DAVID McDERMOTT HUGHES Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Hydrology of hope:
Farm dams, conservation, and whiteness in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, many whites have affiliated themselves with the land rather than with surrounding societies. Theories of settler culture—which emphasize ethnic conflict—often overlook this environmentalist form of identity. As conservationists, white, large-scale farmers sought to belong to the landscape, and they modified it in ways that facilitated that sense of belonging. On the semiarid highlands, they manipulated the most manipulable of environmental variables: water. In the 1990s, their new landscape of dams and reservoirs provided habitat for wildlife and irrigation for tobacco. Whites justified their land ownership on grounds of both conservation and development—a considerable rhetorical feat. Engineering, then, fostered an unstable, ephemeral feeling of entitlement and belonging. [Africa, colonialism, identity, land, postcolonialism, settler society, race]


he process of appropriation moves from diffidence to entitlement—and sometimes back again. At first, settlers and colonizers ask themselves, “Do we belong here?” Over time, such malaise may dissipate—as it did in the United States (Lepore 1998). That country occupies an extreme position among territories colonized from overseas. Whites achieved demographic, political, and economic dominance, securing the United States as a “neo-Europe” (Crosby 1986:2). Zimbabwe lies at the other extreme—among what one might call “failed” neo-Europes. Having conquered the territory in the 1890s and alienated the fertile highveld in ensuing decades, whites never approached demographic superiority vis-` -vis native peoples. Neither—given that race a is socially constructed—did they reconstruct it in a more multiplex fashion. Europeans married other Europeans, breeding “whites” whose population never exceeded five percent of the national total (Kennedy 1987:2–3).1 In agriculture, 4,500 white farm owners controlled 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s surface area, whereas eight million black peasants occupied 42 percent in the 1990s. Whites, then, had reason to feel what Kathrin Wagner describes, in South Africa, as an “emotional and moral unease with the fruits of conquest” (1994:171). A few did feel uneasy, like transplanted Europeans. Doris Lessing, who grew up in Rhodesia, wrote semiautobiographically, This child could not see a msasa tree, or the thorn, for what they were. Her books held tales of alien fairies, her rivers ran slow and peaceful, and she knew the shape of the leaves of an ash or an oak, the names of little creatures that lived in English streams, when the words “the veld” meant strangeness, though she could remember nothing else. [1951:49] Lessing, a leftist, emigrated in 1949. The vast majority of more loyal whites refrained from a similar critique, before or after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. White farmers displayed an almost Euro-American degree of confidence—one totally unwarranted by political trends. In the 1990s, whites ignored warnings of a more thorough land reform.

AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 269–287, ISSN 0094-0496, electronic ISSN 1548-1425. C 2006 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website, www.ucpress.edu/journals/ rights.htm.

it mostly transferred abandoned or economically marginal farms. Much later. The dream of farming and of wilderness became one. ecology served as a coping mechanism. silent space” (Coetzee 1988:7)—ignores blacks entirely. such celebrations of development ran counter to empty land discourse. served as multipurpose fetishes of white belonging—an aquatic fix to whites’ political dilemmas. actually enhanced natural waterways. The Lancaster House constitution—agreed at independence in 1980—guaranteed them their property for ten years. Although irrevocably dispossessed. by contrast. they still felt like the true owners of the highveld. however. however. in black-ruled Zimbabwe. Uusihakala 1999:28). Meanwhile. At a more practical level. when paramilitary bands occupied their land. Rutherford 2001:85). They adopted something close to the sentiment of New Zealand’s high-country sheepherders: “a discourse of authenticity in which they voice their belonging to land” (Dominy 2001:226). It envisioned “a network of boundaries crisscrossing the surface of the land. on the highveld. grandchildren. the same hydrological revolution that industrialized the bush also demonstrated good ecological stewardship. Thanks to the dams. and with Nature and the seasons of the land they loved” (Bolze 1982:x).4 An even larger number. justify the impounding of streams and rivers? White farmers turned this criticism on its head. and preserve it. freeing up estates for black businessmen (Rothchild 1973:374.5 This article retraces the hardening of that attitude during the 1990s. And this is what many did. Dams. commercial farmers carried out a veritable hydrological revolution through dams and largescale. They held onto their dams nearly as tightly as they did the land itself. Coetzee’s phrase—assisted in such flight. “Dream topographies”—in J. Relatively benign inducements gradually shifted them from the highlands. then all else would fall into place. A group known as the Virginia Intensive Conservation Association (ICA) created a contemporary record—of minutes and correspondence during that decade—but most of the evidence of farmers’ attitudes derives from conversations I had with members in 2002 and 270 . Those who fled persecution to the safety of Harare missed their land and its embankments as an inseparable whole.” wrote the publisher of a collection of (white) poetry. such “empty land discourse” and notions of pristine wilderness effectively eject the human Other from dilemmas of colonial identity (Cronon 1983:56–57).3 The second dream topography achieved the same result. frequently argue that whites understand the virgin bush better. in particular. helped hydropower whites’ enduring sense of entitlement to land in Zimbabwe. Some whites still claim that their forefathers initially settled on virgin land.2 If European-descended farmers could establish mutuality with the land. in 2000. they still felt that they belonged. Characteristic of so many colonial endeavors. in short. and dams bore a heavy symbolic load. whites left the commercial farms with their pride intact. whites redoubled their investments in infrastructure even as the state repeatedly threatened to remove them. In other words. President Robert Mugabe publicly encouraged whites to stay in and produce for Zimbabwe. a pyramid of contented and industrious children. Taken together. thus. mechanized irrigation. as labor. each a separate kingdom ruled over by a benign patriarch with. Although the government redistributed some land. this recarving of the terrain united two otherwise contradictory bases for white claims to land—the two dream topographies (Coetzee 1988:7). who admit to having trespassed against African farmers. they believed. Of course. minority status seemed to encourage an even more explicit escape from social challenges. they seem to have lost touch with economic and political constraints. marking off thousands of farms. as owners. Dams and reservoirs. The first of these fantasies—“of South Africa as a vast. And they were a particularly Zimbabwean phenomenon. Symbolically. beneath him. (White) man and land would become one as the native slipped into invisibility. value it. for an enterprise already designed (cf. whites were investing in identity. In another sense. For African whites. In Zimbabwe. In the first instance. “Despite the years of war and upheaval. They understand it. “their preoccupation is very much with the mundane. white men blocked rivers primarily for economic reasons—to irrigate crops— but the cultural side effects became nearly as important. Farmers. Dams constituted an unparalleled agricultural improvement. Whites I met in 2002 and 2003 described themselves as farmer–dam builders. and serfs” (Coetzee 1988:6–7). Other postcolonial settler populations in Africa—notably Kenya’s whites—limited their financial exposure in country. In principle. empty. then. how could any European-derived minority—develop such a resilient claim to extra-European territory? In large part. How can they. They demonstrated the continued efficacy of white landownership and its associated property lines and labor hierarchies. farm owners reacted with shock and disbelief. Impounded water. Unprotected by the police and frequently barricaded in their houses. the dream topographies constitute an almost Jeffersonian progression toward yeoman farming: whites converting a howling wilderness into the productive garden of settler nationhood. felt the primary tension or contradiction as (white) man against the land—not white against black (Krog 2003:76). In the 1990s. This second set of assets—whose spectacular loss could have worsened their anguish—actually gave them comfort. precisely this fixation on the landscape helped white farmers to adapt and flourish. M. the Africanization of politics channeled rural whites increasingly into farming. southern African whites did so by thinking only of territory. In retrospect.American Ethnologist Volume 33 Number 2 May 2006 Finally. Note that black “serfs” enter only as an input. How could they—indeed. helping whites recover from the triumph of black nationalism.

