trying to build the nation - aware of differences but also of shared history, future and shared values, was lost. Yet those white people who stayed after independence accepted and took on Zimbabwean citizenship, like the Malawian, Mozambican immigrants too, in the beginning their motivations for staying may have been mainly on economic terms but has since become something deeper than that. A sense of connection, pride in how the country became the breadbasket of Africa, now with a second and third generation of offspring a sense of home and nationality has been created. Yet, the colonial history of essentializing continues where certain ethnicities are reduced to categorisations, where their connection to the land, culture and customs is seen as foreign when in fact Zimbabwe has reached generations, like that of the Shona and Ndebele people, whose ancestors spent their whole lives on the same land. Their connection to any other culture has moved further away and arguably as the society becomes less stratified, is moving closer together within Zimbabwe, across lines of difference. The Malawian Zimbabwean, white Zimbabwean, Indian Zimbabwean all choose to remain 'as home is home'. Will we ever get to the stage where we can drop the first descriptor?

How do we reconcile the challenge for certain generations who have a limited understanding of the history, partly to the code of silence their parents exhibited after the liberation war and the government's policy of forgive and forget. Making school history classes devoid of key understandings that explain the current context and why certain attitudes were held or assumed to be held towards each other across lines of difference. One Zimbabwean respondent in his 30s saying, 'it was as if we had missed part of the conversation', while colonial systems continued to operate, with education curriculums based on the Cambridge system that did not teach our collective history, but avoided the hard truths (Personal Communications, 2018). The parts of shared history that would enable greater understanding between the colonial categories, as well as history that would grow an appreciation of each other's cultures and story. To unpack and deal with the historical injustices instead of allowing them to repeat themselves based on resentment and misunderstanding, as only through understanding it can it be changed. 

One returnee explaining in an interview that

'we were the generation of 'born frees', we did not have the legacy of having to fight in a war. We went to school in mixed schools and all I knew all my life was that we were great mates then with land redistribution there was all the vitrial that just crushed that perception in our generation. Suddenly at school all the people you looked at as friends, became militant, and debates were being had within the school of whether we have the right to be here or not. Being accused of a whole bunch of injustices that were debateable in our understanding' (Personal Communication, 2018). 

There is a culture that over generations has been created, it is influenced by the ancestors of many European states, but it is uniquely Zimbabwean, as it was formed in response to living in a certain unique context. A context that all people who live within it can relate to each other through, regardless of their race. Not to be naive in thinking everyone thinks the same way, as many are holding onto their old identities. As one respondent commented that he had seen people returning that still held bitterness from losing the farm or fighting the war (in 1970s) and he was concerned saying ' it is not very practical, but there should be like an entrance exam to come back, coz if you are going to come back with your old prejudices, don’t come back. If you are going to come back and embrace the new Zimbabwe, then very welcome. But dont come back thinking you are going to just slot in like before, coz we dont want that' (Personal Communication, 2018). Alongside this attitude shift needed by some and the commitment of white Zimbabweans to remain and come back home, many of the black Zimbabweans through conversations as well as comments in interviews alluded to the fact that they had began to appreciate that we are all Zimbabweans. One Shona man shouted to me on the street, 'ah one of the original investors, the real ones who stayed, not like the Chinese' (Personal Communication, 2018). Another man relating back about the farm invasions and trying to define who is Zimbabwean saying 'it is not like what happened in the past when Mugabe took the farms, that is not good. Coz we are all Zimbabweans, no matter your white or black. Look where we are not, we are all suffering. Because of that, thinking that this one, coz white not Zimbabwean. Now we are calling back all those people, realised they were also true Zimbabweans' (Personal Communication, 2018). The coup in 2017[13] contributed to this sense of ‘Zimbabwean-ness’. 

Why it was so easy for the government to polarise a people who had been living together peacefully for nearly 20 years. For most returnees are in the 30s age group. Who are trying to integrate into a world not of their making, but of their ancestors. Due to the colour of their skin they are assumed to belong to the colonial past and assumed to be able to just 'go back to Britain'. When in fact, these same people went (some out of necessity others for opportunity and adventure) but found their white skin (in some cases black skins) and English language, allowed them to be initially accepted but culturally not, leading to experience elements of exclusion, isolation and questioning of their identity and where they belong. One respondent commenting ‘I had never experience racism on a white on white basis until I moved to the UK’ (Personal Communication, 2018). In a sense white Zimbabweans are searching for that macro level understanding of home - where political projects that organise lives feel we belong to - that creates the idea of National identity (Mitzen, 2018). Home is a an enclosed place that is private and a place with feelings of attachment - comfort, safety and belonging (Mitzen, 2017). Thus, home is no longer seen as a shared space with multiple claims. Only by acknowledging the damage we have done in the past to ontological security of citizens - fellow community members - we can recreate the idea of home that is inclusive, a space for all. For Example, we are seeing many partnerships emerging between old owners and new owners of the farms. Creating a new normal as one black farmer said before "there was this animosity (but) I'm pleased that under the new dispensation we can be honest with each other and say 'Look, we need each other, we belong together - whites and blacks' (News 24, 2018).

