Conservation amidst political turmoil

  • 27/02/1994

Conservation amidst political turmoil WHILE the international media remain preoccupied with the run-up to South Africa's multiracial elections in April this year, a fledgling and insufficiently reported movement is being egged on by several ecological groups. The tasks ahead for this movement are extremely difficult, and it all stems from the legacy of apartheid. This is the leitmotif of this book.

Documenting the experiences of a broad spectrum of South African people, Restoring the Land is a grim but stimulating canvas: what it does is provide an insight to the ecological crisis facing the citizens of post-apartheid South Africa. Mamphela Ramphele, its consultant editor and author of several works on environment and development, has lent to the volume a streamlined and very readable presentation of a mass of complex issues relating not only to his country's turmoil-filled political transition but also to its much-cursed legacy of a severely devastated ecological base.

Ramphele emphasises that environment is a political issue and that its present fragile state is the result, in large part, of "the social engineering processes pursued by successive governments, which exploited the country's resources for the benefit of the white minority". In the post-apartheid scenario, most political parties appear committed to environmental issues, at least on paper. However, it remains to be seen how this commitment is transformed into workable systems that promote a more equitable distribution of power.

The theme of the book is that politics and environment are inexorably related. It is, therefore, not surprising that through all its five sections, there is an emphasis on the need to return control of natural resources to local communities, along with a shift from an authoritarian to a democratic form of government. In this regard, several cases have been reviewed.

Emerging ideas
Not only does the non-governmental sector appear active within South Africa, but "a growing regional group of experts, NGOs, communities, and staff in official agencies are backing an emerging set of ideas about how to achieve this (community involvement in conservation and wildlife management)".

For the avid reader, this book is a journalistic tour de force that maintains throughout the conviction that there is a need for a "more holistic approach" to the inextricably connected problems of poverty and social injustice, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Anit Saxena is a social worker.