S. the Rhodesian Front gov- ernment declared independence unilaterally from Britain. Together with a given farmer. rather than expatriates (Buckle 2002:63. “All white African literature. and transplanted to Africa—miraculously justifies whites’ position in Zimbabwe. Australia. “Over tens of thousands of then desolate acres. the farmer and I would have walked the land itself. In part. this plurality of origins made Zimbabwe a “global ethnoscape” (Appadurai 1991. Of the 26 Virginia families I met. one—at least not directly. transplanted back to America. tobacco made white men into Virginia gentlemen. lies on arable highveld east of Harare. the area of most focused inquiry.6 In addition to interviewing farmers.13 His veiled references to empty land and Cortes complete the circle of tobacco’s history: An Amerindian crop—transplanted to Europe. they have succeeded in giving local meaning to even the most global aspects of their history. “a vegetable El Dorado was . Zimbabwean whites have refused a global identity.S. Nineteenth-century “noncosmopolitan” theories of climate suggested that whites could not survive the heat of the tropical “torrid zone” (Redfield 2000:192–199.11 A focal area of this article. John Rolfe. Whites then fought a ten-year war against two guerrilla armies. I carried out 28 “farm inventories. in 1965. I interviewed 40 families who managed or owned farms on the highveld east of Harare. a Zimbabwean water engineer. Geography and whiteness Euro-Zimbabweans defy spatial categorization. and planted tobacco at Jamestown. settlers voted overwhelmingly for self-government—as a colony—rather than for continued administration from London. Nearly two generations later. for instance. those who stayed considered themselves patriots. Twenty-six of these families came from Virginia district. Under these pressures. In one sense. The whites lost. In 1585. tobacco industry and its “Virginia strain” of light. Rhodesian farmers turned to the same crop and African labor for a similar upliftment. Atlantic Virginia after his virgin queen. and from southern Europe. Although many left after independence in 1980. grown by an English–Algonquian couple. Price 1939:194–204). betray a distinct caution. . I composed a catalogue of land use. cf. not from Europe but from Africa” (1958a:700). many farmers had fled. another Englishman. Other families departed for nonagricultural work in New Zealand. They have consistently struggled to enracinate and reterritorialize themselves—for “emplacement” rather than for movement (Orlove 1996). surely whites could make their home in both Virginias or anywhere in Africa. flavored leaves soon became the marker of colonial success—not least. Godwin and Hancock 1993:287). Finally. “is the literature of exile. I found farmers eager to talk. newly documented plateaus gave reason for hope (Bell 1993:331. although women and children spoke more freely at repeat encounters and social occasions—notably at a series of monthly districtwide meetings and dinners that I attended. Adult men dominated many of these conversations. and Scottish-descended Afrikaans speakers— crossed the Limpopo River from South Africa in 1890. and the tobacco belt east of Harare.12 This return voyage of the cultivar generated the famous U. brought into being” (Clements and Harben 1962:27). especially to a white foreigner who reserved judgment. Pocahontas. Two eventually moved. Emotion ran through all of these discussions: The government’s ongoing drive to evict whites had touched each family personally. cf. and the United States. and natural features found on each parcel.” recalled Edward Harben. one to Zambia and one to Canada. They named it after one of Virginia’s crops: tobacco. Yellow. The first white settlers—an amalgam of Anglophones and Dutch-. Whites’ actual movements in Zimbabwe. Sir Walter Raleigh named the original. Clifford 1997:17– 46). close to the town of Marondera (see Figure 1).Hydrology of hope American Ethnologist thereafter.” writes Lessing.7 Ideally. Alert to the land’s environmental unpredictability. Columbus and Cortes had originally brought tobacco to Europe from Cuba and Mexico. whites have advanced with trepidation and backward glances to Britain. to corroborate and supplement the farm inventories. By 1890. With such aptitude for meanings and materials.” Marondera. Cultivated by African slaves.000 scale) available from the Office of the Surveyor General. The same armed bands had assaulted several of my male subjects and threatened all of them—as well as their wives and children. in “Virginia. in Virginia. but the war drew them together. but the presence of unsympathetic occupants on many farms—not to mention some farmers’ relocation to Harare—made this method impractical and possibly dangerous. unlike the South Asians to whom Arjun Appadurai applies this term. where I was also living in 2002–03. we relied on maps (at 1:50. . however. Elizabeth I. sailed westward with his native wife. flue-cured leaf. from Britain by way of Asian colonies. Dave Stevens.10 Whites— although undeniably cosmopolitan—yearn for a parochial identity. in both cases to farm. infrastructure. nine lived in Harare. Virginia. contemporary Zimbabwean whites assert an indigenous status and demand consummate rights. the farming district bears the same name as a state of the United States. French-. respectively. In 1610. Therefore.9 Like the New Zealand sheepherders Mich` le D. Paramilitary squads had killed the first in a series of white landowners. I worked with Les Wood. They must demand the status of a native precisely because they seem so foreign—and they know it. In 1923. Zimbabwean whites did not name their Virginia after the U. They soon welcomed immigrants directly from Britain. Surprisingly.000 scale) and aerial photographs (at 1:25.8 Yet. Wood (2003) drew on the builders’ basin surveys to compile a complete quantitative database of Virginia’s reservoirs.” including 18 in Virginia. Dominy e (1995) describes. Virginia. In all but one case. 271 .

. Still. At 1. who moved from there and eventually to Marondera. Over lunch outside Marondera.14 By 1901. “We [whites] shouldn’t be in Africa because we are made differently. Marondera.American Ethnologist Volume 33 Number 2 May 2006 Figure 1.” The plateau’s air was too thin for her: “We haven’t got the noses that they [blacks] have” (interview. 2002).e. “children may grow up there as strong as they would at home [i. Most whites in Marondera inhaled without complaint. In that same year. The Zambezi Valley was “too raw.500 meters. October 1. White-owned estates soon traced the major watersheds. including the line between the Save and Mazoe catchments. doubts persisted. Commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe. White writers still describe 272 . a farmer confessed.” recounted Cathy Buckle. the company described Rhodesia’s upland climate confidently as “as healthy and bracing as can be found anywhere” and promised that. Wolmer 2001:33). in Britain]” (Kennedy 1987:121). where Marondera and Virginia lie. Altitude could mitigate the law of latitudes. Ravenstein 1891:35). in its Information for Intending Settlers. Yet the lowveld— parts of which were once denoted on maps as “not fit for white man’s habitation”—made many whites uncomfortable (Fuller 2001:161. Against the sun—the one remaining threat—whites armored themselves with pith helmets and umbrellas (Kennedy 1987:110– 114). the British South Africa Company’s “pioneer column” of settlers crossed the Limpopo from South Africa and settled the central highlands of what is now Zimbabwe. malaria presented only minimal danger.

If the environment challenged rural whites. The ICAs’ erosion-control efforts in these areas never succeeded. issuing warnings. 2005). keeping records. they had turned exclusively inward. and felt “an exhilaration” when in the bush. in turn. January 17. “If we don’t go too fast with European blood [in breeding cattle]. Zimbabwe’s rainfall is as intemperate as its heat. Virginia’s teamwork was environmental. Concerns of class came in a distant second to those of soil. As deeply committed to private property as it was. I asked him to be more precise. white society permitted these intrusions.” he began. ICAs encouraged farmers to construct and maintain broad-base terraces. whites did complain individually about the “labor problem” to and through the national-level Agricultural Labor Bureau. Buckle. “When the rain comes. particularly farmers. he said.” Pratt later told me (interview.S. In the 1930s. The 273 . H.S. pastoral ideal of wilderness and agrarianism (quite similar. News of America’s Virginia inspired The Tempest. November 14. Referring to Zimbabwe’s “vindictive climate. downpours destroyed crops and eroded topsoil. at all costs. which. largely ignored blacks. “we will get a beast that will stand the climate of this country” (1964:2). found the climate far from perfect. he and his colleagues faced an uphill battle: Both farmers’ economic survival and the imperative to settle the highveld with Europeans overrode concerns about long-term fertility. a 150-millimeter storm breeched the smaller of two dams on Airlie: “Literally the cloud up above just drops everything that it has. he spoke first of his fears. In 1928. the colony created a Natural Resources Board. and. fostered ICAs at roughly district level (Phimister 1989). collective efforts gave expression to the quest for belonging on the highveld. a work that—according to Leo Marx (1964:34–36)—presaged the U. Marondera. Rhodesian farmers mined the soil without check for at least four decades.18 Yet districts’ white social clubs. UK. Intensive conservation For farmers less artistic than Pratt and Buckle. he said. Organized by farmers themselves. He had moved to England. 2002). He recalled listening expectantly. With increasing altitude came lower temperature. Chief among these was soil conservation.”15 If only indirectly. who trained Marondera’s early settlers in agriculture. “that smell! When you can hear a storm sort of approaching. the U. two ex-missionaries founded the Anglican Ruzawi School for whites outside Marondera because. January 16. Virginia. “I can kind of define myself by the landscape. The literary reference was even more apt than Pratt suspected. had difficulty raising drought-resistant livestock. As the provincial representative of the Commercial Farmers Union.” Scorror predicted in 1908. Simply put. 2002). In whites’ belief. The imperative to protect soil followed from whites’ initial decision to occupy the watersheds. and. One hundred-millimeter events were not uncommon. October. if all else failed. or safe.” He was feeling it too.” As a child on a Marondera farm. Edward Alvord. To belong there remained a work in progress and a work of conviction. he cited a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Show me the magic!” (interview. For farmers—especially those as imaginative as Buckle and Pratt—the highveld was home without being normal. . Failing to describe the sensation in his own words. Such conditions— implicitly compared with English mildness—made agriculture an extreme sport.Hydrology of hope American Ethnologist the valley’s hottest period. Pratt’s imag- ination and profession combined the same opposites: empty land and efficient farms. whites have reveled in the long dry season. he loved Africa. to avoid an African version of Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl. In 2001. described Zimbabwe as “so wild just on your doorstep . however. ample cause for discomfort. where the ICAs met monthly. On the highveld. levying fines. the landscape defied categorization.d. still with an air of disbelief (interview.” Clements and Harbin praised tobacco farmers for “a ruthlessness. a physical endurance and courage. March 1. Farmers. had been “hugely confident” but were now feeling “a kind of angst about their identity. They inspected the members’ terraces and dams. Scorror.-born chief agricultural officer. who wrote fiction and political literature. he knew the river would rise outside his window in an hour. Only land seemed to trigger such acquiescence and cooperation. Whites. Totnes. wished. as they later wrote. a coming to terms with harsh forces with which their fellows in more sophisticated societies have long lost contact” (1962:188). Initially. Zimbabwe’s environment could still strike a European dead. Marondera. Precipitation also has given whites. they felt and remembered a sense of wonderment. it also filled them with awe. modern but yet not” (interview. Still.17 The resources board delegated to them authority over conservation in communal lands and eventually in so-called African Purchase Areas (where blacks could own land before independence) and in the resettlement areas resulting from land reform in the 1980s. Labor—which was as scarce as soil—did not generate a single local-level organization in white Zimbabwe.” recounted the farmer. the state had encouraged farmers to combat erosion. bringing his identity with him. as “suicide month. which had concerned the colonial government for most of its tenure. Of course. Zimbabwe’s rainfall spiked violently and unpredictably. to South Africa’s pastoral canon).16 If aridity hindered animal husbandry. K. the area boasted a “climate as nearly perfect as could be found” (Carver and Grinham n. in fact. When I met Steve Pratt. In the midst of losing their farms. an independence. reliable.:25). . he was dashing to occupied farms to negotiate for the release of white families and their movable property. however. In 1941. rain falls only from late October to early April. 2002). Almost from their arrival. making the plateau a more comfortable and salubrious home than the lowlands. differing from that of Britain in both seasonality and intensity. by the 1990s.

