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Archive for the ‘Mozambique’ Category

Cahora Bassa Counter-Narrative: Allen and Barbara Isaacman Launch Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development at UCT

Barbara and Allen Isaacman

The Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town was the site of a fascinating presentation that took place earlier this month. Academics and readers joined to celebrate the launch of Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 – 2007 by the award-winning husband and wife author team, Allen and Barbara Isaacman.

Adekey Adebajo, Allen Isaacman and Jaqui GoldinDams, Displacement and the Delusion of DevelopmentThe book was introduced by Extraordinary Professor Jaqui Goldin, of the University of the Western Cape’s Department of Earth Science. She set their work in a historical context and praised its scope, urgency and relevance. Their study explores the devastating social, ecological and economic consequences for Mozambique and other regions negatively affected by the Cahora Bassa, the largest hydroelectric scheme in southern Africa.

Goldin spoke about the 43 years the Isaacmans spent working on the Zambezi which profoundly enriched the book with their knowledge and attention to details.

Another fascinating aspect of this collaboration is the bringing together of a historian and a legal expert who have woven a story about the Zambezi from both these perspectives. Goldin referred to Allen’s 1972 publication, Mozambique: Africanization of a European Institution, the Zambezi Prazos, 1750-1902, which places this later work within a historical context. It shows how a power vacuum was created by Karanga and Malawian overlords who lost control over the peripheral areas of this great river valley when the Portuguese arrived in the 1700s.

Goldin said, “The Isaacmans expose the Cahora Bassa Dam history and the gloomy reality of violent, deliberate political manoeuvres to obstruct the advance of the ANC and Mozambique’s Frelimo; and the sinister underpinnings of the Aldeamentos where the intent was to isolate a local population from the liberation army.”

Goldin referred to the Yale academic, political scientist and anthropologist, James Scott, who reviewed Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: “… the Isaacmans brilliantly show how, all along the Zambezi below the Cahora Bassa Dam whole worlds of riparian life – fish, birds, human and other mammals – dependent on the annual inundation of the flood plain have been stifled.”

Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development highlights some 300 stories of those most affected by the scheme and their challenge of the authoritative voice of the state, whether Portuguese or Mozambican. It tells the story of those who are subjected to a powerful discourse set up to disguise destruction as development.

The seven chapters expose how the Cahora Bassa was a hydrological feat of control, conquering people, places and the environment, while wreaking havoc on the lives of many who gained very little in the grand scheme of things. The political and economic disparity wrought by the Cahora Bassa is highlighted by the heart-rendering image of impoverished villagers, who lost their fertile land in the dam’s construction, now living under giant power lines taking power to South Africa, while they are left still cooking on wood fires and reading by candle light.

“You capture well the consequences of diminished choice and attention is drawn to the casualties of having one’s world controlled by the outside,” Goldin said.

Allen recalled how in 1998, as he and his wife were finishing writing their book on runaway slaves Slavery and Beyond, they attended a conference where 300 people were in attendance to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of this “magnificent” structure. It was a love-fest. It was a celebration of like-minded people. There were engineers who talked about the technical challenges, like getting 2.5 million pounds of rocks out the mountains to build 500 foot walls. The Portuguese colonial administrators, the company who oversaw the construction said how magnificent the transformation of the river valley was. The Frelimo officials present celebrated the dam because it was going to allow – in the neoliberal Frelimo – the cheap labour that would bring in foreign investment. It went on, people talking about the fish, the ecological questions. Everyone but one person was in a most celebratory mood.

“A Catholic priest, named Cláudio Gremi, who had been there since the early 70s got up and said, ‘I find it so strange that there are no workers or peasants here, and their story is completely absent.’ He said it with much more passion. It reverberated with our thinking. Out of that we decided to write a counter-narrative to the developmentalist one, the celebration of this great physical showmanship of man’s capacity to dominate and control the biosphere,” Allen said.

The Isaacmans wanted to know what happened. “We wanted to learn about the daily lives and the lived experiences of the people who built the dam under harsh South African overseers speaking Fanagalo, the 25 000 people who were displaced and forced into strategic hamlets because of the war area that Frelimo was following; and also what happened to the 1.5 million people who no longer had a regular supply of water, to sustain the alluvial farm. Water went down the Zambezi when South Africa wanted energy, disrupting the entire ecological and agricultural system.

Allen explained how, in essence, Cahora Bassa became an outpost of empire over which the South African state, Eskom, and a South African dominated consortium (ZAMCO) exercised substantial economic and political power. Control over Cahora Bassa was part of the apartheid regime’s ambitious plan to integrate it and other dams in Lesotho, Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe into one centralised power grid. “The story told in Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development is not one of great celebration, but of economic, ecological and cultural devastation,” he said.

The event wrapped up with a question and answer session, followed by the authors signing copies of their books for those who queued to congratulate them. Seen in the queue was Albie Sachs, who expressed his enormous respect for the authors and their handling of the topic.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:



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Posted by UKZN Press on Thursday, 26 March 2015


Book details

  • Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 – 2007 by Allen and Barbara Isaacman
    EAN: 9780821420331
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Join Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman for the Launch of Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development at UCT

Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 - 2007University of KwaZulu-Natal Press and the Centre for African Studies invite you to the launch of Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 – 2007 by Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman.

The launch will take place in the Centre For African Studies Gallery at the University of Cape Town, on Tuesday, 10 March.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

Book Details

  • Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 – 2007 by Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman
    EAN: 9780821420331
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

» read article

Don’t Miss Allen and Barbara Isaacman Speaking About Cahora Bassa Intrigue at WiSER

Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 - 2007Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman, authors of Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 – 2007, will be presenting a paper on their book at a seminar hosted by WiSER at Wits University.