This leads to the question of can human security be a framework to protect citizens (to create freedom from fear and want) but also to empower vulnerable groups in process for peace building and national reconciliation? It would seem post-secular, postcolonial human security is the only version of human security that can achieve this, considering the full context of the groups and individuals meant to be protected. 

13.  In November 2017, President Robert Mugabe was removed through what many journalist termed the ‘Peaceful coup’ which led to thousands of Zimbabweans taking to the streets in celebration for the removal of the 38 year dictator. This time has been characterised by many as a time of oneness, unity and togetherness for all Zimbabweans, no matter their background (Quist-Arcton, 2017). 


When applied to the motivations for return migration, ontological security is a key factor influencing people's return, specifically those with the means to return. “If individuals lack ontological security, they are unable to establish relations of basic trust with other individuals and, consequently are unlikely to be able to live in freedom and dignity free from fear and want” (Shani, 2017, p. 277) - wherever they choose to live would be arguably unable to obtain human security of any kind, acknowledging that ontological insecurity abroad is why they choose to return home. Found through my research I discovered that many Zimbabweans are seeking freedom to safety, in the aspects of the self that were unsafe and insecure in a foreign country and returning home despite the physical insecurities, financial and political unknowns. Many respondents sharing various versions of the adage, 'the grass is not greener on the other side', I would rather deal with the knowns in my own homeland'. Choosing to return home as a way towards re-creating their sense of self and security. Showing how important this sense of self, home and belonging can be, as in their desire to regain it. By returning home, they can regain their ontological security, even if it means their physical or economic security is at risk, it is a known risk, a risk of their choosing. The reality of holistic views of human security is that physical violence is the least of many Zimbabweans worries. Which requires a Post -secular postcolonial approach to human security enabling us to accept difference as part of what makes us all human while acknowledging that difference does not mean we belong anywhere any less.

A post-colonial approach allows us to see rather we are defined by a shared history (maintaining the separate stories only serves to divide - our history is shared as we are all being affected by it now, acknowledging there are different perspectives of the same history but if all accounts are at minimum acknowledged, there is better chance of being understood and potentially reconciled.

A post-colonial and post -secular approach allows us to see our binding values - when you live in a shared space, even though we have different cultural background, there becomes an appreciation and solidarity that comes for fighting for the same things, living within the same context and crisis, dealing with similar challenges. Most importantly A post-colonial approach allows us to see our common destiny. The future we want to create. The coup in 2017 was a perfect example of that common fight for our future and display of unity, something that must be harnessed and developed going forward. 

As a final thought I wanted to highlight an area for future study due in part to the peculiarities of the Zimbabwean case. A protracted crisis, with a slow-onset disaster situation that has led to a huge diaspora now living outside their home, coming up to over a decade in the diaspora for some. Many of whom we know through research and study of diasporic communities would love to return home (McGregor and Primorac, 2010). Knowing too that they are needed in the country to combat the brain drain and contribute to business start-ups to create employment. But especially important to note that currently voluntarily returning home in these crisis conditions is a luxury of the middle class, those able to take the financial risk. People without the finances to insulate themselves in such uncertainty, remain stuck in the diaspora, potentially with an ongoing sense of ontological insecurity. The longer they remain out, the harder reintegration becomes, making their vulnerability increase, as with the rise in nationalism and anti-immigration sentiments the need to return is likely to remain on the agenda, including their own desire for home and ontological security (Kushminder, 2017, IOM, 2017 and Mitsen, 2017). These realities make the need for durable solutions for the millions of forced migrants to remain as one of the biggest challenges of our time.


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Date Published

October 5, 2019
9:30 am Saturday, Tokyo (GMT+9)


essay, thesis, human security, ontological security, migration

About the author
Natasha Venables
Having worked in a combination of small and large non-government organizations (NGOs) I have seen the benefit and need for organizations in development context, from advocacy to empowerment. Also having worked in the development and disaster management. I hoped my AFE could tie into my past experience and enable me to give back to an organization based around reconciliation, social cohesion and peacebuilding. Therefore, for my AFE, I am trying to secure an internship with one of the many organizations working towards these ideals in Zimbabwe. An AFE based in Zimbabwe will facilitate field data collection for my thesis, since I am using participatory methods, I will use this time during AFE to also be establishing and developing a relationship with the community at my case study site.


International Christian University
3 Chome-3-10−2 Ōsawa, Mitaka-shi, Tōkyō-to 181-8585