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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Spaces of change: Tribal authorities in the former KaNgwane homeland, South Africa


An underreported consequence of the democratic transition is its impact upon localized governance systems in mediating development opportunities within the former homelands of South Africa. Colonialism and apartheid utilized traditional authorities to control landscapes and people, and while these systems continue to influence the livelihood opportunities available to rural households, their scope and influence are being renegotiated by the emergence of new governance structures. This paper uses a case study from the former KaNgwane homeland to evaluate the role of the Matsamo Tribal Authority in shaping access to land, wood and agricultural projects in the region. It is argued that the colonial and apartheid empowerment of the tribal authorities continues to have symbolic and material meaning within KaNgwane, which shapes the ways that rural households benefit from conservation and development. In the post-apartheid era, newly created democratic structures are challenging traditional governance systems by reworking household access to environmental resources. The intersection between these contrasting, and historically situated, systems suggests a dynamic renegotiation is occurring that will continue to impact rural households within the former places of apartheid.

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