The politics of water in post-colonial Zimbabwe, 1980-2007

Seminar date: 
19 June 2008
Speaker(s): Dr Muchaparara Musemwa

Dr Muchaparara Musemwa is a senior lecturer in the Department of History at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is currently an Oppenheimer Visiting Fellow at St Anthony's College and the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford. His recent publications include 'Disciplining a '"Dissident" City: Hydropolitics in the City of Bulawayo, Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, 1980-1994', in Journal of Southern African Studies, 32 (2): 239-254 and 'A Tale of Two Cities: The Evolution of the City of Bulawayo and Makokoba Township under Conditions of Water Scarcity, 1894-1953', in South African Historical Journal, 55 (2006): 186-209. His current research interests are the history and politics of water and the impact of drought and climate change on small-scale farmers in Zimbabwe, focusing on interactions between global understandings of climate change and local perceptions from a historical perspective.

Discussant: Tobias Schmitz (Both ENDS)

Within Zimbabwe's larger political crisis, there has also been a major crisis unfolding in the country's cities: the water crisis. Why and how did the post-colonial government of Zimbabwe make an about-turn and become interested in managing urban water affairs when, for over two decades, it had focused on water development in African communal areas at the expense of urban areas? This seminar presents three central arguments. The first is that from 1980 until 2000 the Zimbabwe government's water development policy was heavily slanted towards satisfying the water needs of the rural population. The second is that it was only after the major cities became strongholds of the main opposition party (MDC) that the ZANU-PF government shifted its focus and began to concentrate on the urban areas for politically motivated reasons. Water became the vehicle by which the state planned to take command of municipal politics and regain a foothold in these areas. The third argument is that the struggle over water may have produced the greatest political crisis in the history of post-colonial Zimbabwe. For the first time, the question of municipal control of water has become central to city/state conflict and is explicitly linked to politics in Zimbabwe.