terraces could rapidly exacerbate the erosion problem they were meant to solve. homogeneous community of 72 landowning households presented ideal social conditions for the ICAs’ form of self-organization and self-policing (Ostrom 1990:91–92).24 Large-scale erosion of this nature could diminish the productivity of an entire watershed. . Indeed. Especially in the prevalent sandy soil.22 A respected. In Virginia in the 1990s. Virginia farmers often reminisced about a quite different benefit offered by the Virginia ICA—a visual experience. blacks’ lack of cooperation with the ICAs confirmed whites’ low opinion of them (and whites’ high opinion of themselves). March 14. Harare. whites devised means of “mechanical conservation. Conservation had become a discourse of hagiography and nostalgia. the country breaks up into granite outcrops. The combined motives of environmentalism and self-preservation gave Virginia’s ICA an unparalleled moral authority. Although they excluded peasants from meetings. Each dam created “a very large. Yet. in general. bestowing roughly 800–1. these men. the behavior of the soil and terraces themselves virtually demanded cooperation between farms. Farmers built terraces slightly off the natural contour. Harare.27 As locals recalled in 2002–03. at a 1–2 percent slope and separated by one meter of elevation. . water would run down the slope for no more than a vertical meter. Save. Especially during the dam-building boom of the 1990s. in turn. Said Robinson. The ICA gave firsthand access to the aerial perspective. it derived as much from preexisting social and ecological circumstances. To save their soil. as deficient conservationists. and another member (almost always a woman) minuted them and sent the minutes to the entire community. When the terraces worked. Landowners had already seen their estates from the air. Mark Robinson. allowed moisture to precipitate. farmers considered only 100 to 500 hectares flat enough to plant crops. fields became gullies.American Ethnologist Volume 33 Number 2 May 2006 lower temperatures. benefited agriculture. 90-degree turn and move slowly along the terrace.500 hectares. “were like [bare] highways” (interview. Dunford effectively harnessed the 100-millimeter storm and turned Virginia’s topography to his advantage. the group rented a light 274 .5 kilometers (see Figure 2). 2002). Virginia.” specifically. and any owner or manager could attend the meetings. along the Zambezi. 2003). Perpendicular to the contours. for instance. invariably held at the country club. Harare. Once constructed. at altitude. so it can take probably four inches of rain in a night and not spill a drop” (interview. The raised part of a terrace would develop breaks. 2003). “Their life is in the land” (interview. destructive state. and uplands. his successor as ICA chair. whites still felt they carried the conservation burden alone.23 With such institutional transparency.5 meters. November 22. the mere threat of labeling and stigma motivated many a lazy conservationist. roughly five farmers came monthly to such gatherings. who was murdered by a government death squad in 2000. residents of the communal lands had famously ignored decades of advice from agricultural extensionists. Doug Dunford built tie ridges and. this killing framed the moral opposition perfectly: a great conservationist— “Mr. Fortmann 1995:1058–1059).20 Even on these arable patches. Loosed soil would enter streams and eventually silt up reservoirs used for irrigation. “We are the keepers—or were the keepers—of the countryside” (interview. the ICAs invited them to district agricultural fields days—for competition and instruction. Stevens and the Virginia ICA stood at the pinnacle of collective stewardship. agricultural terraces. Although whites took credit for such ecologically minded farming. Harare. erosion threatened the entire hydrological basis of white wealth. Virginia’s small. Some farmers elaborated still more intricate systems of holding earth and harvesting water. straddles the Macheke. In less politically charged conversations. “They are such conservationists. of course. “a donga that will drop a London bus into it” (interview. Zimbabwe’s lowlands lie flat. Shavanhohwe. gradients generated ferocious runoff that could destroy the soil profile. conservationist farmer chaired the meetings.21 Every farm automatically belonged to the ICA. “The communal land boundaries. For whites. bath-sized sort of thing to hold water . reported seeing on at least one commercial farm.” a former member said. In this context. possibly breaking that one as well. infiltrating the soil to the desired degree. streams. the government Department of Conservation and Extension (Conex) had used aerial photos to make detailed farm plans—photo mosaics that farmers in 2002–03 still displayed with pride in their living rooms or offices.100 millimeters of rainfall on the highveld. Munyuki. The ICAs continuously combated black recalcitrance. the last one falling 400 meters in 35. They planted grass on the tops and along the drainage waterways located at the downstream end of each ridge. then take an abrupt. the construction and maintenance of terraces demanded more labor and land than they had available. Green himself”—political activist. known among the farmers by the Shona word donga. Twice per year. May 26. 2003. allowing water to pour through and run down to the next terrace.19 Of family-owned farms ranging from 500 to 1. He was probably thinking of Stevens.” complained one farmer in 2003. Also. In part. describing blacks. 2003). perpendicular to them. Whereas. and Nyadora rivers. cf. “little dams” every 1. In the 1960s. Harare. The wetter climate. July 18.26 Even when acknowledging these extenuating circumstances. With an affect bordering on horror. whites dwelled on this discrepancy. and fluent speaker of Shona against an amoral. References to their “problem farms” appear with disproportionate frequency in the minutes of Virginia’s association. and Limpopo rivers. they chose neither to join nor to obey the ICA.25 Black commercial farmers who bought land in Virginia after 1980 could attend meetings. In 2002–03. as opposed to the lowveld’s mere 500 millimeters. March 14. ex-chair of the Virginia ICA. but it came at the cost of a more arable topography.

2000. 275 .Hydrology of hope American Ethnologist Figure 2. Dams in Virginia/Macheke.