Isaacman and Isaacman will discuss the Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique, and the political secrets that continue to surround it.

The seminar will be in the WiSER seminar room at Wits University at 3 PM to 4:30 PM on Monday, 16 February. Please note that participants are expected to read the paper before the seminar (click here to download the PDF).

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Monday, 16 February 2015
  • Time: 3 PM to 4:30 PM
  • Venue: WiSER seminar room
    6th Floor
    Richard Ward Building
    East Campus
    Wits University | Map
  • More information: WiSER

About the book

Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi River, built in the early 1970s during the final years of Portuguese rule, was the last major infrastructure project constructed in Africa during the turbulent era of decolonisation. Engineers and hydrologists praised the dam for its technical complexity and the skills required to construct what was then the world’s fifth-largest mega-dam. Portuguese colonial officials cited benefits they expected from the dam, but reality proved a different story.

This in-depth study of the region examines the dominant developmentalist narrative that has surrounded the dam, chronicles the continual violence that has accompanied its existence, and gives voice to previously unheard narratives of forced labor, displacement, and historical and contemporary life in the dam’s shadow.

“The Cahora Bassa project resulted in cascading layers of human displacement, violence, and environmental destruction. Its electricity benefited few Mozambicans, even after FRELIMO came to power; instead, it fed industrialization in apartheid South Africa. Isaacman and Isaacman provide a wrenching alternative story from the perspective of peasants, fishermen, and workers. A major contribution to the recent social, environmental, and political history of Southern Africa and a major corrective to debates about the benefits of big development projects.”
—Richard L. Roberts, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Stanford University; most recently coeditor of Trafficking in Slavery’s Wake: Law and the Experience of Women and Children in Africa

“Southern African leaders are implementing mega-projects that repeat the sins of past colonial and apartheid governments, with devastating consequences for the very communities that they profess to serve. This book shows that it is high time to listen to and respect affected peoples’ voices.”
—Mary Galvin, water justice activist and Associate Professor of Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg

About the authors

Allen F Isaacman, Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota and Extraordinary Professor at the University of the Western Cape, is the author of seven books, including Mozambique: The Africanization of a European Institution; The Zambezi Prazos, 1750–1902 (Melville Herskovits Award for the most distinguished publication in African Studies, 1973); and Cotton Is the Mother of Poverty (Herskovits Award finalist, 1997). He has won fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, among others.

Barbara S Isaacman, a retired criminal defense attorney, taught law in Mozambique at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in the late 1970s. She is the author of Women, the Law and Agrarian Reform in Mozambique and coauthor of several monographs on the history of Mozambique.

Book Details

  • Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 – 2007 by Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman
    EAN: 9780821420331
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

» read article

Samora Machel Commemorated in Mpumalanga in the Village Where His Plane Crashed

S is for SamoraFor the 25th commemoration of Samora Machel’s death, The Star‘s Cobus Coetzee travelled to Mbuzini, a small village in Mpumalanga, where the former Mozambican president was killed in a plane crash. Annually in October a small border post is opened to allow Mozambicans to attend Machel’s memorial.

Coetzee speaks to Zikisha Tibane who witnessed the plane crash in 1986. Tibane has also experienced the improvements Nelson Mandela’s government brought to the village ten years later, including better infrastructure, state-funded support and a monument and museum to commemorate Machel. Mandela and Graça Machel’s visit to the village in 1996 is still spoken about by Tibane and others in Mbuzini to this day.

Sarah LeFanu’s biography of Machel, S is for Samora: A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream, tells the story of his life and examines the mysterious plane crash that inextricably linked him to Mbuzini:

The death of Samora Machel has linked the lives of an elderly woman who doesn’t know her age, a young man who left his birthplace 15 years ago, Nelson Mandela and his wife Graça Machel.

They will not forget the night of October 19, 1986, any time soon. It was the night that then Mozambican president Samora Machel was killed in a plane crash in the tiny village of Mbuzini in Mpumalanga, on the far eastern border of SA.

Book details

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New Biography of Mozambique’s First President Samora Machel: S is for Samora

S is for SamoraIn 1974, Samora Machel led FRELIMO, the Mozambican Liberation Front, to victory over the Portuguese colonial government. The following year, he became independent Mozambique’s first president. Eleven years later, he was killed in a mysterious plane crash, and many have blamed his death on machinations by the South African government.

Drawing on stories, speeches, documents, and the memories of those who knew Machel well, S is for Samora captures the many facets of a man Nelson Mandela has called “a true African revolutionary.” Machel was trained as a nurse, but later became a consummate military strategist. He was a farmer’s son who possessed the advanced diplomatic skills necessary to balance a relationship with China and the Soviet Union—while winning over Western leaders such as Margaret Thatcher. Machel was a man of the people who at the same time found himself utterly alone. A dedicated seeker of peace, he never saw anything but war.

This biography takes stock of the discourse of equality, liberty, and comradeship that motivated the liberation struggles of southern Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, in the face of a dominant, Cold War rhetoric.

“Mixing journalism, diary and academic research, Le Fanu succeeds in offering one of the most wide-ranging accounts of Machel available to date. The author offers a gripping insight into the personal and political mix, which made Machel the outstandingly successful leader he undoubtedly was.” — Patrick Chabal, Professor of African History, King’s College London

“A brilliant book that offers a fresh contribution to our understanding of postcolonial Mozambique and its southern African neighbours.” — Susan Williams, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and author of, inter alia, Colour Bar (Penguin, 2006) and Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, The Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa (Columbia University Press)

About the author

Sarah LeFanu is author of the acclaimed biography Rose Macaulay and the MLA-award-winning In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction. From 2004 to 2009, she was artistic director of the Bath Literature Festival and has been RLF Fellow at the University of Exeter.

Book details

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