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Clear Waters and Muddied Histories: Environmental History and the Politics of Community in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands

Donald S. Moore
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 377-403
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2637532
Page Count: 27
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Clear Waters and Muddied Histories: Environmental History and the Politics of Community in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands
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Abstract

This article examines competing struggles over the demarcation, implementation and multiple meanings of the proposed Kaerezi River Protected Area in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands. It focuses on the micro-politics within a state-administered resettlement scheme bordering Nyanga National Park, whose 1987 extension precipitated the conflicts. Countering a tendency within environmental history to assume a monolithic `state' in opposition to an undifferentiated `community', the analysis emphasises shifting political alliances within, among and between state representatives and rural actors. Competing agendas among various ministries within the Zimbabwean government have encountered the salient differences of gender, generation, class, education and `traditional' authority in Kaerezi. The analysis attends to grounded livelihood practices as well as the cultural idioms and historical resonances that affix particular meanings to the landscape and environmental resources. In particular, resettlement farmers deployed social memories of colonial evictions from the same property, articulated through the idiom of `suffering for territory', to claim land rights in the 1990s. Competing cultural constructions of the landscape itself - a rainmaking territory, a chieftainship, a former colonial ranch and a resettlement scheme - have figured prominently in post-colonial conservation politics. Cultural politics - debates over the meaning and practice of `custom' and `tradition' as well as legitimate authority - are foregrounded to demonstrate the simultaneity of symbolic and material struggles over resources. In turn, these cultural contestations have animated the contours of environmental conflicts as well as the processes shaping the political boundaries of `community' membership and resource rights.

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