Origins and Controversies

The research into Mkomazi was funded between 1994 and 1997 by the British Government (then ODA, now DfID) who supported Kathy Homewood, myself and Hilda Kiwasila (at the Institute of Resource Assessment in the University of Dar es Salaam) to explore what the impacts of conservation policies had been on people living near Mkomazi. Hilda worked with agricultural peoples, I with pastoralists. We were all loosely affiliated to a parallel research project headed up by the Royal Geographical Society inside the Reserve that eventually produced this volume.

It was often a tense and awkward time. Mkomazi is a borderland, a place of migrants and movement; it has been for decades. The irruption of strangely straight borders for international and conservation boundaries did not always fit local ecologies well, and the residents of the area have been contesting colonial and independent governments’ decisions about where and how to live for just about as long as these governments have existed. The pastoralists evicted from Mkomazi in the late 1980s initiated their legal campaign against the government just before I first arrived in 1994 and that case came to overshadow the research.

I also had an awkward personal introduction to the tensions. During my pilot study the (then) Wildlife Division decided to suspend my research after one of the herds on which I was conducting a trial follow walked into the Game Reserve. It did not matter that I stopped at the boundary (and could not have stopped the herd), I had, in a sense, participated in an illegal incursion. At just about the same time the pastoralists banned me because my efforts to find out where they lived looked rather like previous attempts to map and quantify populations of cattle keepers prior to eviction operations. Repairing those relations took months.

Then, when the research was complete, and the report accepted and peer-reviewed (most positively) by DfID, its findings were quite starkly opposed to the picture of the Reserve and its peoples that the conservation groups active inside Mkomazi had been circulating. Since the South African government was a bit leery of sending valuable black rhinoceros (which had not yet arrived) into trouble spots these findings causes a small degree of consternation while South African officials tried to work out how their information about the Reserve could have failed to include some of the basic conflicts we were mentioning. That was resolved, but only following more misrepresentation culminating in some extraordinary court judgements.