Rain, uncertainty and power in southern Zimbabwe

Joost Fontein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In Zimbabwe, and across the region, rainfall and drought have long been measures of contested political legitimacy in ways not limited to the politics of food, famine and agricultural production. Around Lake Mutirikwi in southern Zimbabwe, this is true not only for spirit mediums, chiefs and other ‘traditionalist’ authorities for whom rainmaking practices are well-established means of demonstrating ‘autochthony’, sovereignty and legitimacy, but also for war veterans, new farmers, government technocrats and others involved in land reform during the 2000s. This is what I examine here. Whilst I focus particularly on rainmaking practices, encounters with njuzu water spirits, and national biras that took place in the 2005–2006 when fieldwork was carried out around Lake Mutirikwi, the larger point I pursue is that water acts as an index of power – of the entangled but contested play of legitimacy and sovereignty – across many different registers of meaning and regimes of rule.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-74
Number of pages28
JournalCritical African Studies
Issue number1
Early online date3 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • rainmaking
  • water
  • uncertainty
  • power
  • sovereignty
  • legitimacy
  • land reform
  • spirit mediums
  • njuzu
  • Zimbabwe


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