Final Public Oral Exam: Robert Zeinstra

Bush War: An Environmental History of Zimbabwe's Liberation
Tuesday, May 2, 2023, 9:00 am11:00 am


Event Description


Emmanuel Kreike, co-adviser
Jacob Dlamini, co-adviser
Vera Candiani
David Hughes, Rutgers University


Bush War: An Environmental History of Zimbabwe's Liberation provides a granular account of rural participation in Zimbabwe’s guerrilla war from 1976-1980. With a focus on rural Zimbabweans and their landscapes, and with a reliance on oral history and environmental sources, this project questions tacit assumptions about nationalism and coercion and strays from common narratives of “peasant” activism as mere support for guerrilla actors. By focusing on rural Zimbabweans’ intellectualizations of the conflict this project untangles how memories of the war were animated by animals, forests, and ancestral spirits, and were bound to practices of dissent, religion, and human- environmental relations. Conceptually, I use the word nyika—which has been translated as territory and nation—to refer specifically to landscape, a space defined by my interviewees to encapsulate belonging, identity, place, and religious practice; as well as being a key rhetorical element in Zimbabwe’s campaign toward postcoloniality. Here, nyika, as many of my interlocutors stressed, was a meaningful descriptor of collective rural struggle, harnessing a dichotomy between local and national political aspirations, and between themselves and guerrillas. Environmental knowledge, human-animal collaboration, and ancestral support were key elements in peoples’ stories, and sabotage and subterfuge came to define everyday rural life during the war. I argue that the forms and aims of “peasant” activity were rooted in material and intellectual relationships to the landscape and a land-based economy, rather than a generic nationalism or a commitment to electoral reform and majority-rule. I conclude by shifting to the Rhodesian Army’s relationship to the landscape to argue that environmental knowledge was bound to ideological claims which were inseparable from the settler economy and settler identity in the final years of colonial Rhodesia.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.


Lee Horinko
Area of Interest
Environmental History
Landscape Studies
Oral History
Peasant Studies
Social History
19th Century
20th Century
Sub-Saharan Africa
Scholarly Series
Dissertation Defense