Friday, May 17, 2013

Indigenous Forest and Indigenous Land Rights

"Scrubs and Squatters: The Coming of the Dukuduku Forest, an Indigenous Forest in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa," by Frode Sundnes, appears in the latest (April 2013) issue of Environmental History. In examining the history of a forest currently the subject of conflicting conservation worries and post-apartheid land claims, the article pays attention to the ways the law has interacted with other factors to shape the physical, social, and cultural contours of today's forest as well the the uses made of it. It concludes:

This historical analysis does not tell us who has legitimate rights to a contested area. Rather, its goal is to draw out some of the factors that have played a part in the historical production of an ongoing struggle, and to provide a background against which the conflict over an indigenous forest can be understood. This is the story of how an indigenous forest came about, in both a physical and notional sense. While the history presented supports claims of a dispossessed African population, community claims to land restitution in postapartheid South Africa have layered complexities. In the context of the present-day state of the forest, the history of the Dukuduku can be viewed as an example of a forest finally yielding to the pressures by squatters—the same threat that was the basis for early colonial forestry initiatives. The invasion of the forest resulted, however, from the compartmentalization of the surrounding landscape into particular uses that left little space for the former residents. By highlighting unsuccessful attempts to remove local people and land uses from the landscape, this article demonstrates the incompleteness of an idea of African nature in which humans intervene only by utilitarian motives or by conservation measures.

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