Dr Monique Salomon of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences was among 50 academics who gathered recently in Grahamstown for a conference on: “Old Land – New Practices? The Changing face of Land and Conservation in Postcolonial Africa”.

A joint initiative between Rhodes University, the University of the Free State and the University of the Witwatersrand, the main purpose of the Conference was to explore and debate whether contemporary issues on land, conservation and development had shifted in Africa and South Africa post-1994.

Salomon presented a paper at the Conference titled: “Landscapes as libraries. A history of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg from 1818 to 2009”, which was based on her PhD research.  This paper was published in Innovation Journal, Volume 41.

She argued that landscapes were an important source of information and that contemporary landscapes could be analysed as the outcome of a trajectory that was set out in the past. ‘A spatial and historical analysis of a landscape can shed light on the practices of its current users, and the opportunities and constraints they are faced with.’

Discussing deliberations and outcomes at the conference, Salomon said one of the conclusions was that land reform in South Africa was governed by a paternalistic development paradigm. Government regulations dictated what reformed land should and should not be used for.

Salomon explained that there had been a lot of publicity about the failure to turn land-reform farms into profitable large-scale commercial farms operated by beneficiary groups.

Several case studies honed in on land transfers to claimants on condition that the land remain a protected conservation area in perpetuity.

She said that in a play on the title of the conference, speakers observed that “old lands” are still ruled by “old practices”, sometimes disguised as “new promises”.

Land claimants who had signed business deals with private lodges and tourism ventures, including the widely acclaimed “success story” of the Makuleke clan at the Kruger National Park, had often seen the promise of profit overshadowed by the reality of parks running at a loss.

Co-management agreements, such as in the Dwesa Cwebe Nature Reserve, placed the rightful land owners on the wrong side of the law when they wanted to access the natural and marine resources.

‘The tragedy of the common thinking still looms large in conservation circles. The reasoning that “if we give access to one, we give permission to all to exploit nature” ignores customary practices of sustainable harvesting and use of nature’s sources,’ said Salomon.

‘Rastafarian bossie dokters (forest doctors) in the Cape cry out why they as indigenous custodians of the land are denied access while exotic vineyards are allowed to dominate the landscape.’

Salomon said attempts to match conservation concerns with social development goals had resulted in unhappy marriages founded on misguided expectations, false promises, and bad deals. Farm workers were not better off in private game reserves or lodges.

‘Community cohesion around a land claim can quickly dissolve after land has been transferred and different interests resurface.

‘Renewable energy also has negative impacts. The installation of wind turbines, for example, requires mining, displaces the same people as those affected by conservation, and are a hazard to birds and bats.’

Salomon said the role of the State in controlling people and the landscape was highlighted at the Conference as a problem. The need to “humanise” nature conservation or de-proclaim nature reserves was suggested.

‘However, it was the call for an “alternative politics from below” that resonated most with those of us who are pushing for radical land and agrarian reform.’

author email : crookesv@ukzn.ac.za