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Thando Mcunu

‘Damned waters’: An ethnography on the multiple ontologies of the Berg River Dam in the Western Cape

‘The weight of the totality of large dams in the world has made a measurable impact on the speed of Earth’s rotation, the tilt of its axis and shape of its gravitational field.’ Thando’s research is an ontological inquiry into the multiple ways to relate to and think about large dams, with the Berg River Dam (BRD) in Franschhoek her research site. She challenges the dominance of anthropocentrism in dam narratives by seeing the BRD as more than a rigid, durable object that is an extension of our aspirational development isolated from everyday interactions and imagination. She argues that, as material entities, large dams have non-human agency as displayed in their ‘crystal ball abilities’, allowing us to predict water levels. Thando’s research was motivated by Cape Town’s dam levels and DayZero narratives.  

Thando holds a BA in Anthropology and Geography and a BA Honours in Anthropology, both from the University of the Witwatersrand and is a Masters candidate in the EHS programme at UCT. Her main research interests is building a future curriculum on the anthropology of water that considers its different ontologies. Other interests include ecology, water analysis, cultural studies, STS, decoloniality, posthumanities, interdisciplinary research, ontological and epistemological studies. She was a Mellon Mays Fellow for 2015/2016.