Between Global Interests and Local Needs: Conservation and Land Reform in Namaqualand, South Africa

By Benjaminsen, Tor A.; Kepe, Thembela et al. | Africa, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Between Global Interests and Local Needs: Conservation and Land Reform in Namaqualand, South Africa


Benjaminsen, Tor A., Kepe, Thembela, Brathen, Stine, Africa


ABSTRACT

This article presents the case of the creation and expansion of Namaqua National Park in Namaqualand, South Africa, to highlight the contradictions between global interests in biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods. Despite the policy shift in the conservation literature from 'fortress' to community-based conservation, we argue that in practice conservation still tends to dominate when there is a trade-off between Western-style conservation and support to the livelihoods of marginalized communities. This can again be explained by the hegemony of a conservation discourse that is shared by a network of actors. The article highlights the role played by powerful environmental organizations and wealthy individuals supporting conservation at the expense of land redistribution in Namaqualand. The combination of scientific research and finances provided by this actor-network aided the creation and expansion of the Park. Local people, however, see the expansion of the Park as direct and unfair competition for land that they wish to acquire through the land redistribution programme, as well as an indirect challenge to their local livelihoods. Whatever the merits of their case, it seems clear that communities aspiring to more land, together with advocates of human rights and poverty alleviation, remain on the margins in terms of policy influence, especially when they pursue goals that are perceived by the conservation advocates to be in conflict with those of biodiversity conservation.

RESUME

Cet article presente le cas de la creation et de l'expansion du parc national Namaqua dans le Namaqualand, en Afrique du Sud, pour mettre en lumiere les contradictions entre les interets mondiaux de conservation de la biodiversite et les moyens d'existence locaux. Malgre le changement de politique observe dans la litterature consacree a la conservation, ou la notion de <> fait place a celle de conservation communautaire, l'article soutient que dans la pratique, la conservation a encore tendance a dominer en cas d'arbitrage entre conservation a l'occidentale et soutien aux moyens d'existence de communautes marginalisees. Ceci peut aussi s'expliquer par l'hegemonie d'un discours de la conservation partage par un reseau d'acteurs. L'article souligne le role des puissantes organisations environnementales et de riches particuliers qui soutiennent la conservation au detriment d'une redistribution desterres au Namaqualand. L'effet conjugue de la recherche scientifique et des moyens financiers apportes par ce reseau d'acteurs a favorise la creation et l'expansion du parc. La population locale, quant a elle, considere que l'expansion du parc est en competition directe et injuste pour les terres qu'elle souhaite acquerir dans le cadre du programme de redistribution des terres, ainsi qu'une rnenace indirecte sur les moyens d'existence locaux. Quelle que soit la valeur de leur argument, il semble clair que les communautes qui aspirent a plus de terres, avec les defenseurs des droits de l'humain et de la reduction de la pauvrete, restent a la marge entermes d'influence sur la politique, notamment lorsqu'ils poursuivent des objectifs percus par les partisans de la conservation comme etant contraires a ceux de la conservation de la biodiversite.

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More than a decade since emerging from colonialism and apartheid, South Africa continues to face big challenges relating to poverty and racial inequality. After coming to power in 1994 the post-apartheid government formulated a number of policies and laws, the purpose of which was to redress the imbalances of the past while at the same time improving the welfare of all South Africans. Over half of South Africa's 44 million people live in poverty, with almost 70 per cent of the poor living in rural areas (Aliber 2003). These rural areas therefore became key targets of the new policies and legislation.

It is common knowledge that colonialism and apartheid resulted in Africans being dispossessed of land on a large scale and confined to overcrowded reserves or Bantustans. …

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