minutes of meeting held on June 6. . Contour maps. Whites. I expected an answer related to technique and yields. There were exceptions. . On the veranda of his estate. . “sticks out like sore thumbs” (interview. Virginia still held enough character to attract a “tourist gaze” (Urry 1990). In short. [On] a farm that looks well looked after. p. Marondera. the ICAs gave farmers the ability to see commercial agriculture from above. made it a sight to see. Robinson tried to abolish a practice that was of obvious economic merit: using free. November 22. As one farmer opined. Virginia.” I asked Robinson at my home in Harare in 2002? “The person like yourself who drives in a motorcar out of town. he argued at the ICA’s annual general meeting. was not only “so ugly” but also typical of blacks’ improper land management (interview. “all this potential production” (interview. which the farmers also used and displayed. The Conex air photos traced the boundaries of fields and waterworks in clear lines. [so] that you are happy to go out there” (interview. A broken contour. . Needless to say (among whites). single-handedly. May 26. March 14. eroding dam spillways. Harare. July 30. Despite armed conflict—which had forced Robinson off his own farm mere months before our meeting—Virginia still grew top-grade tobacco. caused a farm to shine—even when they were not ecologically recommended. Terraces. said one ICA member. Farmers took a keen interest in this geometrical. and they liked what they saw. but “we must live with it” (interview. . October 29.American Ethnologist Volume 33 Number 2 May 2006 aircraft—often owned by a member—and flew the district. destroyed indigenous woodland permanently but left an uninterrupted field. Harare. [They] didn’t give a good impression” (interview. Although economic arguments initially drove whites to install terraces. 2002). Virginia farms employed up to 300 workers and housed most of them on the farm.” he foretold. or spaces of consumption and spaces of production (Lefebvre 1990. rather than purchased coal. for example. . destroyed both ecology and pleasing prospects. farm dams vastly improved it in the ensuing years. indigenous timber. Whites. November 14. 2002). or regrowth from the stumps. Despite some cutting of trees. 2002). .” said one farmer. As long as “the trees remain. “Fly over it. Once terraces graced the hillsides. Black Africans do not appreciate “beauty and nature. More broadly. . “and you can see immediately that it’s not as great as you thought it was” (interview. whites enthused about them in unabashedly aesthetic terms. This tacit man–land story conjoined production and beauty. Contour ridges constituted another set of curves. Wilson 1991). In 1991.” asserted one white farmer. and there were dams everywhere. Farmers were used to reducing a landscape to lines. owners saw the landscape as a product of whites’ culture rather than of blacks’ exertion (Mitchell 1996:26. Harare. “It [the flyover] made a huge impression. .” explained one farmer with reference to the maize crop. [Virginia was] sparkling with farm dams all over the place” (interview. Williams 1973:46). had blocked waterways in Zimbabwe long before that. . then. like California growers and British gentry. an aesthetic disgust with erosion added to this motivation. September 26. similarly represented the relationship between slope and water in linear fashion. for all this attention to infractions—and their dutiful recording in the ICA minutes—farmers recalled good behavior much more readily than bad. beautified the topography while saving topsoil and improving yields. whites made a landscape that rewarded the eye and the bank account simultaneously. . the erosion-battered communal lands were ugly almost beyond redemption. Without the effort one might expect. What had he meant by “rural character. perspectival aspect. “rural appearance and character remain for the benefit of present and future generations” (Virginia ICA. in other words. 1991). Farmers reveled in this panopticon effect—what Robinson called the “eyeball inspection”—and even considered using satellite and aerial photos (Virginia ICA. the ICA and its aerial tours helped promote an aesthetic sensibility—one that drew attention to certain aspects of the land and rendered others invisible. 1996. I asked a Marondera farmer what it meant to be a good farmer. Robinson himself spoke of production with greater specificity: “Fly over. . 2003). . 2003). The roads are graded. Ingeniously. for curing tobacco. 2002). In Virginia. “should be able to share in that view . . whites reconciled two seemingly distinct principles of land use: landscapes of leisure and working landscapes. 2). Virginia. but my informant dwelled on forms of cleanliness: “You can see good crops when you drive past . Removing stumps. . Indeed. Harare. The ICA also detected deforestation. Whites recognized such accomplishments as epochal and took full credit for them 276 . Yet.28 The aerial view revealed all secrets. the entire aesthetic sensibility of white farmers tended to render black labor invisible. You had other farms that looked very untidy. of course. what was pretty was also frequently useful. minutes of the annual meeting. Harare. Deforestation. June 10. the largest reservoir in the world at that time. the less interrupted the better. November 7. for instance. . of course. they implied. and all manner of changes to the soil and vegetation. 2003). coppicing. had encountered the land and. In the lowlands. Yet. Improvements. He neglected to mention that the sweat of black Africans had made his farm as beautiful as it was.” he explained. the fencing is there. Hydrological revolution If terraces maintained white Virginia’s “rural character” in 1991. creating Lake Kariba. 2002). Economically beneficial practices appeared—almost by definition—to be ecologically advantageous and beautiful. the colonial governments of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland dammed the Zambezi River in 1959.

they recalled. just in time for the “hydrological revolution” of the 1990s (interview. was white. they lost their veto power over land redistribution.” warned Johann Swanepoel. “To the air traveler. The strategy seemed to work: High costs—and. Moyo 2000:75). [Anonymous 1969:4] The “man. legal challenges from the farmers—stalled land reform during the 1990s. “Guys spent .” needless to say. and after independence. in November 1997. . the state would reimburse landholders for improvements they had made (cf. permitted the state to take land without compensation—it having been in theory stolen by the pioneers. May 26. “from a rather drab farming address into an up-market place to be” (anonymous posting to the Justice for Agriculture [Harare] “Open Letter Forum” email list. October 10. and growers produced two or three crops per year. From the vast reaches of Lake Kariba to the humblest farm pond. “then they might go and look for a less developed property” (interview.” May 19. November 14.” began a 1969 tourist article (invoking the bird’s-eye view). Whites lost their guaranteed parliamentary seats.29 Building halted only when. entitled “A return to Macheke/Virginia farming area. May 1. Recalling that ten years’ grace. 2002). (Hughes 2004). Total volume of impounded water in Virginia/Macheke. True capitalists. More importantly. “Everywhere you could catch water. “You stagnate.Hydrology of hope American Ethnologist Figure 3. the practical consequence of a willing buyer–willing seller format in effect between 1980 and 1990. Whites already possessed the requisite personal ambition and entrepreneurial spirit. Virginia “underwent a farming transformation.” marveled one farmer. Marondera. a strategy to retain their land presented itself to whites. Between then and the end of 1997. At the beginning of 1989. In 1990.” recounted a Virginia man who came to the district in 1989. and—just as important—they grew entitled. which whites had previously considered desirable under the right conditions. Fortunately for whites. 2003). 2003).” wrote a displaced white in 2003. Ruzawi. 2003). Rhodesia’s countryside is a panorama spangled with the flashing mirrors of a thousand lakes and dams. “The more you’ve invested in your property and more infrastructure you’ve got. provisions of the Lancaster House constitution—designed to protect whites politically and economically—expired automatically. Harare. most whites tended to downplay such political calculation and to highlight economic national service. This loophole revised all economic priorities. 1980– 2000. you die. especially after 1997. Virginia. which eventually enabled the designations of 1997. The 1992 Land Acquisition Act (Act 3/1992). enhancing the district’s storage capacity by a factor of seven (see Figures 2 and 3).30 Suddenly— in a shift of far more legal significance than Zimbabwe’s independence—the state arrogated to itself the power to confiscate land without recourse and redistribute it to black farmers. whites began to construct dams and farm ponds that were not so humble. “We were a generation or a nation of developers” (interview. commercial farmers faced the serious prospect of losing the highveld. Nature formed Rhodesia without lakes: each one of them has been built by the hand of man. Explained a Virginia farmer relocated on the outskirts of Harare. At the same time.31 Having so invested in the land—in a fashion that recalled the colonial beneficial occupation clause— commercial farmers felt that they had earned a place on the 277 . an Afrikaner and one of the few farmers still cultivating in Virginia in 2003 (interview. These landowners grew rich. Mugabe promised whites that they could stay as long as they produced for Zimbabwe.471 farms nationwide for compulsory acquisition. July 23. bags of money on improvements. referring to an apparently oversized reservoir on the White Gombola River. In the 1990s. Nonetheless. whites reinvested profit in their farms. now appeared absolutely vital under any conditions. every one of these is a legacy of the ingenuity and enterprise of generations of Rhodesians. Many whites built dams precisely to secure their ownership of the land. Farmers modernized their estates beyond government’s price range. In 1980. Dams. 2002).” confided a Marondera farmer. even workers’ housing. 2002). the state designated 1. tobacco barns. only seven impoundments in Virginia held enough water for irrigation. Virginia farmers built or raised another 38 dams. rather than stashing all of it in overseas bank accounts—a pattern they identified with Zambian white farmers. Dams restored whites’ sense of ownership and gave them a sense of purpose. . they caught the water. just outside Virginia (interview. not a single dam went up in Virginia in 1998. Marondera. tobacco continued to boom under irrigation.

