Contested Biodiversities: Unpacking power and privilege in KwaZulu-Natal’s Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, South Africa, by Shirley Brooks

Monday 15 October, 12:00 – 13:00

Leeuwenborch, C62

Professor Shirley Brooks is Head of the Department of Geography, Environmental Studies & Tourism at the University of the Western Cape.

Impression seminar

Protected area expansion in South Africa has taken a new turn. The aim of the recently instituted Biodiversity Stewardship Programme (BSP) is to expand the conservation estate by incorporating land held outside of state control, through various levels of conservation agreement. As implementers of this programme, provincial conservation authorities encourage landowners to voluntarily commit their properties to safeguarding the biodiversity found on their land. In KwaZulu-Natal province, targeted land includes not only freehold (private) land, but also land held under communal ownership as well as land regained through the state land reform (restitution) process. Focusing on the latter two categories, we explore the practices of the BSP on land owned or occupied by local Zulu-speaking communities. Biodiversity itself is, it turns out, a contested notion. Drawing on insights from poststructuralist political ecology, the paper explores the power relations between the various actors, paying particular attention to the role of language in the construction of environmental meanings. The findings suggest that land access remains a critical bone of contention in a context where postcolonial conservation practices often render meaningless the concept of communities exercising ‘stewardship’ over their land. We call for the critical interrogation of land restitution and environmental justice in this context.

Key words: biodiversity, community, land reform, stewardship, environmental discourse, postcolonial conservation, KwaZulu-Natal

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