Crossing the Zambezi

Crossing the Zambezi

The Politics of Landscape on a Central African Frontier

JoAnn McGregor


James Currey



This is the story of 150 years of conflict and contested claims over control and access to the waters and banks of the River Zambezi, one of Africa's longest and most important rivers.
This book is a history of claims to the Zambezi, focussed on the stretch of the river extending from the Victoria Falls downstream into Lake Kariba, which today constitutes the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is a story of 150 years of conflict over the changing landscape of the river, in which the tension between the Zambezi's 'river people' and more powerful others has been central.
The Zambezi is one of Africa's longest and most important rivers - securing access to its waters and control over its banks, traffic and commerce were crucial political priorities for leaders of precolonial states no less than their colonial and postcolonial successors. The book is about the ways in which the course of the Zambezi has shaped history, its shifting role as link, barrier or conduit, the political, economic and cultural uses of the technological projects that have transformed the landscape, and their legacies in the conflicts of today. By investigating how the claims made today by Zambezi 'river people' relate to longer history of claims and appropriations, the book contributes to long-standing debates over the relationship between geography and history, landscape and power.

JOANN MCGREGOR is a Lecturer in Geography at University College London

Zimbabwe: Weaver Press (PB)


May 2009
30 black and white illustrations
247 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781847014023
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
James Currey
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Table of Contents

Introduction: the politics of landscape on the Zambezi
Crossing the Zambezi: landscape & precolonial power
Mapping the Zambezi: imperial knowledge & the Zambezi frontier
Violence & law in the borderlands: early colonial authority & extraction
Bridging the Zambezi at Victoria Falls: science & early colonial expansion
Damming the Zambezi at Kariba: late colonial developmentalism
Reclaiming the borderlands: ethnicity, nationalism & war
Unsettled claims: the Tonga & the politics of recognition
Surviving in the borderlands: the 'unfinished business' of Lake Kariba
Unravelling the politics of landscape: a conclusion


Focussing on an important but relatively neglected part of south-central Africa, Crossing the Zambezi is a major contribution to African studies. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW, vol. 53, issue 1, April 2010

Constitutes a highly significant contribution to the history mainly of Zimbabwe, but also of the southern part of Zambia in the past 200 years or so. THE ROUND TABLE

This well-documented work shows how a river can be both a boon and a curse. CHOICE
A major contribution to African studies (that) offers a fresh perspective on landscape studies. It also provides refreshing ideas on the politics of belonging, identity formation, and citizenship in Africa's borderlands. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW
Crossing the Zambezi is a magnificent study of how a great river can structure the lives of the people who live along it. ...Europeans perceived the Zambezi as a boundary rather than a uniting force, and McGregor traces out the consequences of that boundary-making as people became defined as citizens of different countries... This is a major contribution both to ethnography and the history of the region. A book for ecologists, anthropologists, political geographers, historians and Africanists. - Elizabeth Colson, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
... a richly documented, beautifully written and powerfully argued book. ... a significant contribution to landscape history and to our understanding of the politics of meaning and memory. - Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor of History, University of Minnesota