A picture showing rangeland degradation in the form of woody species encroachment ‘Euryops floribundus’.
Photo credit: UNDP-GEF5 SLM Project, Eastern Cape, South Africa

By Menelisi Falayi, James Gambiza, and Michael Schoon.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed. Check back soon for a link to the article.

The need to effectively govern and manage communal rangeland resources has become more important over the past two decades, given the extent of biodiversity loss caused by numerous factors. Evidence shows that factors such as increased soil erosion, increases in bush encroachment, climate change and variability have been widely reported to be affecting communal rangeland conditions across Africa. Our research uses historical lenses to explain the relationship between evolving governance dynamics and rangeland conditions over time.

We worked in Machubeni communal lands in the Eastern Cape province in South Africa. The area is socially vulnerable, with a 46.3% overall unemployment rate and a 55.3% youth unemployment rate. Machubeni communal lands were subjected to numerous apartheid policies, such as betterment planning during the late 1950s. Betterment Planning during the late 1950s. It is reported that Betterment Planning led to the consolidation of villages, and those living in the mountains were greatly affected as they were forced to move without consultation. This led to confusion over land use management. During this period, the traditional leaders and livestock owners had lost control over the governance and management of the rangeland. We conducted a historical analysis to explain the relationship between evolving governance dynamics and rangeland conditions over time. We conducted interviews with pastoralists, traditional leaders, researchers and government officials and used archival reports to explain the emerging trends.  

The results show that while the application of governance objectives varied through time, there has been a steady degradation of local rangeland resources since apartheid due to numerous factors. Throughout the analysis, uneven power dynamics and direct state interventions were identified as key drivers shaping the governance of rangeland resources. The legacy of centralised planning (Betterment Planning) appears to have largely influenced rangeland management, and condition and its effects are still visible and widely felt to date – ‘the ghost of environmental history’. Given the continued degradation of natural resources and governance ineffectiveness in post-colonial regions, lessons from transformative and adaptive governance literature can help address and solve some of the extended impacts of colonial drivers. While not advocating a blueprint model for success, transformative and adaptive governance has the potential to actively respond to changes triggered by multiple factors.