Association pour l’anthropologie du changement social et du développement
Association for the anthropology of social change and development

Reaching ‘the vulnerable’ by working from the heart? Community Case Workers in Zimbabwe

Auteur(s) : Hansen Saana ;

This paper is part of my Doctoral Research that uses the return migration of undocumented migrants from South Africa to Zimbabwe as a lens to investigate what has the prolonged crisis and large-scale displacement done to the economies of care in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. This paper asks how care givers of Zimbabwean ’posted back’ and ‘left behind’ children try to secure the state care, such as access to citizenship rights and other entitlements for the children. By looking at the everyday encounters between the care givers and the ward-level child care workers (CCWs), this paper contributes to the scholarship that brings about the creative aspects and affective entanglements of the state-citizen relations (e.g. Navaro-Yashin 2007, 2012; Laszczkowski & Reeves 2018).  The CCWs are non-paid volunteers, and the lowest stratum of the hierarchy of social welfare system, yet closest in proximity to the ordinary people. They embody state authority to intervene the sphere of the intimate with their mandate to identify ‘vulnerable families’ and ‘refer’ them to various ‘higher’ authorities. The CCWs are part of the official government policy and the social welfare relies on their volunteer labour to run the social services on the ground. In doing so, they are key figures through which the people imagine ‘the state’ and seek statutory care.

My argument draws on 9 months of multi-sited ethnographic research in the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, as well as in the border-zones and the homes of transnational migrants in Johannesburg, South Africa. By looking at everyday encounters between the CCWs and the care-takers of ‘left behind’ and ‘posted back’ children, I explore how the responsibilities to care and rights to be cared for are claimed and negotiated in circumstances where ‘the state’ lacks capacity to provide adequate protection and employment to its citizenry. In these conditions, the ‘informal economies’ and a number of non-state actors, such as various ‘fixer’ and ‘brokers’ who facilitate access for instance to documents, foreign currency and cross-border transportation, occupy the ‘state space’ (Ferguson & Gupta 2002). I argue that the CCWs perform a disciplinary role by registering ‘the vulnerable’ and defining who ‘deserves’ access to the scarce statutory care, such as birth registration or school fee programmes (cf. Malkki 2015). I also show that at the heart of these claims lay questions on affective relations and entanglements. By mixing affective and biblical language of passion and love, empathy and spiritual leading with neoliberal self-responsibilization rhetoric, the CCWs make affective and moral claims on how a good citizen and a respectful (transnational) parent should behave and act. On the other hand, the care-givers of displaced children enact and claim vulnerability and citizenship via various performative acts (Butler 2009), including for instance production of legible birth stories. Paradoxically, while the encounters constitute a creative space for claim-making and a sense of hope for ‘the poor’, the volunteers also use this state space to validate their own authority and practice ukuhlanganisa (‘mixing things to make do’), which is the dominant mode of economic survival in the study area today.

Mot-clé : affects, Child care workers, Child Displacement, Documents, Economies of Care, Return Migration, State, Uncertainty, and Zimbabwe

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Voir le panel Des États de sentiments. Explorer les enchevêtrements affectifs et émotionnels des fonctionnaires et des citoyens / States of Feeling: Exploring Public Servants’ and Citizens’ Affective and Emotional Entanglements

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