"We are scared of the very biodiversity that we are apparently the stewards of".

Quote and photo from the field. By ESR Lindokuhle Khumalo.

In the picture, a member of the local community stands next to some of the holes in the fence between his village and the Big Five game reserve which the community co-owns as a result of their land claim settlement.



All ESR's are on fieldwork in various parts of Africa in 2019. As part of the dissemination they will be sending a photo and a quote from the field while they are away.   


This photo and quote from the field comes from ESR Lindokuhle Khumalo who is doing his fieldwork in South Africa on the processes of expanding biodiversity conservation and the realities of rural land-owning communities. Read more about his research here


"We are scared of the very biodiversity that we are apparently the stewards of" - Thokozani Mbongwa.

Mbongwa is a member of the Shangela community which is located adjacent to a Big Five game reserve located on the outskirts of Ladysmith, a small town in South Africa. His community is one of many whose land was restituted through the country's land reform process which seeks to restore the land rights of those who suffered dispossesion during the colonial and apartheid eras.


In 1996 when the people of Shangela together with many of their former neighbors who are now scattered in different parts of the province lodged a claim to their ancestral land, the area had already been occupied by a nature reserve. Consequently, their claim could not translate into them being able to resettle on the land. Instead as part of the land claim settlement, the state granted these peoples who have come to be known collectively as the Elandslaagte people legal ownership of their original land thus entering the community into a conservation partnership with the previous land owner. In addition, the community was compensated with an alternative piece of land, which turned out to be the property of a neighboring community. This has meant that despite being land rights-holders, many of the beneficiaries continue to suffer from insecure land tenure. 


After a few years, through consent given unilaterally by the community's land committee, the Elandslaagte people effectively became a member community of an incentivised nature conservation initiative where the land owner commits voluntarily into becoming the steward of the biodiversity on their land. This was despite the fact that in practice the community had no meaningful relationship with the game reserve. 


During the lodging of the land claim, many community members including Mbongwa were denied the opportunity to become land beneficiaries and as such, do not benefit from the conservation partnership with the previous land owner. In resisting their marginalization, they are now demanding that they be officially acknowledged as legitimate community members. The success of their struggle would lead to their inclusion in the partnership which reimburses the community through meager lease payouts twice a year and limited employment opportunities. 


To add to their woes, the game reserve has over the years neglected its responsibility to adequately mantain its fences. As a result, parts of the fence separating the reserve from the Shangela village have large gaping holes which a number of game animals use to escape. While no attacks have been inflicted upon humans and livestock, the regular escape of wild animals is a cause for concern since dangerous game including leopard have in the past found their way into the Shangela village and beyond.