Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Denboy Kudejira joined Memorial University as a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology in September 2018. His areas of research interest centre on labour migration, agrarian reforms and food security. Through his PhD research, he is exploring labour migration within the southern Africa region, with a particular focus on living and working conditions of migrant agricultural workers. He holds of an MA in Sustainable International Development, awarded by the Brandeis University (USA), a BSc degree in Environmental Sciences from the Bindura University of Science Education (Zimbabwe), and recently, completed an MPhil (Research) degree from the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of Western Cape (South Africa). The research was supported by a grant from the National Research Foundation (NRF). Besides his academic and research interests, Denboy also a passionate development practitioner. Over the past 15 years, he has worked for various international and local development agencies in southern Africa (including, Africare, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), Practical Action and Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT)), where he coordinated policy research, food security, peacebuilding and advocacy programmes.
How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?
Through my MPhil research, I explored the mobility of Zimbabwean migrants into, within and out of the South African agricultural labour market. When I started writing the MPhil thesis, about four years ago (2015), my supervisor, then, directed me to the research work that my ‘would-be’ PhD supervisor, Dr. Lincoln Addison, had done in South Africa. It is during this time that we started exchanging emails. Besides bombarding him with emails requesting for literature for my paper, I would always persuade him to support my application for graduate studies at Memorial. More than anything else, Dr. Addison’s brains drew me to Memorial. After engaging with his work during my MPhil research, I was convinced that I could benefit more if I have him as a PhD supervisor.
What drew you to explore anthropology originally?
Ever since I started my professional journey in the field of development work, I have always assumed positions where I had to interact directly with societies of different cultural backgrounds. This experience, together with my MA and MPhil studies, not only made me appreciate the diversity of cultures but also challenged me to investigate and learn the ways of living of different socio-economic and cultural groups. As a discipline concerned with the study of humans and societies, anthropology, therefore, became the first preference for my graduate studies. My conviction is that by the time I finish my PhD degree, I would have acquired the necessary theoretical knowledge and practical skills of understanding humans and societies.
Can you tell us a bit about your current projects?
I am writing my comprehensive examinations - that’s what is draining me currently! In the winter 2018 semester, I had the privilege of being enrolled as a student trainee by the On the Move Partnership (OTM) - an SSHRC-funded program housed at Memorial, which is exploring the spectrum of employment-related geographical mobility in the Canadian context, from extended daily mobility to and within work, to prolonged absences for work in other regions, provinces and countries. Through the mentorship of the OTM Director, Professor Barb Neis, I recently completed and submitted a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal. The paper explores the layers of vulnerability among internally and internationally mobile workers in the context of southern Africa. I am currently working on a paper for ‘The Future of Farm Workers in South Africa’ conference taking place in the next few weeks (16 – 8 October) at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. My paper looks at the linkage between border infrastructure and the (il)legality of undocumented Zimbabwean farmworkers in the Limpopo province of South Africa.
A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor bring to their role as your advisor and mentor?
My supervisor brings extensive knowledge of the research area that I am pursuing, i.e. migration and labour in southern Africa. I feel lucky to be supervised by an academic who has lived and conducted research in the region where I plan to conduct my own fieldwork, and in the subject area that I am also exploring. In addition, he possesses an in-depth understanding of the socio-economic and political context of my country of origin. So, more than being intuitive, the support that I am getting is informed by his personal practical field experiences. Above all, my supervisor brings ‘openness’ to my graduate life. He is approachable, sociable and always available to discuss and offer support on issues beyond academics.
How does studying in the humanities and social sciences affect your worldview?
The one year that I have so far spent studying in the humanities and social sciences has tremendously re-configured my view of humanity and the architecture of societies. Firstly, I now understand how social inequalities around the world have been influenced by global processes such as colonization, capitalism and globalization; and secondly, and more importantly, I have come to appreciate that humanity consists of societies with different cultures, and one can only be able to interpret by immersing into the daily lives of a specific cultural society.
What, in your opinion, is one thing Newfoundland and Labrador could do to make the province more attractive for young people and/or immigrants?
One thing that I frantically looked for when I first arrived was a food outlet that serves African food, but alas, I could not find any in downtown St John’s. I felt so detached and lost from my culture! While food is just one element, Newfoundland and Labrador could promote initiatives (e.g. cultural events) that make students and immigrants appreciate that their cultures, in their diversity, are being recognized.
Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement (and how it might relate to your studies)?
I am currently attached to the On the Move Partnership (OTM) as a trainee. The focus of the OTM is in congruency with my own research interests. While OTM is conducting research on mobility for work in the context of the Global North, my PhD is looking at labour migration in the South. So, besides the mentorship and guidance that I have received from the OTM team so far, especially on my journal manuscript, I am also being extensively exposed to relevant literature.
What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?
One thing that is peculiar to graduate studies at Memorial, and to the Department of Anthropology, in particular, is the personalized support that members of the faculty render to students. In addition, the university offers opportunities for growth through funding conferences and other career/professional development programs.
What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?
As a passionate development practitioner who hails from a developing part of the world, I have no doubt that the graduate studies program is equipping me with the knowledge and skills that would enable me to better understand communities, and to effectively contribute to bringing sustainable change to the livelihoods of the poor and most vulnerable. I am, therefore, hoping that my experience during the graduate studies will metamorphose into an investment that I would plough back for the betterment of societies in the Global South.