Public Health at the Zimbabwean Border: Medicalizing Migrants and Contesting Colonial Institutions, 1890-1960


  • Francis Dube Morgan State University



As colonial powers in Africa consolidated their authority, borders became significant areas of focus for nascent colonial administrations. Border monitoring and regulation sought to control the cross-border movements of people, animals, and goods for varied reasons, including public health. In Zimbabwe, colonial public health measures at the border comprised the “medicalization” of African migrants, perceived by colonial authorities as diseased. These measures involved medical inspections or examinations, diagnosis, treatment, vaccinations or immunizations, and detention and quarantine, relating to diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness, plague, tuberculosis, smallpox, and syphilis. Yet, while colonial authorities in Zimbabwe advanced these explanations for regulating borders, some African migrants crossing the Zimbabwean border from neighboring countries often had their own understandings of the medical encounter and imperial boundaries. They questioned colonial governments’ motives, contesting both public health measures and the border itself, both of which they considered oppressive and discriminatory.





Themed section: The Historical Borderlands of Health and Mobility