Local Worlds Rural Livelihood Strategies in Eastern Cape, South Africa
Abstract: Local perceptions and livelihood strategies have in this study been examined through extensive fieldwork in two villages in rural Pondoland in the former homeland Transkei in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. Using a bottom-up perspective, changes in livelihoods and the processes involved in choosing between and combining various types of livelihood activities are analysed. The study also looks at specific South African policies, targeted at poverty relief and restriction of natural resource use, from the local perspective and points at communication problems between the national and local levels.Livelihoods in Transkei are today often conceptualised as consisting of subsistence agriculture combined with monetary incomes in the forms of state pensions and remittances from migrant labourers. This view is challenged by the results of the present study, showing that local jobs are the major components of livelihoods in the studied villages. Informal jobs are stressed as constituting an important, and perhaps previously underestimated, part of local job opportunities. While pensions also do make important contributions to livelihoods, the significance of agriculture, livestock keeping and various forms of natural resource use is shown to be relatively low. Key insights are that livelihood activities in rural Transkei vary a lot between specific localities, and that important recent changes in livelihoods have taken place.Transkei is furthermore often conceptualised as a region where severe environmental degradation is taking place, a fact that is also contradicted by findings from the study area. In accordance with recent research on an ‘African degradation narrative’, the hopeless and homogenous picture of Transkei as a generally degraded region is questioned. These results are also used to critically examine concepts such as ‘multiple livelihood strategies’ and the tendency to generalise about rural livelihoods across regions, countries or even continents.
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