1996. “I couldn’t hardly have a crap myself without flushing it [by hand]. Having built dams. claimed a farmer responsible for one of Virginia’s largest impoundments.35 Of course. 1999. Virginia. the higher dam walls of the 1990s raised dryseason flows exponentially. . Virginia. Virginia. the ICA used its monitoring role to pronounce on good and bad stewardship. September 17. Water. June 12. According to Sweeney. Forex proved the farmers’ indispensability. p. July 18. for instance. When. The following year. He was referring to the effect of added evaporation on highveld microclimates—an effect that has never been measured and probably does not exist. Even if only a trickle ran through and dried up. The problem centered on spillways and return channels. farmers seized on any hopeful evidence they could find. but that mistake hardly mattered. because canals would not hold water moving uphill. 2003). minutes of meeting held on August 1. In 2002–03. To rejoice wholeheartedly in the new hydrology. “The more dams on a river the better. Virginia growers claimed to have improved the flow of the Nyadora and other rivers. In 2002– 03. So did the brute. the ICA put matters delicately: “WET!!!” Robinson alerted a meeting at the height of the 1998–99 rains. “Isn’t it wonderful the way we built all these dams?” (interview. 1). material infrastructure. Erosion has been huge. the owner of Royal Visit blamed the contractors and then showed me his photo album of the dam’s construction. 1). An impoundment “is an improvement. and this risk brought them to the attention of the Virginia ICA. Don Lanclos—a former Conex officer who had planned many of Virginia’s dams—looked for rock close to the surface so that spilling water would carve a hard return channel to the riverbed (interview. At another level. “The issue must be pursued. 2003). July 23. It was desperate!” (interview. Harare. . on rare occasions. a tributary of the Nyadora that ran only in the rainy season. Problem seem sot [sic: seems not] to be the engineer[’]s fault—wrong site” (Virginia ICA. As with terraces.32 Apparently. My informants did not appear to be aware of this complication. The aquatic mania seemed to blind them to all negative effects of water—except. Trusting that they could build and harvest their way to security. farmers had to install electric or dieselpowered pumps. who had memorialized his dam on video. they also had to lay elaborate networks of underground and aboveground.36 It was precisely this practice to which the ICA objected. none accepted this ultimate responsibility. a consequence of the artificial nature of Virginia’s new lakes. Marondera. dams could easily cause erosion. October 18. could still fill whites with pride. First. of course. eventually clogged pools and killed aquatic life farther downstream. he told me. farmers first had to reconcile dams with their self-image as ecological stewards. Zimbabwean manufacturers made such aluminum pipes only in nine-meter segments and only in straight or right-angle 278 . . even when it caused an erosive disaster. those who impounded water to such good effect deserved a reprieve from land reform. But reservoirs were not natural. . the next dam downstream would revive the stream. Zimbabwean commercial farmers had to pump water uphill.” record the minutes of a 1996 ICA meeting. were “the turnaround of this country” (interview. Actually. “Whaley dam in serious trouble—spillway problem. as they eroded to rock. movable pipes. Engineers designed impoundments to pass water in the rainy season. Virginia farmers—even if they did not hear or believe Sweeney’s story—expected the state to appreciate the dams. Surely. the farmer himself bore responsibility. May 22. “Some 20 km of complex riverine ecosystem below the [Royal Visit] dam was scoured away and the riverbed now resembles a lifeless moonscape of rocks and sand” (Virginia ICA. Under irrigation. Soil removed from return channels. 2003). they reasoned. it directed criticism not against blacks—for they did not have dams—but against mostly white engineers and builders. had fallen fatally behind schedule. fields lay on the slopes surrounding a low-set reservoir. 2002). Indeed. another farmer blocked the Chikumbakwe. “When you’ve got hundreds of dams in the country . Mugabe thought his government had constructed the embankments. 2003). “rivers run all year round” (interview. because seepage varies directly with the square of the height of a porous dam. July 23. In 1988. collapse. They had decided to block Virginia’s rivers. In 1995. each artificial impoundment had caused ecological harm. and reconstruction (interview Harare. In this case. minutes of meeting held on February 4. minutes of the 44th annual general meeting. “because of the mess being made on our rivers” (Virginia ICA. the newly perennial stream may drown plants and animals adapted to annual desiccation. erosion. p. Then. Virginians did not deny this damage but—through various improbable theories—asserted that dams had enriched habitat and hydrology in other ways. 2003).37 Fighting gravity in this way required elaborate technology and imposed material constraints. June 10. 2003). adding saltily that when his preimpoundment river ran dry. . Dams.33 More plausibly.34 Clearly. a dam under construction wrought much worse havoc.American Ethnologist Volume 33 Number 2 May 2006 postindependence highveld. you increase your rainfall” (interview. Mugabe visited the Virginia Club by helicopter and in the company of ICA member Tom Sweeney. p. the president— gazing downward—remarked to an aide. Because of seepage through this and other earth structures. Contractors. Surely. drowning the valley upstream and desiccating it downstream. 1997. Therefore. Whaley and all farmers were obviously liable for dam-induced erosion.” concluded Henk Jelsma. secondary and tertiary crops of tobacco doubled and trebled foreign exchange (forex) earnings—revenue that the state taxed ever more rigorously. 2). it seemed. Jelsma and his river benefited from the dam in multiple ways. And the beneficence of their occupation was patent. The ICA chair reported somberly to his association.” insisted one farmer. Packing for New Zealand. Typically. Harare. farmers were obliged to reorganize their terraces.

although ever vigilant against badly made layouts. “The obvious thing. August 5. Such a practice courted erosive disaster. “now you don’t always have to stand at his [the worker’s] back” (interview. the whites. Obsessed with topography. Hence. “Pull back. minutes of the 43rd annual general meeting. Conservationist aesthetics.” Given his and his coethnics’ preference for grids. Layouts. many of whom were then abandoning their estates. they would have to close off layout segments where the land dipped. 2002). Swanepoel. 2003). related to but distinct from the economic advantages of irrigation. In other words. worked only “if the lie of the land is suitable” (interview. March 14. however. 2003). Stevens spoke more explicitly and with climatological detail: “Members are urged to review their land layouts very carefully and to provide a sufficient area of waterway beside and within lands to cope. Layouts. Harare. in fact. 1). Doesn’t it? . minutes of the 40th annual general meeting. Marondera. The resultant ambiguity led to delays and disputes with employees. “Squaring up” straightened the curvilinear format characteristic of broad-base terraces—to the delight of many farmers. brought Taylorist. recommended a farmer whose ridges ran at 1/300. Robinson had converted some fields to parallel layouts even before the installation of his irrigation dam in 1991. “The white man.38 With layouts. farmers were loath to take precious arable soil out of production. Layouts gave the clearest material form to that unmediated (white) man–land relationship so valued in highveld culture. 2003). Indeed. At the same time. This “squaring up” of fields occurred in Virginia over the 1990s. Wood suggested that such marginal land did not produce high-grade tobacco in any case (interview. Virginia farmers recalled layouts tilted recklessly at 1/60 gradients.:7). however. who in our first conversation had explained the efficiency of labor. In the gentlest tone. March 20. the grid almost became a goal. who acted as if “conservation is only put in a contour and maybe looking after trees” (interview. “is to develop and to beautify” 279 . Another cas- tigated his neighbor.” Robinson seemed to recognize where this fastidiousness could lead. 1993. take it out. but no one had measured the areas between terraces with precision. Suddenly. and many were tempted to extend layouts until they created dangerously steep gradients. also an upstanding conservationist. Yet. “I did it for easier layout. lazy land management threatened the basis of farmers’ identity and belonging. As a people. set the course for many a tractor in the 1990s. waterways inevitably cross grained the landscape (Elwell n.” as David Maughan-Brown writes.” Indeed. If farmers wished to maintain the 1/250 gradient. Three years later. In ways that farmers might not have anticipated. . March 20. “It was a work efficiency scenario. Farmers usually had to guess at areas between terraces and then deal with unforeseen delays and disputes (cf. Rubert 1998:178. conjoined beauty. irrigating farmers relearned and recommitted themselves to the broken landscape of the highveld.d. thrilled at the sight of well-made ones. 1996. Rather than extending a rectangle into dubious areas. Macheke. and the ICA issued warning after warning. Faulty. keeping water flow at a low.” explained Wood. “We could pick that up from the air. safe velocity. Many farmers would surely have seen his solution as economically suboptimal—but implemented it anyway.” he exhorted. generally speaking. Rather than round off a corner—to allow for some topographical or ecological obstacle—farmers would run pipes and ridges straight through it. 2002). considered himself to be “God’s gift to Kenyan soil” (1985:83). p. transforming arable land into strips nine meters wide and multiples of nine meters long. farmers judged them by sight. the problem persisted.” he declared. . July 30. Marondera. not to make your life easier. Rutherford 2001:110–111). Those who used such layouts. Wood. “Your priority is to look after the land. “it all seemed tidy to me. Understandably. [It’s] aesthetically pleasing. . farmers would have to redo their terraces in a rectilinear fashion. Robinson. To use the equipment of irrigation. Layouts also problematized that relationship by raising the specter of erosion. Farmers who followed his advice sacrificed sizable chunks of perfectly arable land. July 31. were criticized in absentia. 2002).Hydrology of hope American Ethnologist pieces. not just with moderate rainfall. September 23. seemed entranced with such geometry: “Something that looks squared and laid out and done properly has a certain appeal. Symmetry threatened to supercede conservation. Farmers and foremen allocated piecework according to field areas. 1). enthused Swanepoel.” he reminisced. “Don’t bulldoze out trees where you don’t need them. the former water coordinator for Virginia (interview. October 28. Wood advised farmers on a minimal form of layouts. we cannot all have parallel contour systems” (Virginia ICA. the new “parallel layouts” simplified relations between the farmer and his labor force. 2002). p. . Once straightened and made parallel. “Because of the nature of our farms.” he confessed. like straight lines. conservationists grappled with the new aesthetic possibilities of layouts. Virginia’s hydrological revolution. and they complied— even if reluctantly—with the ICA.” he advised me in the same conversation. and belonging even more thoroughly than had the earlier terraces. and in a somewhat contradictory fashion. In 2002–03. drawn on vellum. “it’s easy to calibrate” piecework. Swanepoel’s topographical designs—shown to me on vellum sheets— replaced face-to-face contact.” chided one farmer (interview. The curvilinear form of terraces had allowed them to hold to a shallow 1/250 slope. in and of itself. “just because you want a straight edge to your land” (interview. . Stevens informed the 1993 annual general meeting. production. Harare. the curvilinear pattern of contour-hugging terraces made no sense. “a beautiful grid. Wood suggested simply foreshortening it dramatically. Fordist techniques to rural Zimbabwe. Harare. later summed up his entire enterprise in loftier terms. Zimbabwean whites did also. Marondera. but also with those 4 inch storms” (Virginia ICA.

