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Tokwe - Mukorsi dam, Zimbabwe

Towke-Mukosi dam is under completion under a veil of corruption, stepping on human rights of about 20,000 left without proper home, land and livelihoods after an human-made flood event


Fifty years after its proposal, the Towke-Mukosi dam is under completion, stepping on human rights of about 20,000 left without proper home, land and livelihoods. Inexistence of compensatory mechanisms, inadequate food, shelter, sanitation, right to choose residence, misuse of humanitarian aid, coercion, use of force, harassment and arrests are ‘the way’ in which Zimbabwe Government managed the development scheme behind the largest dam in the country, according to a Human Rights Watch research [1]. The construction works started in 1998, with the aim to provide irrigation water and electricity to the sugar cane estates and communal farmers of the province. The Italian firm Salini Impregilo was contracted to conduct the civil works, whose progress stalled repeatedly due to funding shortages. In April 2011, it was estimated that the project would be completed within 31 months at a cost of US$133.8 million. At the end of its construction, the price is reaching $300 million, funded by the Development Bank of Zimbabwe [2].   During the various stages of the project the population surrounding the infrastructure suffered from improper resettlement practices and uneven compensatory mechanisms. Particularly, a flood event between December 2013 and February 2014 after an exceptional rainfall event left a mark in the history of the resettlement management. Many among victims, dam project workers and technicians claim that the flood could have been prevented through the water regulation tunnels in the dam wall. In spite of this, authorities declared that the floods were a “natural disaster resulting from climate change”, and water levels were stable until March 30. One conspiracy theory argues that the floods were deliberately induced by the government to get rid of those who resisted resettlement. As government did not have the needed US$19 million relocation costs for about 4,000 families, flooding the dam was “a quick and effective method of relocating the villagers” [9]. At the outset of the construction, the government assessed that 6’393 families would need to be relocated and that each household would be compensated based on property evaluation based on the pre-flood situation. By the time of the flood, partly due to resistance from families who wanted to be compensated before relocation, the government had relocated just 712 of them. Right after the flood, the government turned the tables and renegotiated the conditions.  The size of the plots on offer was resized, and victims were required to participate in the sugar cane commercial scheme. In fact, the security of the flood victims has to be framed around the disputes between private and governmental actors over ownership, land use and control over the areas initially designed as relocation sites -The Nuanetsi Ranch-, in order to be understood. Even if the available media sources and interviewed actors [1] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] provide divergent versions of the ‘backstage’ events, what emerges is sort of a ‘land rush’ in a scenario where business interest at stake are high. The land is registered in the name of the Development Trust of Zimbabwe (DTZ), a company controlled by the political party known as ZANU-PF. Apparently, politicians and private companies – among which the names of President Robert Mugabe, Vice-President Joice Mujuru Masvingo provincial minister Bhasikiti, DTZ resident director for Nuanetsi Charles Madonko and the business tycoon Billy Rautenbach stand out – shape the dispute over a development project consisting in safari, cattle, leather, crocodiles farming, sugar cane, and ethanol production. In the meanwhile, the 3,000 families on the disputed plot of land waiting for a permanent resettlement have not been getting adequate food, clean water, shelter, and other basic aid [1]. Instead of being compensated because of their losses, they have been forced to be sugar cane farmers. While communities’ leaders said that flood victims do not want and never agreed to take part into sugar cane farming, Minister Bhasikiti warned that “anyone who resist relocation would be moved with force”, branding whoever resists as rebel or enemy of the state. Armed soldiers forced people to evict without their consent, following direct orders from President Mugabe. According to Human Rights Watch, flood victims said the government has subjected them to harassment, threats, physical violence, and used “cruel methods” while being resettled. Coercive measures include denying them food; limiting access to water; barring and diverting donations intended for their assistance; blocking toilets; and closing the satellite school and clinic near the camp. On August 3, 2014, over 200 anti-riot police indiscriminately beat and arrested close to 300 people. Many decided to hide in places far from the camp or were separated from their familiars. Hove's (2016) analysis concludes that flood victims are in the truth state victims.

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Tokwe - Mukorsi dam, Zimbabwe
State or province:Masvingo
Location of conflict:Masvingo
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The project consists in a concrete faced rockfill dam made of 95’000 m3 of concrete and 4’500 tons of steel, is 90.3 metres (296 ft) tall and creates a 1,750,000,000 m3 (1,420,000 acre•ft) reservoir, the largest the in country. It comprises a 35 m tall tower with grilles which direct the water to a 6m diameter tunnel with a left bank 350m long, with a regulation tower and closing sluices. The release of the water into the river bed takes place through two 2m diameter pipes. There are two spillway overflows, on the left and right banks, with a 6m diameter drainage tunnel approximately 200m long. In the way of ancillary works there are plans for an 8 km access road and a stone and concrete cofferdam 15m tall and 133m long at the crown. The project is completed by 5 saddle dams on the right bank. The associated hydroelectric power station will have a 12 megawatts (16,000 hp) installed capacity [8]

Project area:25,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project300,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:20,000
Company names or state enterprises:Salini Impregilo from Italy - Construction Company
Relevant government actors:Government of Zimbabwe
International and Finance InstitutionsDevelopment Bank of Zimbabwe from Zimbabwe
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Human Rights Watch (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Global warming, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths
Other Health impactsMalaria
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Land demarcation
violation of human rights
Proposal and development of alternatives:Human Rights Watch dictates the recommendations to Government of Zimbawe, the African Union and United Nations to properly address the needs of the victims [1].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project has been implemented by a corrupted government through coercion, no compensatory mechanisms, inadequate food, shelter, sanitation, right to choose residence, misuse of humanitarian aid, coercion, use of force, harassment and arrests (Hove, 2016). Victims still are waiting for compensation [1]
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[7] Mujere, J., Dombo, S. (2011) Large Scale Investment Projects and Land Grabs in Zimbabwe: The Case of Nuanetsi Ranch BioDiesel Project. Land Deals Politics Initative & Journal of peasant studies.

[1] Human Rights Watch (2015). Homeless, Landless, and Destitute. The Plight of Zimbabwe’s Tokwe-Mukorsi Flood Victims. Accessed: 22 February 2017
[click to view]

[2] Marawanyika, G., Latham, B. (2017) Zimbabwe Sugar Farmers Get Dam 50 Years After Proposal. Bloomberg Markets. Accessed: 22 February 2017
[click to view]

[3] The Financial Gazette. Spanners thrown into Rautenbach’s ethanol project. Accessed: 22 February 2017
[click to view]

[4] The Herals (2014). Plans afoot for ethanol plant at Nuanetsi ranch. Accessed: 22 February 2017
[click to view]

[5] Phiri, G. (2014) Minister grabs Joshua Nkomo's land. DailyNews. Accessed: 22 February 2017
[click to view]

[6] Mambo, E. (2014) Mujuru sucked in messy land row. Zimbabwe Independent. Accessed: 22 February 2017
[click to view]

[8] Salini Impregilo Website (2016). Towke-Mukorsi dam. Accessed: 22 February 2017
[click to view]

[9] Southern eye (2014) Did Tokwe-Mukosi Dam wall collapse? Accessed: 22 February 2017
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Zimbabwe Floods Tokwe Mukosi disaster. Zimbabwe Floods Tokwe Mukosi disaster, 2015
[click to view]

Other comments:The case is based mainly on the Human Rights Watch report [1]
Meta information
Contributor:AB - UAB/ICTA
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2642
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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