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Keywords:

  • Africa;
  • colonialism;
  • identity;
  • land;
  • postcolonialism;
  • settler society;
  • race

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.