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One Hundred Years of Separation: The Historical Ecology of a South African ‘Coloured Reserve’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2011

Abstract

During the twentieth century, the 20,000 hectares commons surrounding the village of Paulshoek as well as the neighbouring privately-owned farms have been significantly influenced by evolving land-use practices driven largely by socio-economic and political change in the broader Namaqualand and South African region. Land-use practices in the communal lands of Namaqualand were based initially on transhumant pastoralism, then on extensive dryland cropping associated with livestock production under restricted mobility, and more recently on a sedentarized labour reserve where agricultural production now forms a minor part of the local economy. For the first half of the twentieth century, farmers on communal and privately-owned farms shared similar transhumant pastoral practices and both moved across unfenced farm boundaries. By the middle of the century, however, fence-lines were established and commercial farming on privately-owned farms was increasingly managed according to rangeland science principles. As the population grew in the communal areas, families gravitated to new ‘service’ villages such as Paulshoek and became increasingly dependent on migrant labour and state welfare. While the majority of former croplands are now fallow, many of them for decades or more, communal livestock populations have remained relatively high, fluctuating with rainfall. The impact of this history of land use can be compared with that of neighbouring privately-owned farms where low stocking rates, coupled with a variety of state subsidies, have had a very different environmental outcome. This article charts the environmental transformations that have occurred in the area of Paulshoek as a direct result of the region's political history and the evolution of the regional economy. We present a variety of evidence drawn from archival sources, oral history, repeat aerial and ground photography, and detailed climate, cropping and livestock records to show that events far beyond the borders of Namaqualand's communal areas have had a profound influence on their environments.

Au cours du vingtième siècle, les 20,000 hectares de terrains communaux qui entourent le village de Paulshoek, ainsi que les fermes privées environnantes, ont été fortement influencés par l'évolution des pratiques d'utilisation des terres, largement déterminée par les changements socioéconomiques et politiques survenus dans la région du Namaqualand et plus largement en Afrique du Sud. Les pratiques d'utilisation des terres sur les terres communales du Namaqualand reposaient initialement sur le pastoralisme transhumant, puis sur la culture sèche intensive associée à la production de bétail avec mobilité limitée, et plus récemment sur une réserve de main-d'œuvre sédentarisée avec une production agricole qui ne représente plus qu'une faible partie de l'économie locale. Pendant la première moitié du vingtième siècle, les exploitants de terrains communaux et les exploitants de fermes privées avaient des pratiques pastorales transhumantes similaires et tous deux traversaient des terrains non clôturés. Pendant la seconde moitié du siècle, en revanche, les clôtures étaient posées et la gestion de l'activité agricole commerciale dans les fermes privées répondait de plus en plus à des principes de science des pâturages. Au fur et à mesure de l'accroissement de la population dans les zones communales, les familles ont gravité vers les nouveaux 〈villages services〉 comme Paulshoek et leur dépendance vis-à-vis de la main-d'œuvre migrante et de la protection sociale de l'État s'est accrue. Alors que la majorité des terres de culture sont aujourd'hui en jachère, et ce depuis des décennies pour certaines, les populations de bétail communal sont restées relativement élevées, variant selon les précipitations. On peut comparer l'impact de l'histoire de l'utilisation de ces terres avec celui des fermes privées voisines dont la faiblesse des taux d'exploitation du bétail, associée aux subventions publiques diverses, a eu des conséquences très différentes sur l'environnement. Cet article retrace les transformations environnementales survenues dans la région de Paulshoek en conséquence directe de l'histoire politique de la région et de l'évolution de l'économie régionale. À partir de données variées issues d'archives, de l'histoire orale, de photographies aériennes et au sol répétées, ainsi que de registres détaillés du climat, des récoltes et de l'exploitation du bétail, il montre que des événements situés bien au-delà des zones communales du Namaqualand ont eu une influence profonde sur l'environnement.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 2008

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