Postcolonial Nature Conservation and Collaboration in Urban Protected Areas : Everyday relations at Macassar Dunes/Wolfgat reserves, Cape Town, South Africa

University dissertation from Stockholm : Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Abstract: Protected areas and nature conservation are profoundly shaped by Western ideas, and are embedded within powerful discourses and colonising practices. This thesis examines how colonialism and apartheid shape contemporary practices of nature conservation in Cape Town in South Africa - its institutions, geographies and peoples. Through three empirical studies of collaborative arrangements at the Macassar Dunes/Wolfgat nature reserves, the thesis develops a postcolonial nature conservation perspective to explore how colonial legacies live on, are contested and are re-shaped through everyday practices. Departing from Margaret Kovach’s Indigenous methodology, interviews and participatory observations are used to focus on collaborations as they occur in the everyday relations between people and nature, on-reserve and in the adjoining township areas. This shows how collaborative arrangements bring together participants across historical and social divides, including municipal nature conservators and residents from apartheid-era racially-segregated townships. Results illustrate how colonising legacies persist at wider and institutional levels through exclusionary conservation practices, a focus on biodiversity preservation, and through sustained racialised relations. Nonetheless, this thesis argues that some of the most transformative collaborative practices occur within ad hoc, informal, and unmanaged interactions, involving deeply interpersonal and ethically challenging situations. Through these interactions, conservators and community participants are re-defining what it means to be ‘postcolonial nature conservators’ in Cape Town. These everyday practices engage difficult and fraught steps that allow us to consider what it means to belong, to reconcile and to be responsible to nature and to each other in a postcolonial city. With its focus on collaboration as everyday relations, the thesis brings to the literature one of the first in-depth studies of urban nature conservation from the rapidly growing cities of the global South. It contributes critical analyses to emerging debates around nature conservation, urban nature, and colonial legacies and opens crucial questions around expertise, knowledge, informality and poverty.

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