False Legitimacies: The Rhetoric of Economic Opportunities in the Expansion of Conservation Areas in Southern Africa


Main event


‘Independent’ Bophuthatswana homeland established


Appropriation of commercial farms, land handed over to the Bophuthatswana Land Allocation Board. Part of Homeland consolidation program. Land to be handed over to emerging farmers


Publication of a report by Settlement Planning Services (Setplan), which recommended the establishment of a game reserve on the appropriated farms


Establishment of the Madikwe Game Reserve


Mangope deposed; First democratic elections in South Africa; beginning of the reintegration of Bophuthatswana back into the Republic of South Africa


Operation Phoenix to stock the Madikwe Game Reserve with wildlife


First lodges built


Funding acquired by NWP&TB from DfID (UK) for the Madikwe Initiative for an initial 2 year period. The project is managed by the NGO Mafisa and focuses mainly on three villages: Supingstad, Lekgophung and Molatedi


Concept plan for launching a Heritage Park (Heritage Park idea first suggested in 1999)


Heritage Park MOU signed; Steering Committee and Heritage Park Company formed

Table 7.2
Main features of the institutional arrangement of Madikwe Game Reserve



Main focus

1. To generate economic benefits for the ‘local community’;

2. Biodiversity conservation

Actors involved

NWP&TB; Mafisa Research and Planning and other NGOs/service providers; DfiD as donor; local residents; district councils; various villages; local government-linked committees

Legal entity

The land is state-owned and managed by the NWP&TB, a government agency


All the land is owned by the government apart from one portion granted to a community through a land restitution claim, which the community has agreed to leave under NWP&TB management. The lodges are private sector owned apart from two community-owned ones


The NWP&TB manages the Reserve. The Madikwe Initiative was managed by the NGO Mafisa

Sources of finance

DfID funded the Madikwe Initiative. The Reserve is run as a business, generating profit through its conservation activities and lodge concession fees and so on. The lodges are private sector investments

Contribution to conservation

Restoration of degraded farm land, reintroduction of wildlife—hence wildlife habitat was expanded. The NWP&TB manages the Reserve’s conservation activities which include bush clearing, drift building, fence and road maintenance etc. The NWP&TB Department Ecological Services looks after the wildlife

Contribution to livelihood

Where possible the NWP&TB uses local entrepreneurs, e.g. for fence maintenance, drift building and bush clearing. Such local inclusiveness is however not guaranteed—contracts are awarded to the most competitive tenders. Lodges use local services (e.g. wage employment, firewood, refuse collection, recycling, laundry service) and suppliers (e.g. vegetables, poultry) where possible, but these often do not meet required standards

7.2 The Establishment of the Madikwe Game Reserve

Madikwe Game Reserve was established in 1991, in the midst of the extreme political turmoil that marked the transition to democracy in South Africa. It was established in what is now South Africa’s North West Province but was then still the Bophuthatswana homeland, ruled by the Mangope Administration.

Land rights of the mainly Tswana-speaking local population had been severely curtailed by the settlement of white farmers and colonial legislation, particularly the 1913 Land Act and the 1936 Trust and Land Act. In 1948 the Afrikaner-dominated National Party, with its infamous policy of separate development came into power. Once in office the apartheid government passed a string of legislation which further differentiated black from white land and black from white administrative systems. Included were the Population Registration Act of 1950, whereby all South Africans were classified into ‘racial’ groups; the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951; the Natives Resettlement Act of 1954; and the Promotion of Black Self-Government Act of 1959. This policy of segregation culminated in the creation of ten ‘homelands’, and in December 1977 Bophuthatswana, comprising those parts of the former Crown Colony of the British Bechuanaland that were considered as black-occupied in terms of the 1913 Land Act, and scheduled for black occupation under the 1936 Trust and Land Act, became the second homeland to be granted ‘independence’.2 Chief Lucas Mangope became president.

On 12 March 1994, some 6 weeks before the proposed date for the first post-apartheid election on 27 April, after much resistance and violent conflict, Mangope was finally deposed. In time, the Bophuthatswana homeland was divided between two of post-apartheid South Africa’s nine new provinces, the North West Province and the Free State Province. Madikwe Game Reserve and the villages that were the original focus of its development initiatives are located in North West Province.

