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University of Pretoria (2021)

Understanding the dynamics of large scale biofuel investments in Zimbabwe

Mabumbo, Decide

Titre : Understanding the dynamics of large scale biofuel investments in Zimbabwe

Auteur : Mabumbo, Decide

Université de soutenance : University of Pretoria

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2021

This thesis examines the consequences of large-scale land acquisitions in Chisumbanje, a rural village in south-east Zimbabwe. The land acquisition was for the purposes of establishing sugar cane plantations and a biofuel plant that would supply ethanol to Zimbabwe’s fuel industry. The project was owned jointly by Green Fuel (Pvt) Ltd and the Agricultural Rural Development Authority, a public parastatal. Using a combination of political economy concepts and ethnographic data from Chisumbanje, the thesis tells a story of the unfolding relationships between Green Fuel, political party cadres and their allies in government who wanted to extract political and economic capital from the project at the expense of citizens affected by it. As a result, the project failed to usher in development, in that local people were dispossessed their land, in some cases using force. The company justified the loss of land on the grounds that it would introduce subsistence farmers to the market. But only a small proportion of the local people were given the opportunity to participate in this market, the market was not in the main ethanol feedstock, and the market was not guaranteed. Typical of capitalist settler operations, those who were hired got seasonal menial jobs that could not sustain their families while the better-paying jobs of supervisors were given to people coming from outside the area. In addition, local workers worked under poor conditions and were not allowed to join unions except one union that was linked to the ruling party, a sign that even the government was on the side of capital and not on the side of the workers. The project seemingly made profit, but the people’s livelihoods worsened in the process. Over and above this, the thesis goes beyond those reports that simply discuss, and bemoan, the land dispossession resulting from corporate land acquisitions by exploring the unintended consequences of the biofuel project. Inadvertently, the project and its operation triggered a huge, unplanned income diversification response in the surrounding areas. The company’s injection of cash into the local economy - mainly in the form of wages - resulted in a surge in the quantity and variety of businesses and shops in Chisumbanje and the surrounding areas and the creation of several ’downstream’ jobs many linked to agriculture and housing. While downstream jobs were not deliberately planned, and many of them were entirely informal, their existence suggests that local people were not simply ’victims’ of corporate and state machinations, but active participants in fashioning new livelihoods in a southern Africa that has gone through massive changes in the way the economy is structured over the past 30 – 40 years. This thesis seeks to add nuance to our understanding of the proactive agency of subalterns usually taken to be passive in the wake of multiple capitalist assaults in the neoliberal age.


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