. Aggregate shoreline of reservoirs in Virginia/Macheke. love its landscape. The resulting shoreline extended over 9. vitality in that seeming nothingness” (Roux 1996:60). Zimbabwe. Moving into a gated community outside Harare. As a later critic recalled. Robert Paul “can set up an easel in front of a featureless expanse of nondescript grass and scrubby bushes and.” he narrated as we walked. . I asked Wood which of Virginia’s 203 kilometers of littoral gave the greatest aesthetic pleasure. dams brought economic benefits. variety. which she had not seen. forcing water up the Nyadoramuchena and into three tributary streams. An enormous longing joy took possession of her. along upland contours. scenic. southern Marondera had been “a bum-farming area . themselves. the fourth longest in the district. Dams inundated highveld valleys and. he admitted: Before them. . farmers gazed down on the landscape they had made and that made up so much of value to them. Whites who lacked Paul’s imagination and Quest’s wanderlust could simply engineer smaller-scale “long.39 Martha Quest could come home. He pointed me toward Chingezi Dam. lakes. though. created numerous vantage points from which to view the resulting reservoirs. and scenery 280 . She no longer thought I’m going to England. Zimbabwe’s most noted landscape artist succeeded in spite of the terrain around him. For others. June 10. The main character of Lessing’s semiautobiographical novel—appropriately entitled Landlocked— obsesses about aridity as she prepares to leave: [Martha Quest] was becoming obsessed with the sea. She thought . . 2003). arable lands (interview. the best site for irrigation. [Rather than invest in them] we will get US bucks outside the country” (interview.” In the hydrological revolution of the 1990s. “then water becomes a very . A month later. and belong in Zimbabwe all at the same time. . . lying across the Nyadoramuchena River and one of the district’s largest by capacity. according to Wood. Dam builders found a way to transform the highveld. 2003). beautiful thing to see. economic development or beauty? Of course. People could watch the water without. Jelsma himself showed me the littoral. bulldozers did the work of glaciers. . I’m talking on a white scale. 2003). And almost as soon as they grasped it. like jewels” when viewed from the air (interview.” he explained to me (an obvious urbanite). He did not choose.” At root. dam construction between 1990 and 1997 increased the district’s shoreline from 38 to 203 kilometers (see Figure 4). dry place where my skin burns and I can never lose the feeling of tension and I shall sit by a long. This combination of seemingly opposed values—also found by David S. did not remember. May 26. He found cohesion. had built the dam in 1993 and raised it in 1996. In Virginia alone. Marondera. mountains. I’m going to get off this high. in particular. The impounded water filled a bowl. 2003). gave Chingezi an air of wilderness. . suffered from a hydrological deficit with respect to Europe: It contained no natural lakes whatsoever. almost a peasant area. Figure 4. July 23. Some shorelines excelled in providing sheer. I asked Sweeney which was really more important. they lost it. .9 kilometers. Harare.40 The owner of Chingezi. “It’s very quiet in the bush—virgin. in aesthetic terms. being watched. requiring Jelsma to pump it up steep slopes to his flatter. Yet. [1958b:199] Dams provided an alternative. The very same slopes pinched the reservoir basin. May 1. Marondera. Harare. 1980– 2000. From their planes. Trigger (1997:167) among Australian miners—did not initially ring true to me. an ex-Virginian predicted that whites might one day regain farms somewhere. emigration solved the aesthetic problem. with a brushstroke make something one can look at endlessly. Jelsma. . nonproductive beauty. grey sea and listen to the waves break. Jelsma made an inspired choice. . the topography above the waterline—creased by four watercourses—created a sense of privacy along the shoreline. “If you have farmed in a series of droughts. and so on. The monotony disoriented explorers and visitors more used to regular alternations of valley. combined with one’s distance from cultivated fields.” Virgin meant scenic. A room with a view Dams helped solve a deeper aesthetic problem for whites. beautify them as we did. “You’ve got trees all the way round.American Ethnologist Volume 33 Number 2 May 2006 (interview. This seclusion. In common with the Australian bush—as described by Paul Carter (1988:44–45)—the interior plateau of eastern and southern Africa lacked features recognizable to Europeans. grey seas.41 More importantly. but “we will never develop them. economics and aesthetics were equivalent.

Whites cited. logs. Murdock actually rescued fish from reservoirs as they evaporated in the 1992 drought and transferred them to safe storage. May 1.42 A teacher of ecology and manager of his school’s private woodland. but the symbolism of the assertion mattered far more: Birds voted with their wings. and other bits of artificial structure. The difference lay in the water.44 In fact. steenbuck. What terraces achieved for cultivation. “and it’s pleasant. reservoirs accomplished for contemplation. What a way to relax” (interview.” explained Swanepoel.” He and the ICA advised farmers on various ways of “creating a pleasing appearance” (interview. Harare.” An ironic. Finally and most ingeniously. it was cut short and reduced to a mere rhetorical device. . fish. March 17. Fortunately. mastered the highveld’s broken topography. explained. not extant chalets.15 kilometers. 2003). they favored Zimbabwe’s white highlands. at least. June 12. the idea caught on. shoreline was the main attraction. deferred the dream of ecotourism (Hughes 2001). It doesn’t come naturally. however. 2003). In 2000. They go out on a boat and sit there and have their braai [barbecue]. By 2002–03. the Egyptian goose and knobnose duck actually veer slightly eastward to visit Virginia’s reservoirs (interview. Although he advised farmers in Virginia—and had even spoken formally at an ICA annual general meeting (Virginia ICA. . A large draw down for irrigation would actually enhance ornithological diversity. Harare. Marondera. I found another five Virginia farmers who had considered chalets. Farmers added peninsulas and islands. nyala. wild pig. stepped forward to help them. 2003). Tessmer manufactured bird habitats. Jelsma planned to install lodging in the estuaries of the streams feeding his unusually dendritic reservoir.45 In that year. and. their predators. . 2003).” explained one of the owners. “I am a bass fisherman who looks to create more places to go fishing. July 3. Guests would enjoy an unobstructed view of the water as ridges obstructed views of fellow guests. Marondera. minutes of the 44th annual general meeting held September 17. Bassmasters encouraged farmers to dump tires. Two of them planned to join their properties as a conservancy and— not satisfied with the existing biodiversity—to stock their land with impala. but the idea of chalets as evidence of their ecological stewardship. 2003).47 Almost immediately. it’s quiet. In effect. He and other whites had. never would have 281 . sportfishermen strove to enhance the biological productivity of their dams. Still. the same animals roamed widely in Virginia. Wood 2003). Among his neighbors. In 2002–03. greysbok. You’ve actually got to create that environment” (interview. No one east of Harare knew more about the efficacy of such measures than John Tessmer. He saw kudu.Hydrology of hope American Ethnologist depended on water and on the lines of sight around it. “Idyllic.” Lanclos boasted. The impoundment of the river—upsetting to another kind of nature lover—only enhanced the valley’s pristine quality. and zebra. but it also animated their community. This type of optical geometry—Lanclos explained over lunch with Jelsma and me—allowed chalets to “give [guests] the feeling of being completely by themselves” (interview. It worked—or at least observers thought it did. he elaborated. In the reservoirs. it was important to “end with something that wasn’t . Virginia. discontinuous habitat. “A duck will only occupy one bay. Of course. On Igava Farm. Tessmer and the owner had added 260 percent to the length of the main reservoir’s shoreline. leopard. As the head of that chapter. Finally. of course. offensive when you walked through there.” Tessmer informed me. Proavian enhancements to the shoreline benefited underwater species as well. and klipspringer regularly and hyena. Richards found yet another way to use the highveld’s broken topography. paramilitary violence had. and jackal less frequently. March 14. A long shoreline and intricate topography provided habitat—known as “structure”—for aquatic plants. its VirginiaHeadlands chapter. July 23. farmers with bland littorals could retrofit them for complexity. June 12. More intricate shorelines heightened this sense of calm. . sable. his impoundment boasted Virginia’s second-longest shoreline (15. Bird counts did not confirm this global ornithological effect. Frank Richards constructed three chalets along his reservoir. As a further aesthetic virtue. to new reservoirs throughout Virginia. duiker.46 Blocking the Nyadora River since 1995. not every shoreline possessed Chingezi’s baroque curves. Virginia farmers began to market the beauty of their water to tourists. “We pulled the migratory route of ducks over this area. . and the conservancy’s chalets would have abutted it. Engineered hydrology fit hand in glove with rural white society. That hydrology could appeal to urban whites as well. reedbuck. For Robinson. 2003). He used anthills to make islands. and most heroically. Still. It’s different from having a braai in the garden” (interview. “If you’re looking at water. Why did he and other Bassmasters and such a large portion of Virginia’s farmers go to such extremes? They enjoyed fishing. and so he designed 12 small bays on Igava. by Bassmasters. one had to create everything about it: The bass—fierce. “A lot of these guys like their fishing. ultimately. The organization Zimbabwe Bassmasters. Harare.” Jelsma pronounced (interview. Marondera. Black farmers. Tourists and their hosts craved human isolation and faunal company—a combination that they called “virgin bush. Tessmer constructed walkways into the reservoir. once again. especially. anthropogenic nature was starting to flourish on the highveld. While flying from the Mediterranean to South Africa. 1997)—Tessmer’s greatest work lay just outside the district. wildlife abounded on Richards’s farm. they implied. Occupying the top of the food chain. 2003). fighting fish—were imported from the United States and introduced. Tessmer scooped out a set of six depressions in the reservoir’s bottom that would hold water as it receded. Graham Murdock. Better to display the birds. “It’s social. They used the areas of farms too steep or rocky for farmers to cultivate as a patchy.43 After viewing all of black-ruled Africa from the air.

