IDS Working Paper 575: Living Through a Pandemic: Competing Covid-19 Narratives in Rural Zimbabwe

Through a real time analysis of the Covid-19 pandemic across rural Zimbabwe, this Working Paper explores the competing narratives that framed responses and their politics.

Based on 20 moments of reflection over two years, together with ongoing document and media analysis and an intensive period of qualitative interviewing, a complex, dynamic story of the pandemic ‘drama’ emerges, which contrasts with snapshot perspectives. Across the period, a science-led public health narrative intersects with a security and control narrative promoted by the state and is countered by a citizens’ narrative that emphasises autonomy, independence, and local innovation.

The politics of this contestation over narratives about appropriate pandemic responses are examined over three periods – reflecting different waves of infection – and in relation to two conjunctures – an early, strict lockdown and the rollout of vaccines. Different narratives gain ascendancy and overlap at different times, but a local citizen-led narrative emerges strongly in the context of heavy-handed lockdowns, inadequate state capacity, and struggles around rural livelihoods. The pandemic has reshaped relationships between the state and citizens in important ways, with self-reliance rooted in local resilience central to local pandemic responses.

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