Review Article

Water and the environment in southern Africa: A review of the literature since 1990

Mark Nyandoro
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 15, No 1 | a679 | DOI: | © 2019 Mark Nyandoro | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 March 2019 | Published: 13 November 2019

About the author(s)

Mark Nyandoro, Department of Economic History, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe; and School of Social Sciences, History Group, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa


This article is a review of the dominant literature on water issues, water rights and the environment in southern Africa. Being the first in a series of reviews of different regions, it is framed through a survey of national literature that has emerged since the 1990s, with a particular focus on South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Its central objective and/or purpose is to review select publications in which I foreground significant historiographical tendencies as they relate to my topic on water and the environment. The major tendencies or trends define the content of the article about these countries that form an important part of the SADC region. It traces how water history (a subdivision of environmental history) in southern Africa has developed and evolved, and outlines how scholarly debates have changed over time. To achieve this, I track the major themes of water-history focusing on who produced the works cited, when were they produced, and critically surveying their tenors, themes or intention. What motivated this write-up and assessment of the source material is that several works on this topic have been produced by multiple scholars from diverse academic disciplines: water experts and/or practitioners, ecologists and/or environmentalists, historians, economists, social scientists, hydrologists and policy makers. But not much work has been conducted in the social sciences domain to highlight major water rights and environmental benchmarks from an economic history perspective – a perspective that combines the social and economic analysis of events without disregarding the impact of politics on life and society.


Water; water pollution; environment; hydro-politics; rural and urban water; irrigation; agriculture; conservation; water rights; water governance; water historiography; Southern Africa.


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