” hiring on-site managers rather than farming themselves. between the primeval and the technological. Primitive. A superior kind. Under a climate of intense storms. Whites could not change the rain. 2003). “Perhaps you’ll really believe it’s love. He doesn’t give a damn about any aspect of the environment” (interview. in the literature of the United States. fuel. Very few of the Virginia farmers I met had ever shared a meal with a black. of course.” he lamented.” Sweeney explained to me. did put money in the bank in peaceful times. and pumped water to agroindustrial fields over which tractors and combine harvesters rolled. the broader nation. Most tobacco plantations assigned one role and one role alone for blacks: manual labor. blocked rivers. . and few intended to do so. Harare. “A new kind. rather than integrating with. without 282 .” scolds his liberal girlfriend. whites forged another compromise between the highveld’s untamed topography and modern technology: the irrigation dam. most white farmers did not replace it with another instrument or technique that reached across the color bar. Portrayed as nearly atavistic in their proclivity toward erosion. Harare. In place of Charlie Slatter. he seemed organic and supernatural at the same time. having moved to Harare. In The Conservationist. Commercial farmers made their Arcadian gardens—a success that is all the more striking given the initial conditions. The environment whites had engineered threatened to implode around them. Those who remained in Zimbabwe into the 1990s identified themselves as liberal in their dealings with workers and other blacks. They would have concurred with Lessing’s forward-thinking critique of the fictional farmer Charlie Slatter. “What killed it [however] was . In short. whites policed the boundaries of their neoEuropean reserve. . Yet. who practiced catch-and-release. “I mean you just can’t sit and watch your farm destroyed. Tobacco. They killed wild animals. They created what Marx (1964:23) calls. But Richards. or—as Buckle wrote after her farm was occupied—“rape[d] the land” (2001:10). many Virginians would identify with Alexandra Fuller’s white Zimbabwean recluse: “Like the African earth itself. Conclusion: Zimbabwe’s middle landscape Before they were dispossessed. blacks did not qualify for admission to the middle landscape. “The world consists of two types of people. 2002). Richards initially established a reasonably amicable relationship. as opposed to whites’ “bottom-line of generating something good and beautiful and valuable” (interview. Harare. wild nature raged just outside the kitchen door. these bodies of water invited transcendence. Richards would not have earned much revenue: The chalets only charged the equivalent of $1 per person per night. 2002). Robinson denounced Mugabe: “He is an environmental pagan. In impounded water. the new settlers violated nearly all preexisting codes.” Clearly.American Ethnologist Volume 33 Number 2 May 2006 aspired to ecotourism: They did not work hard enough. Some black settlers were even cutting impoundments. Seeing him on his farm. they sought only food.48 Other categories of blacks. most blacks fell in the latter category. October 28. If managed properly. he continued. I couldn’t decide if the man had shaped the land or the other way around” (2004:56). When black settlers moved onto his farm. Perhaps the land-shaping hydrological revolution substituted for a sociological one. “It’s my biggest sorrow. They bulldozed earth. Walden-like. “losing that dam” (interview. and they did not appreciate nature enough (cf. Some large-scale black farmers operated—to quote a phrase in general circulation after 2000—as “cell-phone farmers. South African writer Nadine Gordimer describes a Transvaal farmer faced with exactly these two options: Mehring loves his land. He and other Virginia farmers regretted ecological more than economic loss. but they changed the texture of the land. flanked with trees and wildlife. . Terraces slowed runoff to a stately pace and held soil to soil.” Like Thomas Jefferson of the American Virginia. but in ways that violated whites’ conservation ethic. whites solidified the man–land relationship vital to their sense of belonging in Africa—and updated that trope for the era of black rule. Other. the total destruction of animals. rural whites adapted to postcolonialism by withdrawing from. In the midst of shortages of seed. felled trees. Bassmasters.” Signaling the importance of kudu and other wild species. could not straddle the divide between primitivism and modernity. expressed outrage at what they saw as a pervasive black tendency to overfish and even to vacuum reservoirs with nets. Fuming in Harare. such as peasants and newly minted commercial farmers. . practicing gravity-fed irrigation on the downstream side and raising the specter of widespread dam failure. Sweeney explained their instrumentalist approach to reservoirs and fish. a “middle landscape. having relinquished the infamous hippohide whip.49 Intermarriage was unthinkable. they imagined a garden. less wealthy black settlers did work the land personally. In the 1990s. few of the “new settlers” had planted commercial crops. compromising between civilization and nature.” What was being destroyed? Even if tourists had come in droves in 2002. Taylor 2002:20). October 29. did not dwell on the tobacco or on any crop.50 Their liberalism engaged with the environment almost as an alternative to society. still space: the reservoir itself. let alone high-grade tobacco. June 10. for the middle landscape is “as attractive for what it excludes as for what it contains” (Marx 1964:138). In so doing. For as long as they could. Virginia’s whites bridged the distance between Coetzee’s dream topographies of empty land and plantation. Yet amid the whirring of machines lay a recessed. and other inputs. this man. “creators and users. Virginia’s gardens did not erode. Virginia’s hydrology and soils behaved—to use Mike Davis’s term for southern California— like “Walden Pond on LSD” (1998:14). After 2000. . who believed “that one should buy a sjambok before a plough or a harrow” (1950:13). They also invited political discourse.

I thank Nancy Jacobs. and Munda maps (respectively. May 21.” Surely.’ hence Afrikaner” (Daily News 2002: 7). 4. Elwell n. S. however. authors used landscape and nature as symbolic vehicles for ideological messages (cf. 1993:154–155). 9. see Lim 1998. black Africans would come to recognize this identity. and Rutgers University for. In referring to “Virginia. My subjects frequently described themselves as “patriots. The front cover of the 1972 agricultural survey of Marondera shows an aerial photograph with the watershed lines added in (Ivy and Bromley 1972). where European-derived people still possessed large swathes of extra-European territory. A New Directions fellowship from the Andew W. See Hodder-Williams 1983:199 regarding early ICAs.). to legitimate their collective status as a landholding minority.500-meter contour lines on the 1:50.” never as “nationalists. This infrastructure also added to the potential expense of nationalization and compensation. in various ways. Macheke. Harben was vice president of the Rhodesian Tobacco Association. see Bell 1993:330. 14. 5. 16. the reluctant farmer finally agreed to meet me in July 2005. whites felt in their bones. Given the confidential and overtly political nature of that group’s data. I am especially grateful to Les Wood.Hydrology of hope American Ethnologist people” (Gordimer 1978:178). argues that “there were no black landowners to steal it [land] from then [before 1900]. On the cultural meanings of Raleigh. slightly to the south of Marondera (Bissett 2003:45). Most farmers distinguished between the eastern. a group of whites founded Watershed College in Wedza. Coetzee (1988:8) suggests that. Yet. In this connection. Blair Rutherford (2001:80–81) describes commercial farmers in northern Zimbabwe in this fashion. Virginia proper. preferred to live a nomadic life. Notes Acknowledgments. my informant undercut this praise with a crucial qualifier: “if ever there was a white African” (interview. Clements and Harben 1962:28–33 summarizes this history. Relocated in Canada. “A white African.d. and Virginia. a settler arriving in Marondera shortly after World War II named his farm “Raleigh” explicitly after Sir Walter Raleigh (English 1995:81). and 1831B2 from the Zimbabwe Office of the Surveyor General).” The anonymous author described him.or herself as “3rd generation ‘white Zimbabwean. Pat English’s (1995) reminiscences of life in Wedza from the 1920s to the 1940s refer repeatedly to the watershed. are mine alone. This 283 . Ward 1989:1). All interpretations. At one level. first. Wagner 1994:7. . Data on white farmers’ experience of the occupations themselves will appear in a separate work. 8. I am grateful to USAID. 11. overtly political questions of apartheid displaced land as a literary theme—or. An activist group called Justice for Agriculture conducted a similar. Robinson. Lockean fashion. This drop is measured between the 1. and three anonymous reviewers. McClymont’s (1981) 90-page review of tobacco advice only mentions labor five times. 13. an industry group of growers. hydrological enhancements could help farmers regain some of the political footing they had lost at independence. from 1946 to 1954 (cf. 1832A1. nationwide exercise during the same period. the Land Tenure Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. higher side. . For descriptions of the various approaches taken by other colonial classes. and the western. In 1987. In the same spirit. Rudo Sanyanga. Cooper and Stoler 1989. which apply to much steeper slopes and resemble a flight of stairs (Schwab et al. Elizabeth I. Vincent Crapanzano describes apartheid as “the product of an essentialist racism in which people of color are considered to be quintessentially different from whites and cannot.” this article follows the boundaries of the ICA bearing that name. 1. The importance of the watershed to whites’ view of the eastern Mashonaland landscape can hardly be overemphasized. as against nearly seven million blacks (Godwin and Hancock 1993:287). In this unconscious sense. rather. Amid dams and reservoirs. Comaroff 1989. Each impoundment deepened their sense of entitlement to the estates they owned. and Stoler 1989. and Stevens fit in. 1997. Regarding South Africa. Benedict Mission. he. It was an opportunity missed. At another—even less conscious—level. To the Mehrings of Zimbabwe. Virginia. Nuttall 1996). Black rule cast the highveld in quite an unfavorable light: an unjust anachronism. 19. 12. 2003). numbers 1732C3. The terraces work best on slopes of 6–8 percent and comprise a cut trough and filled ridge.’ 9th generation ‘white African. in the 1960s.000-scale Macheke. Dams not only legitimated their discredited minority but also admitted it into the moral center of Zimbabwe. “Dave Stevens was it. The white population crested in roughly 1975 at 278. Investing in the highveld advanced whites toward the former goal in a straightforward. as such. Hodder-Williams 1983:45–68 provides a fuller account of Scorror and early settlement. 7. 18. 3.100. the Department of Economic History at the University of Zimbabwe. lower-elevation side of this area. They are distinguished from the more well-known bench terraces. See Meadows 1996 and Nyschens 1997 for frequent use of this phrase. no one indicated publicly this fork in the road—between a humanistic and a misanthropic. D. The Agricultural Labor Bureau is a committee of the Commercial Farmers Union. who collected and compiled all the statistics presented here. farmers carried out a revolution in hydrology implicitly to forestall one in property. enter in any meaningful way into the formation of white identity” (1986:39). A recent letter to the editor in a Harare newspaper.000. For helpful comments on draft versions of this article.and 1. sponsoring the research for this article. 6. Could the ecology and beauty of shorelines naturalize such an exotic— even retrograde—sociology? Yes. then. naturalistic love. I was not granted access to it. making such an event that much less likely. Katya Uusihakala (1999:39) refers to a “double diaspora” of white Kenyans (cf. second. Local blacks . Virginia Dominguez. Eira Kramer and Kezia Kramer assisted with archival research. Virginia’s farmers sorely wanted. Perhaps not unrelated to this link between the Virginias. Mellon Foundation gave me time to write. the hydrological revolution was supremely conservative.” said one farmer. Zimbabwean farmers refer to the broad-base terraces colloquially as “contour ridges” (cf. For a discussion of the ways in which white pioneers deliberately settled in the proximity of resident blacks—whom they needed for labor—see Hughes 2006:55. 17. for example. Mugabe himself appreciated the impoundments—or so Sweeney had overheard. to keep their individual estates and. Rubert 1998).” 10. St. 15. preparing eventually to sue the government of Zimbabwe for financial compensation. 2.

