Invested in Whiteness: Zimbabwe, the von Pezold Arbitration, and the Question of Race in International Law

27 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2023 Last revised: 18 Jan 2024

Date Written: 2022

Abstract

Using the 2015 arbitral award in von Pezold v. Zimbabwe as its starting point, this piece reflects on the relationship between racial capitalism and international law. Stressing the particularities both of this specific case and of the field of investment arbitration, I nevertheless argue that the tribunal’s finding that Zimbabwe’s land redistribution program had been racially discriminatory against white commercial farmers is symptomatic of broader argumentative structures in international law. In particular, I suggest that it was three argumentative moves that led to this perverse outcome: a temporal fencing of racism, a spatial containment of racism and, finally, a strict conceptualization of racism as prejudice pertaining to “skin color.” The combination of these three moves allowed the arbitrators to artificially separate the question of race/ism from questions of property and wealth distribution, capitalist accumulation, and exploitation. Far from being aberrational, these three moves are commonplace in (neo)liberal domestic and international legal systems and contribute to the invisibilization of racial capitalism as a structure of dispossession, exploitation, and abandonment.

Keywords: international investment law, von Pezold, Zimbabwe, racial capitalism, temporality, spatiality, historical materialism

Suggested Citation

Tzouvala, Ntina, Invested in Whiteness: Zimbabwe, the von Pezold Arbitration, and the Question of Race in International Law ( 2022). Tzouvala, N. (2022). Invested in Whiteness: Zimbabwe, the von Pezold Arbitration, and the Question of Race in International Law. Journal of Law and Political Economy, 2(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.5070/LP62258226 Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6hf5v3cx, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4576441

Ntina Tzouvala (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200
Australia

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