Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

Article: Mashingaidze

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Terence M. Mashingaidze

Midlands State University, Zimbabwe, and the University of South Africa

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The Kariba Dam, Discursive Displacements and the Politics of Appropriating a Waterscape in Zimbabwe, 1950s-2017


The construction of mega dams does not just cause large scale technical and environmental transformations, it triggers new and competing ways of appropriating the emerging waterscapes. When the Kariba Dam emerged in the late 1950s along the Zambezi River, between Zimbabwe and Zambia, it generated contending myths of identity and belonging. Both the indigenous black Tonga and colonial white Rhodesians deployed, I argue, various tactical discursive instruments to justify their belonging and access to the resource rich Kariba waterscape. White writers and aligned media excised Tonga existence and histories from the Zambezi Valley by projecting it as pristine and wild. Parallel to these exclusionary representational regimes, the Tonga self-inscribed into the history of the valley by portraying it as their long-lasting homeland and a site of their incremental dispossession because in spite of residing by the Kariba, the Tonga experienced perpetual water shortages in their upland homes and had minimal access to the dam’s fisheries. From the late 1980s, budding Tonga activists began to refer to the Kariba waterscape and the adjacent dry and infertile uplands where their families resettled upon the construction of the mega-dam as Tongaland. The Tonga’s ethno-regional anthem, Chigambyo Chipati (The-Most-Surprising-Thing), also constructed the Kariba Dam as a font of historical memory, a symbol of communal dislocation and repressed cultural potency.

Keywords: Kariba Dam; Tonga; Zimbabwe; Basilwizi; displacement; identity; waterscape

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Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

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