There was nothing inevitable about Madikwe’s genesis: by chance, two ecologists flew over the area in the late 1980s and remarked its potential for wildlife conservation (Int. 1). Invisible from above was the illogical jigsaw of apartheid geography. The tract of land was a piece of ‘white’ South African farmland comprising 28 farms separating two of the six fragmented areas that comprised the then Bophuthatswana homeland. As such it was suited to South Africa’s Homeland Consolidation Programme’s objective to create corridors linking together some of the disparate lobes of Bophuthatswana territory. Between 1980 and 1990 the land was expropriated and handed over to the Bophuthatswana Land Allocation Board for formal distribution to ‘emerging’ black farmers. But, with prompting from the ecologists who had seen the potential for a game reserve, an independent survey was conducted by Settlement Planning Services (Setplan) which recommended the establishment of a game reserve as the most efficacious and potentially lucrative use for the land, described as prone to drought, overgrazed and degraded by cattle ranching (Setplan 1991: 8).

Setplan recommended the game reserve option for four main reasons. First, once fully established, Setplan predicted, the game reserve would be able to generate in excess of 1,200 jobs compared with just 80 from the ranching option. The cost per job opportunity for the cattle ranching option would be in the region of R150,000 (some €15,000), while that of the game park would be nearer to R25,000 (approx. €2,500). Second, the spin-off effects of the game reserve on the local economy, through linkages and multipliers, would be much higher than from cattle ranching. Third, the local economy, already highly dependent on agriculture, would be significantly diversified and improved. And fourth, the net income accruing to the government through taxes would be significantly increased (Setplan 1991).

While the Mangope administration overall was authoritarian and oppressive, the Bophuthatswana Parks Board, according to a former member, had a reputation for being progressive in its approach to conservation management. The Board had at its core a group of what one former member described as “forward thinking, liberal men” (Int. 2). The Board’s members believed that successful conservation schemes needed to be relevant in the emerging economic context in which they were implemented. The interventions they initiated were thus redolent with the rhetoric of community-based conservation, particularly in the case of Madikwe:

Madikwe Game Reserve is arguably one of the first game reserves in southern Africa to be established for wildlife conservation purely on socio-economic grounds… The approach to conservation that has been adopted at Madikwe puts the needs of people before that of wildlife and conservation. (Davies et al. 1997)

Such reasoning reflected a major departure from earlier national park ideology which held that preservation and conservation were ends in themselves and had justified the establishment of game parks at the cost of dispossessing and relocating black South Africans. This ideology had in the past also influenced earlier actions of the Bophuthatswana Parks Board; in 1979 the Pilane were forcibly removed in order for Pilanesberg National Park to be created—often referred to as Madikwe’s sister park. Carruthers’ view is uncompromising:

It would be inaccurate to think of the Pilanesberg National Park as a conserved natural area: it is more of a forced removal, land reclamation and game stocking project…. [Pilanesberg] owed its very origins to the ‘homelands’ policy of the nationalist [apartheid] government of the 1960s…. Even at the early planning stage, opposition to the scheme was intense from the Pilane clan [sic] who had inhabited the crater for many years…. It thus had a difficult birth at a time when paramilitary wildlife management and anti-human ecology was powerful in national park dogma. (Carruthers 1997: 9)

But Madikwe is ideologically innocent of this sort of anti-people ecology, established instead with the express aim of bringing economic development to an area that had largely been denied access to both (Davies 1997). The final Setplan report states that the research found “a game park would be acceptable to the local communities and arrangements can be made to grant local herbalists controlled access to the park for the collection of specimens” (Setplan 1991: 17). The Parks Board emphasised the consultation process it initiated with what it termed the local community and, from its conception, described Madikwe Game Reserve as a partnership between three main stakeholders: the state, the private sector and the ‘local community’. The Board has repeatedly stressed that its driving concern is not conservation, but to bring economic development to the ‘local community’. According to a general manager:

Our focus from the government is to improve the quality of life, financially and socially, of the people in the area and we use conservation, as we would have used mining or agricultural practices…as the most efficient way to address our main objective, which is economic development. But if conservation management is not up to standard we will not achieve this. So conservation is not secondary but nor is it an end in itself. It is a strategy to achieve economic development. (Int. 3)

7.3 A Spluttering Engine

Despite the good intentions behind the establishment of Madikwe, creating income generating opportunities for the surrounding residents was not an easy task. By 1993, 2 years after its foundation, the Reserve had not yet begun to realize its regional or local economic objectives. Apart from a minimum of employment—fewer than 90 jobs3 in the three adjacent villages from a combined population of about 10,000 people—villagers experienced few benefits from the presence of the Reserve. Stocking the reserve with wildlife had been a priority: Operation Phoenix had involved the translocation of 8,057 individual animals belonging to 25 different species into the Reserve and remains heralded as South Africa’s largest translocation of game. The rapid and politically conspicuous development of the Reserve meant that local villagers, as the Parks Board later acknowledged, were largely ‘left out’ (Davies 1997).