the Zimbabwe Bassmasters constituted a branch of the global Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society (B. 31. The longest reservoir shorelines were 17. Bissett.A. Soils Incorporated confirms only a cooling effect “in the immediate vicinity of the lake” (2000:73). 22. Therefore.15. As representative of communal land residents. 44. Sheila Macdonald. Pp. The relationship is slightly more complex because dams tend to grow wider (as measured through the dam wall from the upstream to the downstream side) as they grow taller. Wood had served as chairman of the Nyagui Sub-Catchment Council. 1993:197–201). more integrationist attitude among young. Width varies with seepage inversely and linearly (Schwab et al. see Drinkwater 1991 and Wilson 1989. Up to 1991.s. Although numerous. Wood (2003) estimated most of the lengths using original builders’ basin surveys. Bell. 29. acquired very little land. based in the United States. and 13. 24. and children running multiple adjacent. this irrigation system differed fundamentally from those more typically studied by anthropologists (Geertz 1963. 49. Regarding the vastly larger Lake Kariba. Lansing 1991). Federation. wives. A considerable portion of Zimbabwe’s commercial farmland changed hands—mostly between whites (Rugube et al. Large family units frequently managed multiple.13 kilometers. but these lie within the measurement error of Chingezi’s shoreline. I would distinguish this phenomenon from the slightly earlier conversion of large-scale cattle ranches into wildlife conservancies in the lowveld. 48. Hughes 2004. Harare. Cited by Virginia whites.S. Johann Swanepoel is a pseudonym.A. The absence of a clear decline in bird populations at any one site could indicate an increase in aggregate populations visiting eastern Zimbabwe. wind would carry evaporated water a considerable distance before it precipitated. two or more adult sons.25. these reservoirs occupied only 1. various estates began labeling themselves “safari farms” or “holiday farms” (Mark Guizlo. Regarding Stevens’s career.American Ethnologist Volume 33 Number 2 May 2006 gradient of 1. however. 26. 1880–1910. adjacent farms jointly or as a corporation. Henk Jelsma is a pseudonym. 15. For criticism of conservation policy and explanations of smallholders’ conservation practices. In any case.S. personal communication. ed. 27. Robinson volunteered his own (Virginia ICA. Because spillway water is free of sediment (the sediment having fallen in the still water of the reservoir). Farmers suggested that plowing marginal areas would ultimately wreck the soil. 2005. The state frequently claimed that farmers failed to use their land fully. John Tessmer is a pseudonym. one would expect decreasing bird densities during this period of major reservoir filling (as birds dispersed to more and more habitats). 43. 42. 20. Angela Catherine Davies (2001:227) reports quite a different. 23. These findings show wild oscillations in the presence of Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) and knobnose. Owners wishing to sell farms had to petition the state for a “certificate of no interest. Gender. Sweeney overheard the remark—made in Shona apparently on the assumption that he did not understand that language—and recounted it to me and others in English. June 10. 2004). Robert Fox. According to a governmental Department of Conservation and Extension (Conex) publication. 33. 45. In Four Voices: Poetry from 284 . Morag 1993 “The Pestilence that Walketh in Darkness”: Imperial Health. 37. urban whites. The Zimbabwe Tobacco Association. minutes of annual general meeting held on September 26. a part of the Commercial Farmers Union.:21). In Winter Cricket: The Spirit of Wedza. Pp. who (after independence) would have been black. 45–46. Wood (2003) calculated two others at 10. and Images of South Africa c. Appadurai. and White 1995. 34. July 7. 28. in fact.). 40.316 hectares—an area equivalent to one of the larger-sized farms in Virginia. The African Waterfowl Census (carried out under the auspices of the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau) conducted bird counts on one site in the vicinity of Virginia: Don’s dam near Rusape. the Virginia ICA hired a government plane.13 percent actually exceeds the recommended slope for parallel layouts (see text below). 41. systematically sponsored black tobacco growers through an apprenticeship and supervised independent farming. In the late 1990s. I obtained the minutes for 1992–99 from a member who had saved them. Regarding the association of “nature” and artificial water— particularly in the western United States—see Fiege 1999. 36. the state. 1982 Publisher’s Introduction. All shoreline lengths apply at reservoirs’ full supply level. 25. Zimbabwe: Sheila Macdonald. the stringy shape of these dams accounts for their small aggregate surface area. 2002. the agricultural extension agency.S.S. When that aircraft became unavailable. n. see Buckle 2002:53–54. I am using the terms farm and family loosely. From the late 1990s. 46. 35. Chingezi is a pseudonym. Bolze. I thank Peter Rockingham-Gill for making these raw data available to me. 30. 1991. between 1993 and 1998. A “family” could comprise a father.05 kilometers. Irene Staunton. 38.50 and 10. Officially entitled the Zimbabwe National B. McPhee 1971. the pre-2000 figure of 72 families is probably understated. Roughly ten farmers attended annual general meetings. Louis W. personal communication. After nationalizing derelict and abandoned farms between 1980 and 1983. Wood 2003 provides a full analysis of dam construction in Virginia. 2003:129). 191–210. Mark Robinson is a pseudonym. 47.) 18(3):327– 341. Don Lanclos is a pseudonym. 2). References cited Anonymous 1969 Rhodesia’s Lakes. ed. See Davies 2001 for a treatment of this issue with respect to urban whites. Arjun 1991 Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology. or comb duck (Sarkidiornis melanotos). Dave 2003 Watershed College. 39. the Virginia ICA invited a staff member of Agritex. If the aggregate bird population were stable. 50. Rhodesia Calls 56:8–11. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. loosely coordinated farms.” and the state almost always granted it. p. 32. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (n. In Recapturing Anthropology. Langston 2003.d. The issue of arable land was hotly contested throughout the 1990s. it has a high capacity to pick up sediment as it accelerates (McCully 1996:33). 21. Frank Richards is a pseudonym. commercial farmers had taken significant steps toward supporting an emergent class of black landowners. Discussed below. At the national level. Tom Sweeney is a pseudonym. conservation works would have occupied between 12 percent and 17 percent of land area on slopes (Jones et al.

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