Tuesday, 4 March 2014

On the Other Shore of Tokwe Mukosi: Tragedy, Colonial Legacies and Disaster Capitalism


By Takura Zhangazha*

I have a number of friends and colleagues who have gone to the site of the national disaster flooded area of the still under construction Tokwe Mukosi dam wall.  Some for journalistic reasons.  Others in aide of humanitarian relief efforts.

In both cases  the concern is genuinely in the best public and humanitarian interest.  The humanitarian aid campaign has helped raise national awareness of the tragedy that has been unfolding in the south eastern lowlands of Zimbabwe.  This has helped initiate public and corporate contributions to the direct welfare of displaced citizens of our country. 

In fact, a Tokwe Mukosi Trust has since been established to help the flood victims together with various private corporations (in some instances with public contributions) helping by providing much needed material assistance.  Such sterling efforts, particularly on the part of private citizens cannot be faulted and must be praised. 

The only other major issue to consider where it comes to the entirety of the project that is the Tokwe Mukosi Dam Project (TMDP) relates more to its history and contemporary placement in our national understanding of ‘development’. 

Originally the TMDP was one of the grand dam building initiatives of the then Southern Rhodesian government. Its primary blueprints are therefore informed by the modernization policies of the settler state.  This would not be a problem if we were to consider modernization as progressive, with or without context. 

Because its genesis resides in the same said settler colony that was Rhodesia, its pretext is also founded on the basis of economic exclusion.  Particularly that of the peasant farmer.  In fact, the TMDP is reminiscent of the Kariba Dam project and its effect on those that resided in its catchment area, at that time.  They were arbitrarily relocated within racist frameworks and in the then repressive and racist  name of modernization and tourism.

Because the TMDP blueprints had the intended dimension of bringing water to an arid lowveld, the water was not for application in the local. It was water largely intended for the large scale sugar cane farmers/companies  further downstream.  Tourism would then have been an additional benefit in the same way that Lake Kariba is imagined, largely as a holiday resort for those who can afford it.

Where we fast forward to our contemporary context, some of the fundamentals of the idea of that dam as at colonial inception remain unchanged. It remains a blueprint suited more to the settler state economy than a broader democratic and national one.  Hence prior to the unexpected rates of flooding (it was expected), government ministers were talking in praise of the project on the similar grounds of how it will irrigate downstream agriculture and promote tourism, the latter in similar fashion to Kariba’s hospitality industry. 

The compensation that was reportedly given to some of the families that have lived in the basin for decades has been described as not only minimal but also without adequate context. The cash handouts that were given did not have a specific utilitarian element to them in relation to actual relocation. Those that managed to acquire the said compensation stayed exactly where they were and utilized the money for livelihood concerns because there was no holistic relocation plan. And it is also reported that there still appears to be none in effect. 

The current relocation as a result of the rapid flooding does not indicate any preparation by provincial and central government in relation to a long term relocation plan. Or if it is there, by now there should have been a publicly announced place of relocation for the displaced families. 

In the long run, the humanitarian disaster that continues to unfold in the lowveld becomes a crisis created by an inefficient government which then seeks to give the impression that it did not foresee these tragic developments occurring, regardless of the unexpected amounts of rainfall. 

It was known in the 1970s, as it is now,  that once embarked upon, that whole area would eventually be submerged under water.  What the post independence and contemporary governments failed to do was to not only fail to change the definitive framework of the social impact of the dam but further retained colonial notions of development and modernization.

Tragic as it is at the moment, the Tokwe Mukosi Dam story will unfortunately be told from the high offices of those that failed to prevent  the negative impact that the  rapid flooding has had on peoples lives. They will however, in true fashion with what a renowned academic and activist has referred to as ‘disaster capitalism’ relegate the majority poor to the economic periphery and still insist the dam project is a phenomenal  post independence ‘modernization’ success story.

The reality of the matter is that the project remains mired in the legacy of colonial perceptions and understandings of modernization/development  with little regard of its impact on a majority poor. Instead of learning from history, we have unfortunately chosen to repeat it. And sadly, the  Tokwe Mukosi Dam Project  is the current evidence at hand.

*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)