In response the Parks Board began approaching donor agencies for funding for community development and empowerment interventions. In 1998 it secured from the British Department for International Development (DfID) a sum of UK£ 410,000 which, with currency fluctuations and the weakening of the Rand, became R6.4 million (approx. €640,000). This was to be used to fund an Initiative that would be independent of the Board and aimed at maximizing the Reserve’s economic impact on the local economy. Because DfID required a well-defined area, limited in size, in which to implement capacity building projects, the main developmental drive of the Reserve came, perhaps by default, to focus on the villages of Supingstad and Lekgophung to the west and Molatedi to the east, rather than encompassing all the settlements in the area.

The NWP&TB invited tenders from independent agencies to manage this Initiative and the NGO Mafisa Research and Planning (hereafter Mafisa), which had experience with ‘people and parks’ initiatives, was awarded the contract. The Initiative became known as the Madikwe Initiative and, according to Mafisa’s directors, had three key areas of focus:

The first is centred on the understanding that if the communities surrounding Madikwe are to benefit from its existence then they need to hold some ownership stake in commercial lodges in the Reserve. Secondly, tourism creates jobs and it is important that people from the surrounding villages are suitably trained to take up senior wage employment in the lodges. And thirdly, tourism in the Reserve as well as the daily operations of the Reserve itself may create many opportunities for entrepreneurship and small business development in areas such as lodge maintenance, the provision of bricks, bush clearing, construction, the provision of fresh produce to the lodges…. Local entrepreneurs need to be trained and their businesses supported so that they can enter into business contracts with the lodges and the park in these areas. (Koch and Massyn 1999)

The Madikwe Initiative faced multiple difficulties from the start, not least because after the first three commercial lodges had been built, the Reserve’s development stagnated largely because of pending land claims. These claims made issuing new private sector lodge concessions problematic. Hence, the ‘economic engine’ was not managing to power the area as projected, and emerging small businesses set up by Mafisa found themselves without the expected thriving market to sustain them (Int. 4). At the same time, the government’s restructuring of local government exacerbated governance problems in the villages. Furthermore, an ill-defined conception of the respective roles of the three ‘stakeholders’ continued to hamper the Madikwe Initiative. The roles of the Board (to manage the Reserve) and the private sector (to build and run lodges and bring in tourists and money) were clear. But the role of the villages and their residents was sketchy at best and clearly inequitable as we show in the next section.

7.4 Community-Public-Private Partnerships: What Is a Community?

The NWP&TB was proud of its “pioneering approach to people-based wildlife conservation” and NWP&TB employees spoke often of how community development, rather than conservation, was the primary objective of Madikwe Game Reserve. “The local community,” stressed the park warden of Madikwe during an interview (Int. 5), “is a major stakeholder in the Madikwe project.”

From the start the NWP&TB conceptualized the three villages’ residents as constituting a ‘community’—a single, coherent, bounded social entity with shared values that could be labeled a ‘stakeholder’ in terms of a people-centred conservation and development model. This conceptualization had its roots in a socio-economic policy drawn up by an independent consultancy firm commissioned by what was then the Bophuthatswana Parks Board. The policy reportedly recommended that the Board should deal with democratic, representative committees rather than with traditional leaders because of the risk of powerful individuals appropriating the profits (Int. 1). Nothing was done until 1994 when, acting on this recommendation, the new NWP&TB created Community Development Organisations (CDOs) in each of the three villages. It then grouped the CDOs together under a single CDO forum.

The Board had intended the CDOs to be democratic, representative committees, comprising people who represented all socio-economic and political categories and sectors within each village, through which the Board would be able to access majority views and priorities in the villages. In practice, however, the CDOs were heavily aligned with the chiefs and tribal authorities and, rather than operating as neutral bodies, they came into conflict with other (local government) committees already present in the villages, and created serious rifts and divides. The CDOs were formally disbanded within 4 years, following the recommendations of a survey (Magome and Sentle 1998).

By the time the Madikwe Initiative became active in the villages in 1998, district councils had been set up under the Municipal Structures Act of that same year. Mafisa’s policy, in line with DfID’s, was to liaise with the newly formed, ANC-linked, ‘democratic’ district councils rather than solely with village-based structures, which included a variety of civic organizations. Such a liaison strategy played out in diverse ways in each village. In Lekgophung it was least problematic as at the time the village was represented by a Reconstruction and Development Programme forum which cooperated both with the traditional structures and the district council. The majority of respondents (90 % in the 2000 survey) stated that the Reconstruction and Development Programmed forum was the successful and legitimate committee representing the village, a finding supported by in-depth interviews and conversations.

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue