The return of a disputed 45,000-hectare tract of land located in the Kgalagadi National Park in the NC to the Khomani San community shows how to strike a delicate balance between promoting nature conservation and correcting past injustices.
THE RETURN of a disputed 45,000-hectare tract of land located in the Kgalagadi National Park in the Northern Cape to the Khomani San community provides invaluable lessons on how to strike a delicate balance between promoting nature conservation and correcting past injustices that arose from forced land removals.
The Khomani San community is located in the Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park and surroundings and now owns the 45,000ha of land within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and six farms on the south of the park, totalling to about 370,000ha.
The park is also recognised as a World Heritage Site (WHS).
The Vumelana Advisory Fund, a non-profit organisation that facilitates partnerships between land reform beneficiaries and private partners, played a key role in ensuring that the post-settlement agreement with SANParks, the conservation custodian of the land, was implemented fairly.
It also ensured that the indigenous Bushman inhabitants have unrestricted access to the national park in order to practise their customs while contributing to the conservation efforts.
The post-settlement support that Vumelana Advisory Fund provided for the community is but one of the many interventions the organisation has undertaken to facilitate sustainable partnerships between claimant communities and private sector investors, in order to drive the productive use of land and ensure the long-term financial viability of the land enterprise.
Speaking about the partnership between the Khomani San Community Property Association (CPA) and SANParks, Dirk Pienaar, the tourism and conservation officer of the Khomani San CPA, said that the Khomani San community is currently working with SANParks on developing a 28-bed lodge, which will be named after the late Dawid Kruiper.
Kruiper is one of the leaders who were instrumental in the community’s land claim.
The community anticipates that the Dawid Kruiper Lodge will play an important role in revitalising the local economies and supporting emerging businesses in a desolate area that is far removed from mainstream economic opportunities.
It is envisaged that the lodge will employ at least eight permanent employees and create additional part-time jobs. The lodge is expected to be completed in the first half of 2024.
The community also co-owns a 25-bed four-star lodge on the land named !Xaus Lodge, which is owned by Khomani San and the Miers community.
The Mier community also lodged a claim in the Kgalagadi National Park.
!Xaus Lodge currently employs 19 permanent staff members from both the Khomani San and Mier communities.
The newly established Dawid Kruiper Lodge will service a different market to that of !Xaus Lodge and seeks to create opportunities for economic expansion and access to economic opportunities for the Khomani San community.
“Given the fact that the Kgalagadi National Park is conservation land, the project presented unprecedented and unique challenges and complexities that required deftness and diplomacy to navigate. And with the help of Vumelana’s independent advisory services, the community and SANParks were able to reach an agreement of mutual benefit,” said Pienaar.
“Working with SANParks and the management company, we are able to also support local businesses from the Khomani San community with various entities owned by individuals or small business owners in the area currently providing various services to !Xaus Lodge. The services include beading and craft supplies, which will all continue to grow with the completion of Dawid Kruiper Lodge.
“While balancing community and conservation interests may seem extremely challenging, we have found that it’s crucial to involve entities that understand how to navigate these relationships to meet the needs of all stakeholders, which is an important lesson to the restitution process.
“We have really been able to rip some benefits from our land, and to be able to speak out about how we want things to run on our land has been truly freeing for our people.”
According to Pienaar, there is a need to ensure that communities benefit more in leadership and management roles on the businesses that they set up through partnerships on their land; and this is one area that the community is working on improving.
The community has also benefited from various skill development initiatives and training to equip them with the skills they need to become employable on Khomani San-owned facilities and other external facilities.
He highlighted that the benefits of land reform on conservation land transcend beyond monetary gain and the pride of ownership and includes having free and unrestricted access to the land, including to the entire park.
“Our community is known for our close interactions with nature and being traditional healers who use medicinal plants, so access to the park is vital.
“In addition, we are able to commercialise our culture on our own terms, we decide what we want to commercialise and what parts of our traditions we don’t want to share with tourists.
“This is truly what the restitution process should be about – to give back communities the land and their freedoms on their land.”
He pointed out that the important takeaway from this project is the bottom-up approach, where the community is consulted every step of the way when it comes to the management of their land.
“When you work with traditional communities you need to start thinking from the bottom up as that’s the only way that you will ensure a process of custodianship that they understand.
“If you listen to what the community wants, you will be able to work out better project plans and ultimately have fewer unhappy community members,” Pienaar concluded.