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Environmental History  

Emmanuel Kreike

Environmental history highlights the dynamic interaction between the physical environment and human society, respectively framed as nature and culture. Attributing agency to the environment is perhaps the most distinguishing attribute of environmental history as an approach while human society’s struggle to overcome environmental challenges is a major focus of environmental historians. Generally, students of the African past have tended to emphasize that Africa and Africans were more dependent on nature (including climate, geography, natural resources, “natural” population dynamics, disease) than societies elsewhere, especially those in the modern West. Thus, colonial and postcolonial analysts ascribe Africa’s past as the cradle of the human species, its present lack of political and economic development, and its bleak future in an age of climate change not to any African (or human) genius but to the caprices of an undomesticated environment and interventions by outside actors that disturb an environment-people balance. Historians emphasized that political subjugation, agricultural development, and conservation increased African societies’ vulnerability (to malnutrition, drought, and indigenous and exotic diseases, for example) in the face of environmental change because it enclosed and alienated such key natural resources as land, woodlands, wildlife, and water. More recently, historians of Africa have highlighted a more dynamic and interactive relationship between society and environment in Africa beyond the analytical and nested dichotomies of Nature-Culture, Indigenous-Invasive, and Victim/Subaltern-Perpetrator/Ruler. The perspective opens space for considering how societies perceived and shaped their environments physically and mentally in conjunction with other ideas and forces, including a variety of human and non-human agents, further enriching the study of environmental history.

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Land Resettlement and Restitution in Zimbabwe  

Joseph Mujere

Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Program has attracted a lot of scholarly attention. While some scholars have argued that the process through which landless peasants reclaimed land was chaotic and violent, others have praised it for having been one of the most radical redistributive land reform programs in Africa. While these debates have dominated scholarship on land reform program in Zimbabwe since 2000, what has been lacking has been a historical analysis of the entanglement between land resettlement and struggles over restitution. Land restitution has been at the center of the land redistribution in Zimbabwe. In spite of the successes that the government has made in redistributing land, land restitution is the last frontier in the struggle over land. Ruins, ancestral graves, and sacred sites are important landscape features whose emotive presence and materiality enable communities to make land claims and counterclaims. Land restitution processes have been initiated in a variety of regional and country contexts. In former settler societies such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Canada, and Australia, indigenous populations have laid claims over land dispossessed under colonial rule. In post-conflict societies internally displaced people have also attempted to lay claims over land that they had to leave behind fleeing from violence. Further, where large-scale land deals have been unsuccessful or revoked through resistance land reclamation has also been instigated. Land restitution is concerned with restoring landed property to former owners. As compared to land redistribution, restitution is not concerned with ironing out of inequitable distribution of land to create a just future but with reestablishment of former rights based on principles of justice rather than equality. Restitution is therefore based on returning land to former owners who can prove claims. Land restitution is an elastic concept covering a range of processes designed to appease what are perceived as historical injustices around loss of land rights.