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Power and politics in stakeholder engagement: farm dweller (in)visibility and conversions to game farming in South Africa

Femke Brandt, Department of Anthropology and Development Studies, GES Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Jenny Josefsson, Geography Department, University of the Free State, South Africa; Department of Organization Sciences, VU University, The Netherlands
Marja Spierenburg, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


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Here, we discuss tensions inherent in multistakeholder approaches addressing conflicts over natural resources as well as the involvement of stakeholders in research. Our discussion is built on knowledge generated by extensive research on the impacts of private farm conversions to game farms in South Africa, where significant increases in farm conversions have been observed since the 1990s. The studies had a particular focus on the consequences for farm dwellers, one of the most marginalized groups in the South African countryside. The research findings challenge the dominant narrative that game farming offers a win-win situation for nature conservation and rural development. Based on data from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, we extended the narrow technical and economic framing of the narrative to include the socio-political meanings of the conversions. We reflect on a series of multistakeholder workshops that we organized, partly as a requirement of the funding agency. The workshop aims were to disseminate our research findings among the stakeholder groups and explore ways to mitigate the negative impacts of conversions. We discuss how we organized the engagement process in ways that sought to address the power differences between game farmers, the State, and farm dwellers. The main challenge appeared to be that farm dwellers were not recognized as stakeholders. This “invisibility” has multiple reasons, in particular, the historical and current trajectories of land dispossession. It is also linked to specific institutional and personal relations in the two provinces, resulting in different uses of the workshop spaces. By considering the complexities of stakeholder relations in the farm conversion context, we gained a deeper understanding of the politics of land and belonging in the still unequal post-apartheid rural landscape. Based on experiences from the research as well as the workshops, we take a critical stance regarding mainstream notions of stakeholder engagement and resilience building. We argue that if we fail to consider power relations and politics explicitly in these processes, we risk neglecting important conflicts and reproducing the invisibility of marginalized stakeholders.

Key words

conflict; farm dwellers; farm workers; game farming; multistakeholder approaches; power relations; stakeholder engagement; South Africa; violence

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087