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Mutual Gains and Distributive Ideologies in South Africa: Theorizing Negotiations between Communities and Protected Areas


With the rise of joint management of protected areas, community representatives are increasingly involved in formal negotiations with state officials, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other actors. Policy recommendations have commonly idealized “win-win” scenarios. Theoretical work on negotiation from psychology and management studies, however, points to identifiable circumstances under which the goal of a mutually beneficial “win-win” situation may limit the strategies, and ultimately the benefits, available to communities. Instead, an antagonistic, “distributive” approach to negotiations may be more compatible with the pressures on and strategies available to community representatives. The tensions between a “mutual gains” and “distributive” approach to negotiations are evident in two land claims on protected areas in South Africa: the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserves, and the Pafuri Triangle, a portion of Kruger National Park. In each, NGOs that operated with a “mutual gains” strategy, espousing a “win-win” scenario, came to be perceived as collaborating with conservation agencies. Meanwhile, as negotiation theory would suggest, community representatives inclined towards a “distributive” strategy and allied with a second set of explicitly advocatory NGOs. Expecting that communities should embrace a “win-win” scenario from the outset is unrealistic and likely to reduce communities’ power in negotiations.

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