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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2011


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.

Cet article présente le cas de la création et de l'expansion du parc national Namaqua dans le Namaqualand, en Afrique du Sud, pour mettre en lumière les contradictions entre les intérêts mondiaux de conservation de la biodiversité et les moyens d'existence locaux. Malgré le changement de politique observé dans la littérature consacrée à la conservation, où la notion de 〈forteresse〉 fait place à celle de conservation communautaire, l'article soutient que dans la pratique, la conservation a encore tendance à dominer en cas d'arbitrage entre conservation à l'occidentale et soutien aux moyens d'existence de communautés marginalisées. Ceci peut aussi s'expliquer par l'hégémonie d'un discours de la conservation partagé par un réseau d'acteurs. L'article souligne le rôle des puissantes organisations environnementales et de riches particuliers qui soutiennent la conservation au détriment d'une redistribution des terres au Namaqualand. L'effet conjugué de la recherche scientifique et des moyens financiers apportés par ce réseau d'acteurs a favorisé la création et l'expansion du parc. La population locale, quant à elle, considère que l'expansion du parc est en compétition directe et injuste pour les terres qu'elle souhaite acquérir dans le cadre du programme de redistribution des terres, ainsi qu'une menace indirecte sur les moyens d'existence locaux. Quelle que soit la valeur de leur argument, il semble clair que les communautés qui aspirent à plus de terres, avec les défenseurs des droits de l'humain et de la réduction de la pauvreté, restent à la marge en termes d'influence sur la politique, notamment lorsqu'ils poursuivent des objectifs perçus par les partisans de la conservation comme étant contraires à ceux de la conservation de la biodiversité.

Research Article
Copyright © International African Institute 2008

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