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Beyond the Kariba Dam Induced Displacements: The Zimbabwean Tonga’s Struggles for Restitution, 1990s–2000s

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The colonial Southern Rhodesian government displaced the minority Tonga people from the ecologically rich Zambezi River plains due to the construction of the World Bank funded hydroelectric power generating Kariba Dam in the late 1950s. The dislocated communities were resettled in the adjoining uplands of Binga District where they did not access the electricity and waters of the Kariba Dam as well as the wild animal resources in the safaris and national game parks abutting their new villages. This state regulated decoupling from the local natural resource asset base generated a politicised sense of entitlement to those resources spearheaded by a generational cohort of educated Tonga activists that emerged in the 1990s. Besides everyday realities of socio-economic marginalisation, these activists also drew inspiration from the prevailing global discourses of indigeneity and anti-dam politics to form organisations such as Binga Development Association, Binga Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice, and Basilwizi Trust that coordinated local assertions for increased access to resources in the uplands and around the Kariba waterscape. Through these emerging networks of solidarity, I argue, the Tonga activists constructed and deployed persuasive claims for the exigency of rehabilitating their embattled people’s deprived post-relocation livelihoods. These Tonga articulations and actions reveal how marginalised ethno-class categories within countries align their claims for increased access to local resources and general socio-economic empowerment to national and international activism and discourses.

Affiliations: 1: Lecturer, Department of History, Midlands State University, Zimbabwe


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