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Dams, displacement, and the delusion of development, 4 March

Speakers: Allen and Barbara Isaacman
Date: Friday 4 March 2016
Time: 12:30-14:00
Venue: CCS Seminar Room 602, 6th Floor, MTB Tower, Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal

For 43 years the Isaacmans worked on the Zambezi River, from Cahora Bassa Dam to the Indian Ocean. Their recent book recounts 300 stories of dam-affected people and their resistance to the the Portuguese colonial and Mozambican post-colonial states. In 1998 the Isaacmans attended a conference where 300 people celebrated the 22nd anniversary of the dam. In Allen's recounting, “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. 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. The story told in Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development is not one of great celebration, but of economic, ecological and cultural devastation.”

Allen Isaacman is Regent's Professor at the University of Minnesota and amongst many honours, won the 2013 Distinguished Africanist Award from the African Studies Association. Barbara Isaacman is an attorney based in the Public Defender's Office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and she is co-author of Mozambique: Women, The Law and Agrarian Reform and Mozambique: From Colonialism to Revolution, 1900-1982. Their book Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007 won the Martin A. Klein Prize recognising distinguished work of scholarship on African history. Amongst their many other books are Mozambique from colonialism to revolution, 1900-1982; The Tradition of Resistance in Mozambique: The Zambesi Valley, 1850-1921; and Slavery and beyond: The making of men and Chikunda ethnic identities in the unstable world of South-Central Africa, 1750-1920.

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