Stephanie Bishop, MA


Stephanie earned a BA in History and English at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon in 2004. She completed an MA in African Studies at the University of Basel in 2010 with an emphasis in History and Social Anthropology. Her interests developed around practical topics: water access and distribution, cultural epidemiology, and science and technology in Africa.  She wrote her MA thesis about the position of the mining industry as an influential stakeholder in South Africa's water politics.

Stephanie is also an adept Documentation Specialist, with an enterprising spirit, a project management certificate and 6+ years experience in technical and marketing writing and program communication. In 2010, Stephanie completed internships at the Centre for African Studies in Basel and at Mercy Corps headquarters in Portland, Oregon.  Her diverse career has instilled her with flexibility, multi-cultural competencies and expertise managing writing projects and high work volumes in complex organizations.  Stephanie currently applies these professional strengths as a Research Assistant in the group Technological Artefacts in Urban African Settings at the University of Basel.  Her Phd project (2011-2014) is about the production of the urban waterscape in Zambia.

MA Thesis

Damming the Olifants: Mining and Hydropolitics in the Limpopo Province


The Olifants River Water Resource Development Project (ORWRDP) was begun in 2004 to provide projects and infrastructure that would address water needs in the Olifants River Basin in the Limpopo Province, South Africa.  One of the projects proposed was the De Hoop dam, to be built on the Steelpoort River, a tributary of the Olifants. This De Hoop dam and water management strategies here are of particular interest to the mining sector. The region boasts the world's largest reserves of platinum group metals in the world and many other rich mineral deposits. Mining contributes 20% of the regional economy in the Olifants River basin through providing employment and stimulating economic growth, but access to sufficient water is an essential element for industry operations. The mining industry therefore has a vested interest in water resource management strategies and water rights allocation. For example, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry worked with 21 mining houses to negotiate the use and funding for the De Hoop dam.

This thesis examines the position of the mining industry as an influential stakeholder in the processes of water governance in South Africa. The research draws from a case study of two parallel dam projects in the Olifants River Basin--the De Hoop Dam and the proposed Richmond Dam, which has been the center piece of a heated controversy since the mining company Anglo Platinum first indicated their plan to build the dam.  The conflict ensued between Anglo Platinum and a community called the Ga Mawela, whose land would be partially inundated if the dam was built.

These projects and the conflict they have sparked indicate on the one hand how entwined water, mineral and land rights are in South Africa.  They also point to divergent ideals about resource management--ideals that play out in disagreements over particular projects, and which are a legacy of fundamental changes in the legal structures that govern water and land rights. 

This thesis argues that the De Hoop dam and the ORWRDP fit into the government's strong narrative of progress and the fight to roll back poverty though investments in technology and industry.  I demonstrate the similarities between the government-sponsored ORWRDP and Anglo Platinum's argument for the necessity of an additional dam to further ensure progress in the future. 

I argue that the Ga Mawela community and Anglo Platinum's opposing positions on the Richmond dam may be interpreted as illustrative of different imagined versions of a future society in the Olifants River basin and South Africa at large.  I compare company and community rhetoric in the negotiations to show that each group framed the conflict over the dam in terms of specific narratives and acted politically to pursue their ideological interests. To this end, I look closely at how the company and community maneuvered within the legal framework and also within social contexts to promote their respective goals.  The Ga Mawela community rather successfully tapped into the internet community, social networking opportunities, and a tide of public opinion in support of land restitution in their effort to block the Richmond dam.

I suggest that the outcome of the Richmond dam case may represent a shift towards the weakening of the mining sector's ability to influence water politics as they see fit.  This should be considered in balance, however, with the ORWRDP, where the mining sector has been an essential financial contributor and therefore still a strong (and far from disinterested) voice in the dialogue about water and progress in South Africa.


Centre for African Studies Basel
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